Sunday 10 December 2023

Great South West Walk. Victoria, Australia. 250km, 8 days.


The Great South West Walk.

Is it great?  well it's.... pretty good!  
And yes this mostly flat, easy 250 kilometre loop path designed for walking is located in the South West of Victoria, Australia.

You get a terrific variety of natural environments to explore; the trail passes through dry forest, hugs the winding, green Glenelg River and slogs along the wild coastline of Discovery Bay.
Add in a couple of National Parks, pertrified forest remains and stupendous views all round.

There's a shit ton of wildlife and great camping spots on the trek and conveniently sited shelters with water tanks and dunnies every 15 to 20 kilometres.

I first walked the GSWW in 1999 as an over confident tourist fresh off the plane here in Aussie.  
It was my first hike over 200 kilometers and kicked off a 25 year obsession of wandering long trails and working as little as possible.


You can jump on the GSWW anywhere there is road access but the 'official' start and finish is the Portland Visitor Centre.  

I walked counter clockwise, knocking over the inland section first however you can head West if you like, whatever floats your boat.  
Either direction works.

I flew Launceston to Melbourne, Skybus into Southern Cross Station, grabbed a gas cannister from one of the outdoor stores in Little Bourke Street and took a pre booked Vline train and bus to Warrnambool and Portland, respectively.

The train journey takes 3.5 hours, bus is 90 minutes, they are timed to link up together and thanks to the current stunning deal courtesy of Vline the cost is a paltry $10.  

That's it, a maximum of $10 per person, capped for travel with Vline, anywhere in Victoria.  
Yip, you may encounter 'interesting' types and have loud annoying nonsense blaring from mobile phones drilling into your ear canals while slumming it in public transport, but it's $10.  

I travelled the same route in reverse after the hike.  Vline bookings here

And of course you can drive your own vehicle and park somewhere for the duration of your walk. 

Map sourced from Google Maps

Map sourced from GSWW website


I initially carried 5 days food with me.  
I picked up a parcel containing another 4 days worth of supplies at the Nelson Post Office which is at the half way point.
I took 8 days to hike the GSWW so that worked out great.  

Most people I encountered were taking 14 days to walk the trail so I guess they started out with a weeks worth of supplies and sent themselves another week to collect at the Post Office.  
Or they just tolerated insanely heavy packs.

There are a few motels and caravan parks in Nelson, a pub with a bottle shop and there is fast food takeaway at the General Store/ Post Office kiosk, no supermarket options.

Put something like this on the package:

General Delivery
Nelson LPO
Estimated collection November 24
26 Leake Street

*Hours are 9 -5       Monday to Friday
                 9 - 12    Saturday
                 Closed   Sunday

Or if you are 100% sure of your itinerary and have pre booked accommodation in Nelson you can ask if your hotel will hold a parcel for you. 

I smashed a delicious lunch of fish and chips and salad at the Cape Bridgewater Cafe on day 7.

Cafe website.


I was genuinely blown away by the diversity and proliferation of native wildlife on this walking path.

I encountered: 

Eastern Grey Kangaroo, 
Swamp Wallaby,  
Flies, flies, loads of flies,
Gang Gang Cockatoo,
Black Cockatoo,
Blue Tongue Skink (photo above),
Rufous Bristlebird,
Pied Oystercatcher,
Hooded Plover,
Tiger Snake,
Red Bellied Black Snake,
Flame Robin,
Crescent Honeyeater,
Fur Seal,
and more colourful birds and reptiles that have slipped my memory.

In addition to the legitimate native fauna I occasionally sighted fox and feral cat lurking about.


The Friends of the Great South West Walk maintain and promote the walk.  

They do fantastic work and their website is far more informative than my ramblings if you are seeking specific information on the GSWW.  Website.

It's a simple trail to follow with solid signage and markings.  
Dirt bikers and mountain bikers churn up the inland portion of the track so it's highly visible.

I carried the official map below, hardly needed it, never got lost. 
There are digital GPX files online if you want to download them onto your phone and an official guidebook for sale via the GSWW website too.

Great South West Walk shop.


I free camped wherever I wanted.  That's just me and how I hike.

When I walked the trail the official shelter sites were chock full of large groups of school age children and older walkers constantly talking about gear, but you are encouraged to utilise these sites and pre book them on the Parks Victoria website here.


There are not many streams or natural resources to draw on.  
I filled up exclusively at the shelter sites from the rainwater tanks.


Portland is located on the Southern coast of Australia, producing a moderate, maritime climate over the surrounding area.  I hiked the GSWW in November, before the Summer heat kicked in.  

I wore shorts and long sleeve shirt, sandals on the beaches and hundreds of very friendly flies on my back.

There were a few days of rain but it never felt truly cold.

There are a couple of hours of road walking on the first day heading North along the coast, then it's fire trails and single track through regrowth forest to the Glenelg River.  
Some great cliff top trail sections lead to the small coastal town of Nelson and then you are searching for the firmest bits of the sand as the GSWW leads you along Discovery Bay.  

Try to time the tides right for these couple of days.

It's choose your own adventure at the dune buggy camping area of Swan Lake: head inland up to Mt Richmond National Park or continue chugging along the coast to Cape Bridgewater.  I went the Mt Richmond route, filled up my water bags at Tarragal Camp and camped near the Bridgewater Lakes.

Petrified forest and windfarms greet you as you meander into Portland, the trail keeps you off the roads for the most part.


I was following in the footsteps of my 24 year old self as I re-hiked the GSWW.  

Not that there was a whole lot of nostalgic navel gazing and contemplation- I barely remembered the GSWW and I was just keen to get another hike in after my month long romp on the Sheltowee Trace in Kentucky.  

The Good:

A mostly level, well marked, attentively maintained pathway accessible to anyone that can walk upright.  

Crazy amounts of enchanting wildlife hanging around and a changing landscape.  
Bit of bush, bit of beach, a nice balance.

A loop track is always easier on the transport logistics.

The Not So Good:

I encountered far too many very large private school outdoor education groups on this hike.  

Dozens of kids encamped in every single shelter taking up every single square centimeter of space.  
Morning, noon, night- whenever I rolled through a shelter to grab some water; 20, 30, sometimes 40 school kids.  They were mostly kind of polite but always visibly relieved when I explained I was just passing through.

Lucky I was never planning to actually stay in one of these campsites, that would have been my idea of hell.  
However all of the other walkers I met said they camped overnight with the kids.  
And the yelling, and the chaos, and the mess. 

I get it, the next generation needs to be exposed to the outdoors in order to cultivate connection to our wild places.  I'm not convinced throwing young people out in large, rowdy groups and taking over whole public shared areas is the correct means for this instigation.  But I hate large, rowdy groups in remote places anyway so that's just me.

My advice is to check the booking system carefully if you plan to stay at one of these shelters and see how many others are booked in for a particular night too.

Outside the Portland Visitor Centre at the 'official' start/ finish of the GSWW, nearly 25 years after my first trot around the loop.

Blast from the past! The visitor centre doesn't hand out completion certificates anymore and I'm quite amazed I still have this one.

March 1999, note the heavy old school water filter.

Who's this dude dressed in itchy polypropylene with the 100 litre Macpac Torre backpacks? 😁