The Surf Coast Walk

Jan Juc to Anglesea (21 km)

We got off the 7am bus from Lorne and wandered down to the car park at Jan Juc Beach - official start of the Surf Coast Walk. The sky was blue and the sun was shining as we headed westward along the low ochre cliffs; it was an auspicious start to uor Great Ocean Walk adventure, though at the back of minds lay the ominous weather forecast of developing rain.

The sea was a brilliant blue below and a few surfers were trying to make the most of a gentle swell beneath the ochre cliffs, resplendent in the morning sun. We made our way quickly along the track winding though the narrow stretch of heath that kept the holiday homes away from the ocean's edge. This part of the world is Melbourne's coastal playground and development is rife. However, we finally left holiday heaven, passing through denser heath where honeyeaters, whistlers and thornbills thrived and flowering herbs and shrubs became more common; still the nearby road provided a regular reminder that this did not quite qualify as wilderness.

The ochre cliffs lining Jan Juc Beach

Soon we noticed a car park ahead that seemd to be rapidly filling - we were closing in on Bell's Beach - famed for its surf and home to international surfing events. A sign indicated that the Billabong Professional Junior Championships were underway, but the swell was just as gentle as at Jan Juc - it would be hard for budding world stars to show their form today.

"Respect the Ocean"

Bell's Beach - international surfing venue

Diehards catching the odd morning wave at Bell's

Crossing the end of the beach, we commenced a long and gentle climb veering inland through the denser heath of low coastal eucalypts and tea trees, skimming the bitumen of Jarosite Road, before dropping fairly steeply down a rough track to reach the site of an old jarosite mine (jarosite is a red ochre that was used to make paint in the 19th century).

Coastal heath west of Bell's Beach

Cluster of sun orchids

View from the Ironbark Ridge

We were now in taller eucalypts with a grass tree understory and, as we climbed equally steeply out to the north west, the discovery of cluster of donkey orchids and sun orchids proved one of the day's highlights; the scrubby dry forest was rich with the hidden gems of orchids, lilies and flowering herbs for those who looked.

Donkey orchid

Delicate pink orchid

The forest may look dry and scrubby but holds hidden treasures

Enamel orchid

Pink star lily

Reaching the top of the ridge, we skirted the Ironbark Basin on a well-formed dirt road before descending once again into the tall ironbark forest of the basin on a narrow footpath; the tall trees gave way to shorter coastal mallee and eventually to heathland as the track took us back to the cliffs.

Dwarf manna gums closer to the coast

Path beneath the ironbarks in Ironbark Basin

Blue-tongue lizard basking in the sun

To our left, beyond the tiger-snake breeding grounds stood the imposing form of Jarosite Head, while to our right the orange cliffs of Point Addis stretched out into the blue ocean.The sun still shone brightly, but to the west an ominous band of dark grey clouds were gathering.

Tiger snake breeding grounds near Jarosite Head

The coastline curving around to Point Addis

Climbing up and over the ridge line, we followed a path lined with interpretive signs explaining the use of bush food by the local koori people. This track led us out onto a bitumen road, which we followed briefly to reach Point Addis. The wind was strengthening as we dropped down from the point onto a long stretch of soft tannish sand and, by half way down the beach, the first rain squalls swept across from the west. We donned our wet weather gear and pushed on to Black Rock, where a grove of dense tea trees in the lee of the wind provided the perfect place for lunch; blow and rain as it did, we were comfortable and dry in our sandy shelter.

Rain squalls approaching from the west

A lonely path across the beach west of Point Addis

The contrasting rock bands of Black Rock

Still, sitting in comfort wasn't getting us any closer to Anglesea, so once again we set out, climbing steadily up the back of the tall cliffs that line this part of the coast, at times we were accompanied by the wind sighing through the stunted coastal casuarinas, at times by the pitter patter of raindrops on our hoods as light squalls came and went. Finally, we made a long descent along the cliff-line to reach the Anglesea River, where we turned northward to follow its dark and reed-lined waters northward to the town centre.

The rain was getting heavier, but a little later we found ourselves in front of the fire at the Anglesea Backpackers, sipping a cold Haagen Blond and watching the rain from the warmth of the lounge. Our first day on the track had started well and ended well - the little bit of inclement weather in the middle was already being forgotten.

Wet view along the cliffs toward Anglesea

Anglesea to Airey's Inlet (14 km)

The morning greeted us with white billowing clouds floating across the sky in a cool but gentle breeze; so different from how the previous day had ended. We set out from the Anglesea Backpackers, and turned left at the river to follow the paths and boardwalks along its western bank northward to Coogoora Park. The track was not particularly well-signed (see footnote), but with a bit of help from our GPS, we soon picked up the right route and found ourselves heading westward across the fringe of the Anglesea Heath.

The boardwalk along the Anglesea River

Many of the herbs and low shrubs carpeting the floor of clearings in the woodland were flowering; white and yellow daisies, blue and purple lilies, orange and red pea-flowers, pink sundews, the occasional pinkish-blue orchid, and many others lined the verge of the track. The bush setting was perfect ..... if you ignored the small open-cut coalmine and power station not far to the north of us.

Open-cut coal mine scarring the Anglesea Heath

View toward Split Point Lighthouse

The track opened out onto a gravel road that climbed gradually up toward Mt Ingoldsby. We stayed on the wide verge to walk amongst the wild-flowers, stopping briefly at the top to admire the expanse of heath and woodland around us, before starting a long descent down the western side on an orange dirt track.

In the distance we could see the 34m high white profile of the Split Rock lighthouse; it had been built in 1891 as a beacon for ships passing this dangerous stretch of coast. Nineteen had been wrecked during the nineteenth century. Today it was also our beacon, as we planned to stay the night at Sanctuary Cottage just below it.

The long and not so winding road across the Anglesea Heath

From the heights of the coastal hills, we could look across the heath and mallee scrub to the green-blue ocean beyond - so different from the menacing white-capped grey mass whipped up by yesterday's cold front. The orange road took us on a bee-line across the Anglesea Heath, dropping steeply into Hutt Gully and climbing equally steeply out the other side.

Grass tree flower spike

The cliff top heath

At the top, a fire had recently burnt part of the woodland; with the warmer weather, the trees were putting out new epicormic growth and bright green shoots of tussock grasses and lomandra were carpeting the scorched soil, together with hundreds of flowering spikes of grass trees. The masses of white star flowers on each spike contrasted sharply with the blackened trunks of the scorched trees. Already the heath was regenerating.

Angelsea Heath bushscape

Having left the Anglesea Heath, the track started to become a little tedious as it followed a straight gravel road that parallelled the Great Ocean Road, with its constant drone of passing vehicles, before entering the built up area of Airey's Inlet and heading south. However, it was but a transition between the day's highlights, bringing us out to the cliffline and a chance to sit and look down the long stretch of coastline back toward Anglesea, before heading on along the 2km stretch of spectacular cliff-top walk.

Postfire regeneration

Split Point Lighthouse (built 1891)

The track wound its way through the dense cliff-top shrubs, every so often revealing a panoramic view of coastline, a multi-coloured gash of an erosion gulley in the cliff-face, a rock platform and reef below and finally the ever-nearing view of the lighthouse, perched on top of the sheer orange cliff line of Split Point.

Multicoloured cliffs above the rock platform

Looking east along th coast back towards Anglesea

The polychrome ochre cliffs at Airey's Inlet

The cliffs of Split Point - Airey's Inlet

On reaching the lighthouse, we turned northward to find our cottage, pleasantly situated opposite a small wetland reserve. It had been a shorter day and our reward was an afternoon in the sun to relax and enjoy the pleasant spring weather in Airey's Inlet.

Airey's Inlet to Mogg's Creek Reserve (6 km)

We were off on the track as the sun rose above the eastern horizon into a clear blue sky; the early start prompted by the need to synchronise our passage around the cliffs of Big Hill, further down the coast, with low tide. However, for the present our aim was to finish the Surf Coast Walk and so we found ourselves crossing the sandbar of Painkalac Creek and chasing our long shadows in the chill dawn air, as we headed westward down the Fairhaven Beach.

The mouth of Painkalac Creek (the previous afternoon)

Sunrise at Painkalac

Early morning walk on Fairhaven Beach

View westward from the top of the ridge behind Fairhaven

After 1.5 km, we cut inland, crossing the Great Ocean Road, to pass through the beach houses of Fairhaven and commence a steady climb up a local horse trail under a light woodland canopy to the ridgeline above Airey's Inlet. From the crest we could see the forest extending inland and the coast in both directions, as well as a black wallaby having an early morning graze. A short linking path led us downhill to join the Gentle Annie Track, a sandy 4WD track that wound westward. Who was Gentle Annie? - we have encountered tracks bearing her name all over Australia and New Zealand.


On the white sand Gentle Annie Track

Leaving it soon after, we descended through the taller forest to cross Mogg's Creek and reach the picnic reserve of the same name. Here, in the quiet shade of a grove of tall ironbarks, the Surf Coast Walk finished with the same obscurity with which it had started - strange that a walk that is given a high profile by the local tourist media has such a low profile on the ground.

Mogg's Creek Reserve - end of the Surf Coast Walk

It was satisfying to have completed the Surf Coast Walk, but there was no time for celebration - our journey had far to go and time and, as the saying goes, time and tide (in this case tide) wait for no man! We set off towards the beach and Lorne.

Footnote: The Surf Coast Walk is well worth doing. Although you rarely escape the trappings of humanity, it does take you through the range of coastal landscapes; spectacular cliff tops, sandy beaches, heath and woodland, with the bonus that, if you go in spring, the wildflowers put on a very nice display. However, if you are planning to go, be aware that it is poorly signed, particularly at places where there is more than one possible route to take, while the track notes supplied by the local tourism authorities are somewhat ambiguous - we got the impression they would be fine if you were a local, but if not ......?? Our GPS found the way where there was doubt, but we were told stories of people losing their way on the track (not that this is a life-threatening thing to happen with human development never very far away). The distances given on the guides are also a bit short - the GPS and Mapsend Lite® measured it as 6 km more between Jan Juc and Airey's - not a real problem, but it all adds to the lack of confidence in the guide. This is all a bit curious when the Surf Coast Walk is strongly promoted as a local tourist attraction (and a good one) - in fact, there is not even a clear indication of its beginning or end. Speaking of which, I would recommend the Surf Coast Walk end at Airey's Inlet - the extra bit does not add very much new and what more spectacular way to finish than the cliff top approach to Split Rock lighthouse, followed by a cold beer at the pub to reflect on it all!