Four Unique Environments
The Great South West Walk is home to the Gunditjmara people. The Woorowarook Mirring (forest country),the waters of the Pareetj Mirring (freshwater country), the Bocara Woorowarook Mirring (forest river country), to the Nyamat Mirring (sea country), all tell an integral part of the connection to country Gunditjmara people have maintained for tens of thousands of years. We walk amongst this landscape, upon ancestors’ shoulders, and pay our respects to Elders, past and present. Please take some time to pay respects to our ancestors on the 250km loop walk, taking only photos and leaving only footprints.
The Great South West Walk has four radically different sections, the Cobboboonee Forest walk, the Glenelg River gorge walk, the Discovery Bay beach walk, and the Capes and Bays walk. These 4 environments and experiences are what is referred to as “Natures Very Own Symphony – in 4 movements”
Starting in the west this section of the walk begins tamely and takes walkers through classic Australian eucalypt forest, from Portland to Moleside is approx. 80km. The track is flat and even with attractive valleys and river crossings. It explores the headwaters of the Surry and Fitzroy rivers where ferns flourish in the gullies. Crimson rosellas in flashes of hot red and deep blue flicker through the trees. Gang gangs, cockatoos and even cuckoos inhabit the trees during Spring. Kangaroos and emus move freely amid native flowers.
This section is ideal for short walks, with excellent picnic facilities and vehicle access at Surry Ridge and Jackass Fern Gully.
The trees grow shorter and more rugged as the track approaches the banks of the mighty Glenelg River. The track winds alongside the river and then up along the rim of the towering gorge. It turns away from the gorge for brief stretches but always returns to the edge for the most spectacular lookouts imaginable.
The river is tidal, and the estuary widens as it approaches the sea. The sound of waves sometimes echoes 30 kilometres upstream. Many visitors combine canoeing and walking. It is one of the best canoe trips in Australia. The Glenelg is a river of international reputation but sections of it can be enjoyed via a short 10 minute or longer 90 minute walk from different car parks.
Wildlife is in abundance and includes platypus, ducks, moorhens, emus, kangaroos, wallabies, possums, koalas, wombats and kingfishers. More than 700 species of native plants bloom in the bush, including dozens of different wildflowers.
Loop walks are popular at Battersbys and Pritchards camps and picnic grounds.
Things to See and Do
Hire a canoe and paddle up the Glenelg River.
Pitch a tent and camp on the river bank (permits required for sites that have vehicular access and are numbered, but not for the walkers campsites). Please refer to the official GSWW map.
Take a boat cruise through the spectacular limestone gorge, with cliffs of up to 50 metres.
Visit the Princess Margaret Rose Cave for a close look at intriguing limestone formations, stalactites, stalagmites and helictites.
Visit the tiny township of Nelson, on the banks of the Glenelg River.
Fish the famous river estuary, rated as one of Australia’s favourite spots for a range of popular tasty species (fishing licence required, some age-related exemptions apply).
The third section of the walk is wild and exposed, which is in contrast to the sheltered Glenelg River. Few beaches in Australia run for 55 kilometres on open sand facing such gigantic surf as the beach of Discovery Bay. Sandy beaches make the loudest noise and this beach can really roar.
There are huge mobile sand dunes around Swan Lake and beautiful deep water just inland at Lake Mombeong.
The track allows walkers to leave the beach in sections, but it is the 55-kilometre beach and the wild, wild ocean that exhilarates every visitor who dares the isolated shores.
It is best to make your way along the beach section at low tide, rather than negotiate the soft sand above the high tide water line.
BEWARE – swimming anywhere along Discovery Bay is not advisable, due to dangerous rips and strong undertow that can carry even strong and experienced swimmers out to sea.
During the daytime and in the warmer months ‘March’ flies can be very irritating. This large fly has a sting similar to a mosquito. Any quality insect repellent will guard you against them.
Cape Bridgewater has some of the highest coastal cliffs in Victoria and protects a bay that stretches in a perfect crescent around the rim of a huge, ancient volcano crater. Swell lines echo the circle of the caldera. One of the most popular walks around the area takes visitors to a lookout on the tip of the cape and to a platform above a seal colony.
You may choose to take a closer look by boat, which leaves from the jetty along from the beach.
The western flank of the cape features a blowhole and a surreal landscape of calcified sediment that looks like a forest of tree roots or kelp turned into rock.
Suspended lookouts, strengthened by cables, offer breathtaking views over aquamarine coves towards Cape Nelson.
Another section of the walk visits the “Enchanted Forest” in a landslip, halfway down a cliff, where haunting Moonah trees are draped by curtains of falling vines.
Point Danger is the site of an Australasian Gannet Colony which is the only one on the Australian mainland.
Blue Whales and Southern Right whales can be observed, while seals and dolphins are abundant around the capes.
Things to See and Do
Swim and surf at Cape Bridgewater.
Take a tour of the Cape Nelson Lighthouse.
Take a seal boat tour alongside rock platforms and into the mouth of a watery cave where you can watch up to 650 fur seals swim, dive and slither on and off the rocks.
Visit the Petrified Forest, Blowholes and Freshwater Springs.
Don’t miss the freshwater Bridgewater Lakes where you can enjoy a picnic or canoe in peaceful surroundings.
Ride the Portland Cable Tram for a picturesque foreshore journey.
Visit the Portland Maritime Discovery Centre for a glimpse of our seafaring past. Step inside the ribcage of a huge sperm whale skeleton.