The Great South West Walk is an extended 250 km circular track in the south-west of Victoria that provides some very pleasant walking. The 14 day walk passes through a region of undulating terrain close to the coast and has very few hills to climb.
The track passes through three distinctly different terrain styles. The first section is through woodland, the second follows a river gorge for several days then the final half is along the southern coastline which ranges from long sandy beaches to rugged headlands. With its many access points, the walk is also suited to shorter trips.
The track can be walked by anyone with sufficient fitness. It is suitable for less experienced walkers and travellers as the weather is rarely extreme and much of the walking is on firm tracks or old roads. There are four days of beach walking in soft sand which can fairly tough but as this is encountered in the second week, you should be fit enough by then to handle it with few problems.
There are 16 campsites along the track. All have basic facilities of water (either a tank or a pump), a toilet, and places to erect tents. There are no fees or bookings needed at these sites. The track also passes another 2 camping areas that are accessible by car at which fees apply.
The best periods to walk the Great South West Walk are autumn and spring. During winter, some of the inland sections become flooded and while short alternative routes are available they are road bashes. Winter along the beaches can be exciting with storm waves crashing into the coast. Summer is very pleasant on the beaches but it can be very hot at times particularly on the inland sections.
Before the Great South West Walk was marked, most bushwalkers had never visited or even considered the south-western corner of Victoria to be a bushwalking location. This is because most of the south-western part of Victoria has no high mountains and is mainly rich farmlands. It just seemed unlikely to provide good bushwalking places and few had ever bothered to visit the area.
In the late 1970's, the Portland High School Principal, Bill Golding and the Chief District Ranger, Sam Bruton recognised the beauty and attractions and realised that there were large reserves of land suitable for bushwalking. To create attention, they proposed a 200 km walking track which would pass through the forests, along the Glenelg River and return along the coastline. The plan was accepted and construction of the Great South West Walk began in 1981.
Of course without support the proposal would have languished. The three government agencies who managed the land, cooperated closely to grant approval and a lot of the construction was done by volunteers. The Portland High School provided much of the labour for the track construction and marking and in late 1983 the track was officially opened. Originally the track started at the Princes Highway, 12 km north of Portland and after 200km ended 5 km south of the town. In the early 1990's, the track was extended to cross some private land and run as a circuit from Portland to Portland. There were some problems with one section of the extension (private land and coastal erosion) and in 1995, the track north from Portland was altered to its current location crossing minimal private land. Today, the track is a 250km circuit.
Initially, the track followed a lot of roads. Gradually, many of these road bashes have been replaced with walking track and the circuit has matured into a pleasant walk. There are still some road sections but they are mainly along old or closed roads.
Tracks need maintenance and this is provided by the 'Friends of the Great South West Walk'. Many of the members attended the High School as teenagers. They run public walks along the track, both short one day walks and the occasional full circuit of 14 days plus they repair bridges, markers and other facilities as needed. More recently they have constructed shelters at five of the campsites. They have done a great job.
The track is located in the south-western corner of Victoria. It starts at Portland, heads north-west through forest to the Glenelg River, follows the river downstream through the small town of Nelson, then returns east along the coastline to the town of Portland.
There are several public transport services every day from Melbourne to Portland. The service is initially by train from Melbourne to Warrnambool then bus to Portland. There are no regular services to the tiny town of Nelson, which is about half way along the track. If you have private transport then you can easily drive to Nelson to place a food drop. Another alternative would be to book some accommodation in Nelson and mail a food parcel to the same place for collection. This could be mailed from Portland when you start the walk.
The thin 16 page booklet 'A Walk on the Wild Side - The Great South West Walk' provides an extremely brief description and very useful sketch maps showing the tracks location. The booklet is published by the 'Friends of the Great South West Walk' and is regularly revised and reflects the latest changes. Detailed track notes to the entire route are available in Bushwalking In Australia by John and Monica Chapman - the 4th edition was published in 2003. If walking the track, you should get both books, the thin book has the maps and the other has the notes.
The best map for the walk is the 'Meridian/Carto Graphics' map 'Lower Glenelg & Discovery Bay'. It is a topographic 1:50,000 double sided map sheet showing the entire walk and it is highly recommended. The only alternatives are 14, 1:25,000 Vicmap sheets which contain the same road and topographic information but generally do not show the tracks location and are not recommended.
|1||Portland to Cubby's Camp, 20km|
|2||To Cut Out Camp, 13km|
|3||To Fitzroy Camp, 22km|
|4||To Moleside Camp, 22km|
|5||To Post & Rail Camp, 12km|
|6||To Pattersons Canoe Camp, 18km|
|7||To Simsons Camp, 17km|
|8||To White Sands Camp, via Nelson (shops), 16km|
|9||To Mombeong Camp, 12km|
|10||To Swan Lake Camp, 17km|
|11||To The Springs, 21km|
|12||To Trewella Camp via Bridgewater Bay (kiosk), 15km|
|13||To Mallee Camp, 17km|
|14||To Portland, 17km|
None are needed to walk this track. It is suggested to notify the Police or the Parks Victoria office in Portland before starting. If there is an emergency like a bushfire then they will know your approximate location and be able to make decisions about your safety. Fires are a regular event in summer - a large bushfire occurred in January 2000 and I would suggest not walking in summer.