Day 4 - The Springs to Trewalla Camp (17 km - 280m ascent - 260m descent)

Dodge Tide Day began curiously in the early morning as a sea fog rolled in over The Springs campsite. leaving everything dripping wet. We stayed snug and dry inside the tent until 7am - there didn't seem a lot of point in getting up too early.

When we did, the sun was trying to break through the fog and, by the time we left, it had succeeded. Another blue sky day awaited, perfect to appreciate the brilliant landscape that lay ahead. Cape Bridgewater was originally a volcanic island, created by the massive ancient caldera that is now Bridgewater Bay.

The basalt bedrock has been overlaid by limestone formed as dune systems created a neck from mainland to island. On the western side, leading out to Cape Duquesne, erosion has exposed the limestone layer and formed an intricately sculptured landscape, while below the jagged limestone cliffs, black columns of basalt spread out to form a dark and knobbly rock platform - simply spectacular.

Sea-fog over The Springs

Limestone cliffs on a platform of basalt

Thus we wandered by, taking in the sights of the rugged limestone cliffs as the lines of swell rolled in from the Southern Ocean and crashed onto the black rocks below.

An extrusion of columnar basalt

Heavily-eroded limestone formations

The intense blueness of the Southern Ocean

The surface was lunar-like, with weirdly eroded blocks of limestone and circular remants of solution tubes, where water has dissolved pits into the calcareous base, cementing a sandy wall as it does. On the inland side, the giant blades of the wind turbines cycled slowly in the wind, pumping electricity into the grid.

The lunar-like landscape of Cape Duquesne

"Tree trunks" of The Petrified Forest

At a couple of points, we made slight detours - first to The Blowhole, which didn't blow (tide and swell direction were against us) and then to The Petrified Forest, which wasn't a forest. However, it is a remarkable collection of calcareous solution tubes, looking forever like the hollowed out trunks and stumps of petrified trees.

Leaving this behind, the track led us around Cape Duquesne to the southern cliff-line, with its greener cover of low wind-shaped coastal heath. We were now heading towards the tip of Cape Bridgewater.

Cliff-line looking west to Cape Bridgewater

¿Dónde está Don Quijote cuando lo necesitas?

This south-facing section offered a series of lovely cliff-scapes rising out of the deep blue of the ocean. Ahead and inland, the green pastures of farmland could be seen behind the darker green heath ..... and of course the ubiqitous wind turbines, ever slowly turning.

Time to take in the views

Cliff-line looking east to Cape Duquesne

Heading along the southern cliff-line of the cape

Farmlands of Cape Bridgewater's interior

A little while later, we reached the extremity of Cape Bridgewater, before turning north to stop at Seal Cove. Fifty metres below the viewpoint, colonies of New Zealand and Australian fur seals (perhaps better called long-nosed and short-nosed fur seals, respectively, seeing that neither species respects the geographic limitations of its name). The two species have set up on different rock platforms and never the twain shall mix. It was the long-nosed fur seals that put on a water ballet show for us, while the lone short-nosed fur seal barely deigned to give us a passing glance from its wave-washed platform.

The noble upstanding Australian fur seal

Fur seal water ballet

The small and slothful New Zealand fur seal

Climbing up to Victoria's highest coastal cliffs

The lovely curving beach of Bridgewater Bay

Victoria's highest coastal cliffs - 135m (photo: A Laird)

From the seal look-out, the track rose steeply, across a grassy quasi-European landscape, to crest the highest cliffs in Victoria, a wall of volcanic tuff rising 135m above the sea. The panoramic views from here across the turquoise waters of Bridgewater Bay and over the cape to the distant sands of Discovery Bay were superb (did we really walk all that way?).

View over the neck of Cape Bridgewater and Bridgewater Bay

A steady descent and brief climb over a lower headland brought us to the village of Cape Bridgewater .... and the Bridgewater Bay Café, a Victorian Café of the Year winner. How we had been dreaming of this! Icy cold chocolate milk (the best rehydration medicine) for starters and then grilled whiting with lightly fried chips and a delicous salad, followed by a mug of hot, strong flat white - luxury after four days on the track. It was hard to leave - the passionfruit cheesecake was very tempting.

Leave though we did, dropping down on to the white sand beach of Bridgewater Bay .... but yet more luxury, the sand was firm. It was also the dodge tide, where high and low tide coincide and cancel one another out to leave only two tides in the day. Apparently this only happens in a few places in the world - a good thing to have seen.

View over the heath back towards distant Cape Bridgewater

Reaching the end of the beach, we climbed up into the rear of the fore-dunes, where a grassy track led us through the thick coastal scrub. In the lea of the wind, it was very hot walking, but occasional climbs to exposed points and alongside the low cliff edge provide both cooling breeze and pleasant views, as we passed Shelly Beach and Bishops Rock.

Track through the heath-covered dunes

Bishops Rock

Bridgewater seascape in silver and grey

Finally, the track turned inland to reach Trewalla Camp, a clearing in the shelter of the tall heathland shrubs. It had been another long day, but this time made long by lots of stops to admire coastal features and wildlife, and enjoy the best lunch in four days. Paul and Nanette, earlier risers than us, were already there and we spent a pleasant end of afternoon comparing notes on the day's walk.

Sheltered spot for a tent at Trewalla campsite

Trewalla sunset

As the sun was about to set, we all adjourned to the camp viewing platform with great vistas back over Cape Bridgewater - it didn't matter that the promised brilliant sunset faded away behind distant cloud, the experiences of the day were enough to send us to bed tired and content.

Day 5 - Trewalla Camp to Mallee Camp (15 km - 230m ascent - 240m descent)

It was the warmest night so far and the dawn chorus of heathland birds was in full voice. When we got up it looked like a change was in the air - high cloud was drifting in and the wind had swung around to the north-west. We set off a bit earlier than usual on what should have been our shortest day. A quick stroll from Trewalla along the grassy track took us through the dune heath to the beach at Bridgewater Bay. Ahead lay the last section of beach-walking - 4½ km along the eastern end of the bay.

Looking towards Cape Bridgewater

Wreckage of refrigerated shipping containers

We stepped tentatively on to the sand - bugger, it was soft. Thus we had one last bit of cruel and unusual punishment, trudging along the edge of the bay, passing snipe, gulls and oystercatchers on their morning forage. We also passed a set of four wrecked container vessels that must have been washed off a ship in a storm and smashed high onto the rocks.

Start of the climb up into the dunes

View from the top of the climb

At the end of the beach, we stopped for a short break. Ahead lay an arduous and sandy climb up into the back dunes, but one rewarded by superb views back across the blue bay waters to Cape Bridgewater and ahead to the rocky turbine-topped prow of Cape Nelson jutting seawards.

Rest stop (photo: Alan Laird)

Path through the dunes

However, before we got on to that cape, the track took us for an undulating foray through the thickly vegetated back dunes. Dunes are never flat, but these seemed to have an inordinate number of humps and hollows, as we walked through a winding and windless corridor of green. Each climb was sharp and short, but they all added to the work load as the sun emerged and the temperature rose quickly. The north-westerly was a warm wind, more foe than friend, and our clothes were soon soaked in sweat.

Panorama of Bridgewater Bay

Finally, we emerged on to the rocky platform of Cape Nelson proper and the track gradient levelled out - still with some steady climbs and descents, but not the hard work of the dunes. The temperature was topping 30°C by the time we passed high above the lovely Murrells Beach and beneath the soft throb of the wind turbines.

Barren sandstone cliffs of west Cape Nelson

Murrells Beach

In the shade of the soap mallee

After passing through a shady stand of soap mallee, the trac led back into the open, with low shrubs and an exposed cliff-line. Like Cape Duquesne before, these cliffs were quite spectacular, though shaped from sandstone rather than limestone, sitting on a base of black basalt.

The western edge of Cape Nelson

Looking towards the tip of Cape Nelson

Cape Nelson Lighthouse

We really were starting to feel the heat (I discovered later that the temperature on Cape Nelson reached 37°C), as the warm north-westerly had long ceased cooling us down, but seeing the distant red-capped tower of Cape Nelson lighthouse, we pushed on more quickly.

It had a strong magnetic pull, guiding us in to the lighthouse complex, with its set of matching keepers' cottages, beautifully restored in red and white, and .... a café. Even better, an air-conditioned café! With milkshakes, cold drinks and meals, it was a welcome oasis on a very hot day.

Lighthouse keeper's cottage

Mallee Camp

We hung around the café until 3pm, before setting out for the last short stroll to Mallee Camp under a relentless sun. However, not long after arriving and pitching our tents, the weather took an ominous turn, with dark thunderclouds building up in the west. The air became perfectly still in anticipation, but in the end only a few drops fell. Still, it broke the oppressive heat and, if the weather report is to be believed, was the harbinger of a cooler change and rain tomorrow. With a 23 km hike into Portland in the offing, that did not particularly worry us - bring the cooler weather on!

Day 6 - Mallee Camp to Portland (23km - 180m ascent - 200m descent)

The morning of the long walk into Portland dawned still and grey. A few drops of rain fell as we were taking down the tent, but then vanished. It was clear though that the weather today would be very different than on our first few days of walking. We set off early and were soon strolling through the rich coastal heath on the eastern side of Cape Nelson - beneath arbors of soap mallee and through dense shrubbery with occasional views across the dark green-clad interior or along the orange-tinted sandstone cliffs.

Last view of the Cape Nelson lighthouse above the heath

Passing through a stand of soap mallee

The rich coastal heath of east Cape Nelson

High to our left, the giant blades of the wind turbines sat motionles in the still air. For a period, the grassy track wandered inland, lined with bracken, grass trees and a scattering of wildflowers. A couple of black swamp wallabies darted back into the underbrush as we passed by to re-gain the coast-line and traverse a series of look-outs. Each gave a different perspective of the rampart-like walls of Cape Nelson and across the leaden flat water of Nelson Bay.

Grass tree flower spike juxtaposed
against wind turbine





Dramatic tilting of the sandstone cliffs

In the Enchanted Forest

Pastures of Cape Nelson's interior

The sandstone cliffs of eastern Cape Nelson

A little later, we dropped down off the cliff-tops to wander through the realm of The Enchanted Forest - where the gnarly trunks of moonah trees, growing amongst a jumble of mossy boulders and draped with vines, have created a special ambience.

Moonah trees below the cliffs

At the end of the mini-forest, we climbed back up to the cliff-top car park, sat down and waited ..... the taxi from Portland arrived and the fair Nello and I put two big yellow pack-liners, filled with tents, sleeping gear, camping equipment etc into the boot and sent it on its way to our tourist park accomodation for that night. Suddenly, our packs were each 8 kg lighter and the remaining 15km into Portland would be just that much more pleasant (note: purists might object to such an act, but my view is that we walk to appreciate the landscapes, not just to carry a heavy load through the bush). That said, Alan heroically decided to walk in with a full pack.

While waiting, however, the inevitable rain arrived, and we left The Enchanted Forest in wet weather gear and pack covers on beneath a steady light rain. The taller vegetation of the cape morphed into lower shrubby heathland as we headed around the northern end of Nelson Bay. The landscape was also changing in other ways - not just the presence of another wind farm ahead, but the giant aluminium smelter that helps drive Portland's economy.

Cliffs near Crayfish Bay

Just walking in the rain - low heath bordering Nelson Bay

The Portland aluminium smelter

80 m tall wind turbine from beneath

Passing the rugged cliffs of Crayfish Bay, we crossed directly beneath the turbines on Cape Sir William Grant, once again turning slowly - my, they are big structures. Somewhere along the way the rain had stopped. After crossing a steep little gully, the track headed out along the edge of Grant Bay towards the open grassy headland at Point Danger. Across the lead-coloured sea, the dark rain clouds were moving slowly away in an eerie light.

Dark clouds gather over Grant Bay

Stony Beach near Cape Sir William Grant

Fishing boat passing Point Danger

Rain approaching Lawrence Rocks and the Point Danger gannet colony (photo: Alan Laird)

Point Danger was to be a highlight of the day for, due to real estate problems on nearby Lawrence Rocks, some gannets had decided to establish a new colony on its barren tip. From the viewing platform, we could look out over the colony of several hundred pairs of these magnificent seabirds, as they soared, hovered and squabbled on their nest sites.

Family portraits at the gannet colony

Friendly neighbourhood koala

The track now turned north for a direct run into Portland, direct but still 7 km away. We were now on a mission, as we pushed quickly along the casuarina-lined cliff-tops, past Blacknose Point and along the edge of Portland Bay. A couple of stops, once to help a track volunteer move some heavy chained board for repairs to a climb, once to admire a koala sitting on a trackside branch and once just to sit and take in the views, and we finally entered the outskirts of the town.

Blue-winged parrot

First view of Portland

Urban walking is a bit anticlimactic at the end of a long day, and thus it was in Portland, as we passed the light industry area and port with its big grain terminals and mountains of wood chips awaiting export (forming another string to the bow of the local economy), past the Botanic Gardens and into the main street. It was definitely time for coffee and cake before heading on to the Portland Bay Holiday Park and our cabins, where the taxi-delivered pack-liners and a third food drop were waiting.

Mountains of woodchips at the Portland shipping terminal

The Great South Coast Walk - start and end

It had been a long day, but we were here with a comfortable bed and hot shower for the next two nights (tomorrow would be a rest day). Luckily, we had also bought a bottle of wine on the stroll to the cabins, as Alan found out that, since leaving Portland six days ago, he had become a grandfather for the second time. so we raised our glasses .... welcome to this strange and fascinating world, Sasha!

Stormy day in Portland

About two in the morning, the wind began to howl and the rain sheeted into the window panes, as the first of a series of storms swept in from the south-west. It felt so good being in a cabin and not out in the bush in a 2-man tent. Our track companions of the last few nights, Paul and Nanette were not so lucky. They had camped at the tourist park upon completing the Great South West Walk and copped a drenching. In fact, the wind was so strong it snapped Nanette's tent poles, obliging then to seek more solid shelter.

Later that day we farewelled them, as they headed off to new adventures - thanks for your pleasant company over the past few days, Paul and Nanette, and congratulations on completing the Great South West Walk.

The wild weather vindicated our decision to take a day off in Portland - the weather bureau reported that over 60 mm of rain fell with 60 kph wind gusts. Watching the wind and rain lashing outside whilst sipping hot coffee is certainly much better than packing up a sodden tent and walking off into the stormy elements.