The Great South West Walk is in Victoria, a 250km loop starting and finishing at the Maritime Discovery Centre in Portland. It has four very distinct sections; Forest, River, Beaches, Capes and Bays. The loop takes 15 nights if you stop at every camp, but can be done much faster. I took 14 days, and it was a wonderful, leisurely hike this way. Above is me at the starter/end marker for the walk the day before I started. I did the walk in winter. I love winter hiking because you have the whole thing to yourself (mostly), and there are no snakes, and I don’t get hot when I’m walking. I cannot imagine doing this hike in summer; the snakes would have to be a legitimate deathtrap in some areas, and we all know how I feel about snakes!
Day 1: June 26 2015: Portland to Cubby’s Camp, 20km
Aka. Old Men and Train Tracks
The worst thing about solo hiking as a girl, is everyone thinks they’re entitled to an opinion about it. A great example of this is the number of people who stopped me before I could even walk out of town, asking if I needed a lift (obviously, I have a backpack so I’m a backpacker…), and then upon learning I am hiking asking if I should stop because I don’t have a man with me (AHHHHH), and then asking if they can drive me to the next section of track (Um…hiking, remember?), and then asking if I have enough food, clothes, warm things, etc etc etc. How dumb do you think I am? So anyway, I was stopped first by a lovely couple before I even got to the lighthouse, which you know…is about 1km into the walk.
The lighthouse is SO cute, and early in the morning on a clear day was a lovely little stop, for all of a few minutes since I hadn’t gone anywhere yet! It also helped my calm down from the couple asking if ‘I was sure I should do the walk’, enough that I didn’t kill the next poor man who dared stop me.
The walk then follows the coast, with stunning coastal views of portland bay, throughout which I was stopped again…and again…It seemed half of Portland wanted to know who I was and what I thought I was doing walking through town alone. I can honestly say the people of Portland are excessively willing to help a girl travelling by herself, but sadly most women travelling by themselves are reluctant to let anyone know what they’re doing, for safety reasons. This makes these conversations excessively awkward as you have to size up everyone who stops you and decide what you can tell them. Solo man with two legs? Say nothing! Couple? Reluctantly admit you’re hiking but say nothing more! Old man? How old…maybe admit what you’re doing, but no details! You get the idea…
Eventually, you do get out of town, but it takes about 13km, and even then you rarely feel like you’ve gotten out into the woods on day one. There are small pockets of beauty like this that make up for it though:
I do wish there was a better map of the walk through Portland; there were several times I felt lost on this first day, not because I was but just because I don’t have a GPS to tell me how far I have gone, or how far I have to go and road walking makes me feel like I’ve walked a thousand miles further than I have, so I felt like I should have reached camp about a thousand times before I ever did. The section that follows the railway line is confusingly marked as well, and again bores you so much that you start to question where the hell you are. But eventually you hit the road, and then it’s a straightforward walk through to camp.
There are various times on the GSWW when you wonder how the locals can be so ambivalent toward the walk. Either they’ve no idea it exists, or they tell you how amazing it is before admitting they’ve never actually walked it. But the funniest ones are those who put up signs on the track where it borders their property. These signs make for some of the best laughs you get on the track. Like this:
Way to make your visiting hikers feel welcome, guys!
The GSWW camps are GREAT. They have a two sided shelter with a large table, a separate picnic table, a fire with cooking plate and about 8 tent sites, a water tank and a toilet. They’re unfortunately for the most part accessible from nearby roads, which in Cubby’s case results in a lot of road noise, but it’s not too bad as the road isn’t a main highway or anything, just a dirt track. This would make it very easy to do assisted walks for those who are unable to carry everything they need, or who just want to do it the easy way.
The shelters also have a great sign on one wall in three sections. The centre panel is a map of the whole walk with all the camps on it, so you can track your progress. The left panel is always a blurb on where you will walk tomorrow, and the right panel is where you’ve just come from (for if you walk it in reverse). They’re a fun, informative read, and usually point out fauna and flora to keep an eye out for the next day. It would be great for the Hikers Registration folders to have more information like this in them!
They look like this:
Day 2: June 27 2015: Cubby’s to Cut Out, 15km
Aka. The secret life and death of Fairies
Day two finally gives you the feeling that you’ve left town. You cross a lot of roads in the forest movement of the GSWW but some feel more isolated than others. Day two is when you stop seeing evidence of people, and that’s when I finally start to relax. This is also the day that the fairy-esque landscape takes over. The first thing I noticed about the Cobboboonee Forest is that it is obnoxiously green! Like, seriously obnoxious! I blame the crazy shade of green on how crazy I went this day, but really…I think I was just used to hiking with someone to talk to and suddenly was forced to talk to myself.
The other thing that became obvious was that while there were no flowers at this time of year, there were definitely mushrooms. The biggest mushrooms in the world. Let me explain:
It’s bigger than my hand!! There were so many mushrooms, I was recalling picking mushrooms as a child, and my completely irrational belief that fairies lived in the middle of mushroom circles.Cobboboonee forest is full of fairy looking mushrooms. Look at the patterns that are on these things:
Observing mushrooms all day had me contemplating my childhood mushroom hunts and recalling my brother deliberately stomping on mushrooms that looked like they were in a circle, proudly pronouncing the fairies were dead. This had me wondering about just how hard and long you have to clap to revive fairies whose homes have been stomped on, and just where they were going to live if you managed to clap-revive them. To make this contemplation even more complicated, I came around large mounds of horse poo that were so aged, they had grown over with moss, and then you guessed it…grown mushrooms. Clearly, no self respecting fairy is going to set up house on a poo-palace mushroom, but gnomes would, right? Not the cute gnomes with pointy hats like in the garden, but little grotesque moley ones with warts…This was clearly where they lived. Right? I was kind enough not to take a picture of the poo-shroom-palace. You’re welcome.
Clearly, I was a tad deranged on day two. I did see a lot of kangaroos, a fantail, and to my complete surprise I came across a family of emus, which helped me understand the old marker logo for the GSWW a little better:
The markers are a little old…and as I said, the forest is obnoxiously green. There is a bridge crossing not far from Cut Out Camp, and I’m assuming a fox killed some small mammal at the top, because you cross the bridge and force your sore legs to take you up the other steep side only to be assaulted with the smell, and it’s carcass is sitting right on the other side of the walkers crossing…it looked very soupy and I wasn’t going to stop for photos. Here is me before crossing the bridge…I was not this happy afterward…
I had read a few reviews on the GSWW before setting out, and the standout feature of the forest section was leeches. So, I wore gaiters…which I would have done anyway, because hello snakes! I was very grateful for my gaiters when I pulled them off at camp and found three leeches on them. You could easily just wear any sort of shoes for the GSWW, but I was grateful for my boots and my gaiters, and the forest section was where I needed them most.
Day Three: June 28 2015: Cut Out to Fitzroy, 22km
Aka. Where is the Damn Road!
Unfortunately, the mushroom caper only got worse on the third day. They were everywhere! Worse, they were in circles…which meant I had to watch where I was going lest I mass slaughter fairies. But the truly amazing thing was the colours! These mushrooms were in every colour of the rainbow! It was a mushroom-skittles-rainbow of possibly-decaying-fairy-death! Blue, Green, Yellow, Red, Pink, Purple… the mushrooms were bright and wet and crazy coloured! They had me questioning my sanity. They were even on the trees…Are tree fairies a thing???
I also saw thousands of more kangaroos, a few wallabies, more emus, a blue wren and every section of track my arrival was heralded by the loudest cockatoos in history.
You could split this day into two days as the halfway point is Cobboboonee Camp, which is strategically placed a short way from a beautiful 3km loop walk I have no doubt would be stunning in spring when the heath is flowering. In Winter it was just more forest, and so I stopped for lunch at Cobboboonee and headed onward to Fitzroy.
This was my favourite section of the Forest. There are numerous signs offering insights into the State Forest Verses National Park sections of the forest. The most interesting thing was the evidence of bushfires, the main section of damage of which dates back to a fire in 1980; the damage I was looking was older than me!!! This was crazy to me, and really made it sink in how bad the original fire was. As you wander through each section of forest, more recent fires help give an idea of which plants grow back first, and which require more time to grow back.
This section of forest was eerie, and beautiful. The fresh grass growth was such a vivid green against the blackened trees. There were not many animals in this area either, which only added to the feeling of isolation as you wander through.
There are several small boardwalks here, which I am assuming are for when there is more water on the track. As the track was bone dry, the boardwalks just looked amusing running alongside a perfectly dry, flat track. Still, they were fun to walk on and observe mushrooms from. The forest has sections that are less dense here as well, and after a sprinkle of rain I was treated to a chorus of frogs, which led me to fancying I was in some kind of dry lagoon, not hard to imagine when it looks like this:
Fitzroy Camp gave me a few heart palpitations, as the water tank on the shelter was empty. I had thought it was Cobbobboonee that was contaminated (I had checked with the volunteers who maintain the track), but it must have been Fitzoy. Luckily, the tank on the toilet was full, so I tossed a purification tablet in the bottle and all was good.
In the Forest section, Fitzroy was my favourite camp. It just feels more isolated than the others, and the layout of the camp is nice. The trees are taller and the light comes through them in winter through the afternoon and makes everything glow. It’s a really lovely spot.
When removing my gaiters this day, I again had several leeches that had been foiled in their attempt to reach my skin. Thank you, gaiters.
As a side note, while there is ample room to set up tents, one of the great things about winter hiking is having the place to yourself, so a lot of the time I set my tent up in the shelter, not because my tent wasn’t waterproof (it is, and there were a few nights out in the rain), but because it was just easier to not have to pack up a wet tent in the morning.
Day Four: June 29 2015: Fitzroy to Moleside, 22km
Aka. The Full-Skittles-Shroom-Rainbow
There is a Decision sign at Fitzroy camp, explaining that the Fitroy river bridge is sometimes inundated and explaining a 3km detour. I’m sure this is necessary, however, the river was bone dry when I went there, and the bridge isn’t high, more a metal boardwalk, so I’m not sure how much water actually goes through there. There is a sign explaining the history of the bridge, which is interesting and worth the stop to read.
And the bridge itself:
When you emerge from the bridge valley, it’s back into the forest, which in the morning light was gorgeous:
I was going to miss the forest. It wasn’t rainforest, which made it a tad monotonous to me, but it was different and very peaceful. I confess, I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would.
This day has the largest sections of forest without road crossings or landmarks to tell you how far you’ve gone or got to go. At one point, it grew so monotonous I wondered if I hadn’t passed through a stargate somewhere and was now lost on another planet, where some crazy huge slug like creature had made a path through the forest that I was stupidly following… I really think there was something about those mushrooms. They were everywhere, again. Every colour of the rainbow.
The cockatoos were the kings of the wildlife menagerie this day, but there were a million wallabies and roos as well, and still some emus. The animals began to blend back into the forest, however, when I reached the Inkpot for lunch.
The Inkpot is bizarre. The theory is a limestone cave collapsed and over time filled with water, and the mulch material has dyed it black. This is totally believable to anyone who has been to Lake Ainsworth in Lennox Head, which is dyed black from the tee trees and like around it. But no one swims in the inkpot, which could be because it looks like a swamp monster lives in it… Whatever made it, it’s a fascinating stop for the day, and eating vegemite seemed ever more appropriate.
The landscape changes after the inkot, the forest thins and sand starts to pile up on the path as you near the river. The change is a relief after all the road walking around the Inkpot, and eventually, without much warning, you emerge into a picnic area and stumble across the quaint, beautiful little slip of Moleside Falls.
This would be a great place to stop, but as you’re only about 1km from camp, there’s not much point. Still, I stood there for a while, had a drink and took a few photos before moving on to camp.
Moleside is definitely one of the prettier camps on the GSWW. Like all of the river camps, it has a large grass lawn for tents, the shelter looks down over the river and a canoe landing:
Most of the time, I arrived in camp around 2pm, set up camp and spent the afternoon reading on my kindle. The landings were lovely places to sit and read and enjoy the river. It was nice to have a body of water close by after four days in the forest.
There was a sense of sadness leaving the forest, but also a sense of achievement at the completion of the First Movement.
Moving on to the Second Movement…the River!