No 28: Great South West Walk

No 28: Great South West Walk

Spend the weekend discovering the highlights of Victoria’s best kept hiking secret.

Starting and finishing in Portland the grade 4, 250km walk loops through the Cobboboonee Forest to the beautiful banks of the Glenelg River.

Walkers meander through the quiet fishing town of Nelson before traversing the spectacular dunes to the long, deserted shores of Discovery Bay. You’ll pass blowholes, the Petrified Forrest and seal colonies before the trail leads you to the breathtaking Bridgewater Bay and the historic Cape Nelson lighthouse before returning you to Portland.

Beginners and intrepid travellers alike love this epic loop self-guided trail. Challenge yourself with the full 13-day trek or tackle multi-day, full day or half day walks. Campgrounds are dotted along the trail or for hikers that like their walks pack free, a local friendly shuttle service can transfer you to and from your Portland or Nelson accommodation or car.

We challenged ourselves to see as many highlights of the Great South West Walk as we could in one weekend. Join us for the journey!


Cape Bridgewater

We set off from the breathtaking Bridgewater Bay for one of the most spectacular parts of the Great South West Walk. You’ll follow the rim of an ancient volcano to Cape Bridgewater along some of the highest coastal cliffs in Victoria. The trail overlooks the deep blue water of Bridgewater Bay and the local seal breeding colony – the biggest for Australian and New Zealand Fur Seals on mainland Australia.


Petrified Forest & The Blowholes

Continue past the futuristic windfarm landscape to the bizarre Mars-like terrain of the Petrified Forest. Legend has it the Petrified Forest was an ancient forest engulfed by wind whipped sands, petrifying them for all time. But actually, they are hollowed tubes of limestone, eroded into trunk-shaped pipes by millions of years of rainfall. A short distance away you’ll find the wildness of The Blowholes. The wind whips the sea into such a frenzy you’ll be forgiven for believing the Petrified Forest story!


Tarragal Caves and Bridgewater Lakes

Next up, Discovery Bay National Park. Before we even arrived there was something to discover – the impressive Tarragal Caves. Hike up the small hill and you’ll see that the giant cavern forms the perfect natural frame for the shimmering lakes, giant dunes and sea behind them. Insta worthy!


Discovery Bay Coastal Park

The sneak peek of the views to come spurred us on to get to the shores of Discovery Bay. The 50km stretch of white sandy beach, wild waves and extensive dune system didn’t disappoint. And in the 2hrs we wandered the shores we only saw a single person. It feels amazing to have such a spectacular place nearly to yourself.


After a big day walking we were very happy to see our friendly shuttle driver Gary and his comfortable ‘All About Us Bus‘, ready and waiting to take us back to our Portland accommodation. A pick up/drop off service is a great option for hikers that prefer their creature comforts over camping or day walkers looking to tackle a non-loop trail and be conveniently returned to their car.


We stayed at Mac’s Quality Hotel Bentinck. Its grand facade and great pub meals makes it Portland’s most iconic hotel. Our huge historical suite overlooked the Portland harbor and came complete with luxurious spa bath, perfect for relaxing those well-used muscles and getting them ready for another big days walk in the morning.


Sappling Creek to Discovery Bay

Trying to fit the highlights of Great South West Walk into a weekend saw us pick up the trail in Nelson – the last town before hitting the South Australian border. This quiet fishing town is perched on the banks of the Glenelg River and its Gorge Walk was our destination for the day’s hike. This is one of the best canoe trips in Australia so many visitors combine canoeing and walking for their Great South West adventure! Say hi to Chris for us if you’d like to hire a canoe or kayak from the large fleet at Nelson Canoe Hire.
This 19.8km loop trail follows the slow bends of the mighty Glenelg River or your transfer service can see you travel one way from Sappling Creek to Discovery Bay. The trail winds through untouched bushland and along the rim of the towering gorge, reaching up to 50m in places. Centuries of flowing water has dissolved the limestone rock forming caves and revealing fossils of long-extinct marsupials such as the Giant Kangaroo and the Marsupial Lion, as well as remains of the Tasmanian Devil, now extinct on the mainland. There’s plenty of living wildlife to see too. Platypus, ducks, moorhens, emus, kangaroos, wallabies, possums, koalas, wombats and kingfishers all call the area home as do more than 700 species of native plants that bloom in the bush, including dozens of different wildflowers.

The Glenelg River is tidal and the estuary widens as it approaches Discovery Bay – the end of our walk and our weekend. The sound of the wild waves crashing can trumpet through the gorge up to 30km upstream. Equally impressive was wandering the trails of Oxbow Lake past the wildlife sanctuary to Estuary Beach for the most spectacular sunset over the mirror-like water. The perfect end and selfie moment for our Great South West Walk!

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Top 5 things that made the weekend great

  • Having these remote paradises nearly to yourself

  • The views from the highest coastal cliffs in Victoria

  • Seeing the seal colony at Cape Bridgewater

  • Exploring the four terrains of the walk – enchanting forests, pristine beaches, rugged cliffs and mirror-like rivers

  • Our drop off/pick up service allowed us to easily see the higlights as well as not having to carry a pack!

It’s the untouched forests, pristine beaches, mirror-like rivers and dramatic cliffs that make this walk undeniably ‘great’.


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Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawurrung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging. We recognise and respect their unique cultural heritage and the connection to their traditional lands. We commit to building genuine and lasting partnerships that recognise, embrace and support the spirit of reconciliation, working towards self-determination, equity of outcomes and an equal voice for Australia’s first people.