Surface: Mostly compacted earth with some sections of four-wheel drive tracks, sand, sealed or gravel
Grade: Difficult (4)
Open: No seasonal closures
Fees: Free, camping fees apply
Wheelchair accessible: No
More information: greatsouthwestwalk.com
Discover long, lonely beaches, tracking limestone cliffs that rise out of a broad river and peaceful bushland on the spectacular 250-kilometre Great South West Walk.
Starting and finishing in Portland in southwest Victoria, the walk loops northwest through the Cobboboonie Forest to the banks of the beautiful Glenelg River. Walkers follow the slow bends of the Glenelg downstream, past magnificent limestone cliffs and tranquil swimming holes to the tiny Nelson. The trail then heads back east along the coast, taking in the spectacular dunes and beaches of Discovery Bay. Climbing high above the Southern Ocean along the cliffs of Cape Bridgewater, you'll pass blow holes, the Petrified Forest and seal colonies. Finally, the trail traverses Bridgewater Bay and Cape Nelson before heading north and finishing back in Portland.
Any direction from Portland
You can embark on your walk in any direction from the Portland Information Centre, though the anti-clockwise direction is the most popular route.
Head north from the Information Centre along the blue waters of Portland Bay, then plunge inland to wildlife-rich Cobboboonie Forest. The trail leads you northwest to the forested slopes of Mt Van Dyke, soon joining the Lower Glenelg National Park. Heading due west, the banks of the Glenelg River are reached at the idyllic Moleside Camp. The trail then traces the weaving path of the river downstream to Nelson, with views of the river slowly opening up west of Sapling Creek. The river has carved its way through limestone gorges up to 50 metres high and is extremely beautiful, with many lovely swimming holes and secluded campsites.
Whales, 'roos, swans and ducks
South of Nelson, the trail emerges onto the long, curving Discovery Bay beach. Look out for whales offshore as you head east for the first time. Shortly after the abandoned campsite of White Sands the trail turns inland through high dunes, past the remains of ancient middens and stunning heathland with flocks of eastern grey kangaroos bounding away.
Eventually the trail reaches the freshwater lagoon of Lake Monibeong where black swans and flocks of ducks can often be found (walkers can follow the beach the whole way, but the inland sections are especially recommended at high tide). Returning to the ocean, the beach is followed until you can turn off for the Swan Lake campsite. It’s possible to continue down the beach after Swan Lake, but the described route goes inland to the Mount Richmond National Park, following four-wheel drive tracks along pine plantations and delightful bush and vast stands of grass trees.
South of Mount Richmond, walkers trek through remnant bushland and paddocks to the impressive limestone Tarragal Caves, high on a hillside with the shimmering waters of Bridgewater Lakes below.
Saving the best 'til last
What follows is one of the walk’s most spectacular parts. Traverse Cape Bridgewater along the rim of Victoria’s highest sea cliffs, past the freshwater springs where Indigenous peoples collected water and cattlemen watered their herds, spectacular blowholes, the bizarre Mars-like landscape of the Petrified Forest, and the seal colony at Seal Cove, the only mainland breeding place for Australian and New Zealand fur seals.
Shortly after, you drop into the town of Cape Bridgewater. Enjoy an ice cream or refreshments before walking Bridgewater Bay along beaches and high dunes to Cape Nelson and its lighthouse, which sits proudly above jagged limestone cliffs. The final stretch of the walk takes you along Nelson Bay, through the mysterious Enchanted Forest and Yellow Rock, and into the outskirts of Portland past the vast structure of the Alcoa Aluminium Smelter before finishing back at the Information Centre.
Suggested shorter options
Sapling Creek to Cape Nelson, 130km one way
An excellent shorter multiday walk along the most beautiful sections of the Great South West Walk starts from Sapling Creek on the Glenelg River. From here walk down the river then back along the coast to Cape Nelson. It takes five to seven days, depending upon fitness levels, and requires a car shuffle.
Cape Bridgewater town to Bridgewater Lakes, 18km one way
A lovely long day walk from Cape Bridgewater to Bridgewater Lakes, past the seal colonies, Petrified Forest, spectacular blow holes and the springs. It requires a car shuffle or you can organise a pick-up or drop-off with a local service provider.