Great South West Walk
The Great South West Walk, established in 1981, encompasses four distinct and unique walking environments, giving you blissful variety and a different challenge with each section tackled along the way.
Your journey starts and ends in the pretty seaside coastal town of Portland and takes you on an adventurous 262.5km loop.
This is a beautiful trek with wildly diverse scenery. Your soul will sing! Trekking through native forests and along the marvellous Glenelg River gives way to amazing views of gorges and limestone cliffs, then up onto cliff-tops adjacent to pristine bays and beaches of the Southern Ocean. You will trek through exceptional national parks – Lower Glenelg National Park, Cobboboonee National Park, Discovery Bay Coastal Park and Mount Richmond National Park, and Cape Nelson State Park.
It’s peaceful and wonderful and you are likely to make enduring friendships with other like-minded walkers. Switch off from the world around you and reconnect with nature.
Get Ready For
- Flora aplenty, including Victoria’s floral emblem (pink heath) and spring wildflowers (orchids)
- Iconic wildlife – kangaroos, echidnas, koalas, emus, fur seals
- Tracks meandering alongside the Glenelg River and its towering gorges
- The highest sea cliffs in Victoria, featuring dramatic limestone cliffs
- Freshwater lakes, blowholes, a petrified forest, Princess Margaret Rose Cave and even an enchanted forest!
- Historic Cape Nelson Lighthouse and the seaside villages of Nelson and Bridgewater Bay
On the trail
The Great South West Walk is extremely varied: eucalyptus forests, riverside tracks and on limestone gorges, beach walking and high cliff-top tracks. The track is well sign posted with a red arrow mounted on posts and in some sections will be in conjunction with the GSWW sign on a blue background. The first section through the forest is relatively flat terrain, with some wooden boardwalks and graded paths helping you along the way. You will need to do some beach walking, which can be challenging if the sand is soft (depending on the time of day you walk and the tides). There are a few undulating sections especially up to Mount Richmond and then up to the cliff tops close to Bridgewater Bay.
The picturesque coastal town of Portland has an ancient Aboriginal history over many thousands of years. Fish and eel traps dating back 6,600 years at nearby Lake Condah are UNESCO World Heritage listed as culturally significant. Portland is considered the birthplace of Victoria with European settlement in 1834 – it is also the official starting point of the 250km Great South West Walk.
This long-distance loop walk was devised in 1980 and begins and ends at the Portland Maritime Discovery and Information Centre located on the town’s foreshore which is worth a visit if you have time. The trail is usually walked in an anti-clockwise direction leaving the more difficult beach sections until the end but it can be accessed at any point along the route. Your first day’s walk begins with a gentle coastal stroll past Portland’s pretty Whale Bluff lighthouse before heading inland through quiet suburban streets and gentle farmland pastures to the edge of the Cobboboonee forest.
The walking is relatively flat, very enjoyable and eases you into the rhythm of the trail. There is plenty of birdsong to keep you company and little points of interest throughout the day including a wetland section which makes for a good lunch spot where you can watch ibis, swans, spoonbills and ducks. The Portland-Heywood railway section is pleasant walking that continues for several kilometres before your day finishes tantalising close to the entrance of Cobboboonee Forest at Blackwood Rd.
Just after entering Cobboboonee Forest you reach Cubby’s Campsite, the first of 14 campsites along the trail. Each campsite has a shelter with a picnic table, pit toilet and rainwater tank, and in some instances a fire pit, although firewood is very scarce. The walking is relatively easy on soft lowland trails of forest leaf-litter – depending on the weather it can get soft and boggy in sections.
There are beautiful groves of distinctive messmate eucalyptus and plenty of wildlife including emus as the trail winds across tracks and roads. Birdsong from whistlers, wrens and robins are an ever-present welcome companion among the vibrant forest green vegetation. The damp forest floor is a carpet of bracken and grasses. If you walk the trail in winter you will come across the biggest mushrooms you’ve ever seen, seriously, they are enormous! In season there are smatterings of different wildflowers including lilies, daisies and native orchids.
Towards the end of the day you descend to the valley floor to cross the gently flowing Surry River on the sturdy Ralph’s Bridge before passing Cut-Out-Camp. The camp sits in a serene setting with a broad grassy area and offers a nice opportunity for a quick break before moving onto today’s pick-up point.
Today is the longest section of the trail but the hiking is pleasant and the terrain is not too challenging with the tall messmates continuing to keep you company. This is day three of your forest walking and you may have noted the subtle changes of vegetation and varying soil profiles as you move along the trail. Along the route note the evidence of bushfires where blackened trees are juxtaposed against the vibrant green of the grasses and bracken.
Notice the banksia, melaleucas and stringy barks with patches of more open heathland scrub. The animals are no less prolific though with appearances by emus, wallabies, echidnas and potoroos all the while serenaded by a cacophony of frogs and birdlife including the endangered red-tailed black cockatoo if you are very lucky.
You pass two campsites along the route today; Cobboboonee and Fitzroy which present good opportunities for a break, relax and absorb your bushland surroundings. Fitzroy camp in particular is beautifully secluded close to the river with tall trees and a calm peaceful feeling. The final part of your day finishes with flat easy walking to your pick-up point for transfer to your Nelson accommodation.
For the next few days the trail follows the contours of the stunning Glenelg River as it meanders towards the Southern Ocean near Nelson. Embrace the wonderful contrasting environment of the Lower Glenelg National Park in relation to the Cobboboonee forest. The river habitat is a stunning pastiche of soaring limestone cliffs, tangled river red gums, sheoak, stringybark, native cherry and black wattle. Enjoy a colourful and joyously noisy menagerie of Azure kingfisher, Gang-gang cockatoo, Crimson Rosella, Superb Fairywren and the inquisitive Eastern Yellow Robin.
Today you pass the fascinating Inkpot, a small lake of brackish black tannin water that offers great photo opportunities with the dark water perfectly reflecting the clouds and sky above. There is a pretty little picnic spot of Moleside Falls about 1km before the GSWW campsite, which will tempt you to stay, but bear in mind that Moleside camp offers the familiar picnic table as well as a shelter overlooking the river and a relaxing canoe landing place – the choice is yours.
The walk is full of gentle ups and downs with gorgeous river views as the trail weaves its way in and out of the forest but never leaves the river entirely for too long. The wildlife is still prolific with what may seem like a gazillion brief encounters with emus, wallabies, kangaroos and various other native wildlife. Your pick-up point today is Pritchard’s Landing campground, which is popular with canoeists, kayakers and caravanners, as well as Great South West Way hikers.
The trail slowly weaves its way between beautiful pockets of forest and the glorious Glenelg river. There are several canoe landing and picnic spots just off the trail today as well as Battersby’s campsite which offer nice places for a quick break to enjoy the peace and serenity of the area. The path is mainly flat and follows old disused fire trails, you will also come across small reminders of the earlier forest sections by way of wooden boardwalks and several bridges.
The long stretches of flat bush tracks and trails makes for easy enjoyable walking which may offer you an early finish and the opportunity to swim and relax at Patterson Camp. There’s a chance you may find yourself seeing and hearing more sounds of human activity on the river due to the number of boat ramps in the area. Fishermen frequent the river looking for a catch of bream or mulloway, or school groups of student kayakers and canoeists on outbound courses.
Beware leaving any food unattended at the campsite for even a moment, as according to reports there is a resident possum who loves to raid people’s bags!
In Australia it’s not often you have the opportunity to walk from one state into the next, which makes today’s section unique as you cross from Victoria into South Australia, even if only for a few kilometres!
The walk today may well be your favourite as you enjoy scenic views as the trail hugs the river gorge moving over undulating terrain and in and out of the familiar pockets of pretty forest along the dramatic landscape. From the path you can see Princess Margaret Rose Cave on the other side of the river which is famous for having the highest concentration of cave formations including stalactites and stalagmites per square metre than any other cave in Australia.
As you enter South Australia notice the change in soil composition and vegetation – it is truly gorgeous walking up high looking over the blue riverscape below juxtaposed against the red earth. There’s a wonderful picnic spot at Hirth’s Landing depending on your timing, but regardless you should make time to take a break and enjoy before the final kilometres walk into Nelson.
Today as you leave Nelson there is reason for excitement as another completely different environment awaits. Just as the symphony alludes, this is a walk in four parts, and for the next few days the music is all about the wild Southern Ocean.
The walk from Nelson to Swan Lake, or further to Cape Bridgewater if you choose not to divert inland, is walked almost entirely on, or next to the beach. This is the magic of the Great South West Walk; forest, river, ocean, cliffs. Nowhere could the diversity of the environments be more enhanced than on the long-secluded stretches of white sand and turquoise water. There is rhythm and time for meditative contemplation over the coming days.
Between Nelson and Lake Monibeong there is plenty to see but nothing between you and your thoughts – whatever they may be, for some it’s bliss, others frustration. This section can be tough, and depending on the weather, even tougher if the sand is soft, winds high and seas rough. Remember to check the tide times, although depending on the difference between high and low, a few centimetres between the two may not matter.
If you found yesterday’s beach walking physically and mentally difficult, the negative-ion filled air should have buoyed your spirit and made you ready to tackle the remote section to Swan Lake. And hopefully there will be plenty of birds such as Pied Oyster-catchers, Pacific gulls, Hooded Plovers and gulls to keep you entertained as you meander the long stretch of shoreline.
There is little shelter along the walk today so if you are walking in the warmer months you want to consider leaving early and carrying plenty of water. This is the type of day where the firmness of the sand may well determine your mood, although to be fair, the stunning out-of this-world turquoise-blue of the ocean should be enough to lift anybody’s spirits. As the kilometres pass you begin to notice the little things because you have time to contemplate them; clouds, waves, patterns in the sand, the blue of the sky – all seem to come into focus.
Eventually it’s time to head off the beach and into the sand dunes for a bit more walking until you reach your pick-up point on the road just past Swan Lake campsite for transfer to your accommodation in Portland.
You have a choice of routes today – you can either continue following the coast to Bridgewater Lakes (15.5km) or take our recommended route inland through pine plantations, farmland and the unspoiled bushland of Mount Richmond National Park (225m).
The park was established in 1960 and is home to around 450 plant species including 50 different orchid species. The Gunditjmara called the region Benwerrin, meaning ‘Long Hill’ and once gathered a wide variety of food from the area. In spring there are stunning displays of wildflowers including correas, coastal heaths and wattles. The diverse habitat also supports vibrant bird-life including emus, Crimson rosellas, Gang-gang cockatoos, thornbills, robins and currawongs.
The path to the summit is wide and well-maintained and utilises some quiet country roads. You will enjoy the change in scenery, from the top of Mount Richmond there are beautiful views and a nice picnic area to take a break. From the peak the path descends and widens onto flat open trails allowing for easy hiking; make sure you keep a look out for kangaroos, koalas, echidnas and wallabies.
From Bridgewater Lakes Road you enter a small section of quiet secluded bushland before crossing pastured farmland and an ‘interesting stile’. From here the trail takes you high over a hill with great views over the Bridgewater freshwater lake system through to the blue-green water of Discovery Bay.
Once you descend passing the wide mouth of Tarragal Cave there is a gentle walk through sand hills that brings you to the beginning of a remarkable section of the track featuring an astounding display of diverse natural beauty. Enjoy sensational cliff-top walking and glorious views as you follow the rugged coastline. It seems you can never put your camera away so have it ready to capture the drama of the juggernaut of waves crashing onto the rocks below.
To finish this glorious day of wondrous walking you finally arrive at an incredible moonscape of blowholes and a ‘petrified forest’ which is actually a series of ancient limestone tubes. Take your time to appreciate the views and explore this fascinating geological landscape.
The walk today is magical! Enjoy dramatic glorious coastline views that stretch forever over the ocean with an abundance of photo opportunities including from the aptly named ‘Perilous Parapet’. As you walk towards Cape Bridgewater look out for a local mob of kangaroos who usually keep a close eye on things.
The trail takes you to some of the highest coastal cliffs in Victoria (130m) and past two seal colonies; Australian and New Zealand fur seals, who interestingly do not mingle with each other even though they live in close proximity. There are several viewing platforms where you can search for the seals and take advantage of the magnificent uninterrupted views over deep-blue water to the horizon.
From the cliff-tops the pathway leads you down past the tiny hamlet of Cape Bridgewater where you can stop for coffee at the Bridgewater Bay Cafe before continuing along the hard-flat wide open shores of Shelly Beach to Trewalla campsite and today’s pick-up point.
The coastline is alive with birdlife including Pied Oystercatchers, Sandpipers, Hooded Plovers, Terns and Pacific gulls, plus there are shells galore to admire and name. The mostly pristine beach is subject to small patches of debris bought in by strong tides and coastal storms, so bring a bag if you’d like to beach-comb for litter along the way.
Part-way along the trail there is an interesting age-old rocky outcrop standing sentinel-like as you pass – you can feel its ancient energy reaching back in time. As you walk you may find the sand can be a little soft in places but the walking is pleasant. Perhaps take your shoes off and try ‘grounding’ with the earth.
As you near Cape Nelson lighthouse you will leave the beach to climb a sturdy wooden stairway to the top of the spectacular sea cliffs with gorgeous views over the Southern Ocean. After a passing through a pretty grove of coastal Tea trees and crossing Murrells Rd, the trail becomes more rugged and rocky underfoot as you walk towards the lighthouse. Make sure you explore the lighthouse and enjoy a break at the delightful cafe before the last bit of this very enjoyable day’s walk.
Enjoy the last of the rich coastal heath, overhanging canopies of the soap Mallee and dense vegetation of the Enchanted Forest. There are nice final views as you head towards Yellow Rock surf beach – watch in awe if there are any surfers tackling the massive waves.
The walk passes directly underneath the enormous wind turbines that are a constant companion for the final days, and which some people will have mixed feelings about. The highlight of the day for many will be the gannet colony at Point Danger which is Australia’s only mainland colony. You can view these magnificent seabirds with a wingspan of up to 2m from the viewing platform.
You will note the changing landscape as it becomes more urban and industrial – coming to the end of a walk, especially one as wonderful as the Great South West Walk can be difficult. But the passing kilometres allow you to make the transition and by the time you reach Portland again you should be ready to take home many precious memories of your extraordinary walk.
Explore Great South West Walk
Duration: 12 to 14 days
Route type: Loop walk (anti-clockwise)
Start/End: Portland – Maritime Discovery & Visitor Information Centre
Location: Far west Victoria
Closest towns: Portland, Nelson, Bridgewater
Cobboboonee National Park set amidst tall eucalyptus trees. Look out for the Powerful Owl and Yellow-bellied Gliders, as well as potoroos.
The Glenelg River with tall eucalypts and blackwoods bountifu with views of the Glenelg River from the limestone cliffs are quite stunning l. More than 60 plant species, along with 50 species of orchids are located in this area
Lake Monibeong is set amidst coastal scrub and heathland.
Mt Richmond supports some 450 species of plants have been noted, including 50 orchid species! The diverse habitat also supports vibrant bird-life including emus, Crimson rosellas, Gang-gang cockatoos, thornbills, robins and currawongs.
Trewalla Camp is in the Discovery Bay Coastal Park set amidst coastal scrub. So much to see along this section, including the dramatic volcanic section of the Petrified Forest
Australia’s only mainland gannet colony at Point Danger Coastal Reserve, just a few kilometres from Portland.
- 13-days self-guided walking supported by RAW Travel’s GSWW navigation app including route map, emergency contacts, weather and other helpful information
- Our free app easily helps you find you way by showing where you are in real time
- 7-nights 4* quality period-style accommodation in the heart of pretty Portland
- 5-nights cosy en-suite cabin-style accommodation in quiet Nelson
- 12 delicious breakfasts with a focus local and seasonal produce including bread, yoghurt, coffee, butter, jams and free-range eggs
- Private daily vehicle transfers from your accommodation to / from the trailhead
- Pre-trip planning, guidance and support from our experienced team
- Emergency PLB emergency device for use while walking the trail
- Transfers or transport to Portland
- Lunches & dinners
- Travel insurance
- Items of a personal nature
- Single supplement (please enquire)
Discover Australia’s best coastal walk! Our comprehensive destination guide is bursting with inspiration, travel essentials, practical advice and more to help you prepare for a memorable journey along this breathtaking trail.
Each day on the Great Ocean Walk & Great South West Walk brings varied terrain and spectacular views – deserted wild beaches, sheer cliffs, shipwrecks and a historic lighthouse, giant mountain ash forests, pristine river estuaries, abundant wildlife, dunes and coastal heathlands. These are walks of immense variety as you hike towards through environments of forest, dramatic coastal cliffs, remote beaches and rivers.
Social and environmental
All our adventures are fully carbon offset so that you know your travel has minimal impacts. Hiking itself is a low impact activity but we offset the cost of all our office operations and food production as well, so you can be satisfied that you have chosen a form of travel that is both good for you and good for the planet. Each year we also plant trees on behalf of every customer who has travelled with us, aiming to build towards a carbon positive effect with our operations.
“When I met Nick and Darren in front of the NGV International on Wednesday, April 21st, for the Great South West Walk I instantly felt that they would be a wonderful team to travel with and I am very pleased to be able to tell you that my instincts turned out to be true! Nick was a terrific guide over the three days of walking…very knowledgeable, very attentive and very personable. I was very impressed with Nick’s efforts to learn more about the plants and trees along the walk. It was lovely to see someone who worked diligently to expand his knowledge of the area. This will definitely hold Nick in good stead in future travels. Darren was not only a careful driver but his local knowledge of almost everything was impressive and it is just wonderful that he has such a pleasant manner about him. Both Nick and Darren worked hard to ensure that The Great South West Walk was a memorable experience for all of us. Loved the trip!!
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