THE 12 APOSTLES MAY PROVIDE THAT ICONIC POSTCARD SHOT OF AUSTRALIA’S MOST FAMOUS TOURING ROUTE, BUT IT’S THE COASTAL TOWN OF PORTLAND THAT IS ATTRACTING THOSE OF US WANTING TO ‘SCOUT’ OUT SOME AMAZING NATURE AND ADVENTURE OPTIONS.
Situated halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne, the coastal town of Portland was the birthplace of Victoria in the early 1800s. Portland’s bluestone paved streets are lined with some of the state’s earliest buildings, providing a glimpse into its rich colonial past.
Whilehistory is cool and all, it’s the ‘wild’ experiences of Portland that will have you turning your back on the Gold Coast and (bravely) heading south. For example, it’s not unusual to be sharing a footpath with a koala in this relaxed coastal town! Some of regional Australia’s best wildlife experiences, including great whale watching, diving gannets and world-class nature walks, will also be on your Portland bucket list.
GREAT SOUTH WEST WALK
This 250km trail, which includes 15 shorter day walks, is picturesque and one of the region’s biggest tourist attractions. The trail begins at the Portland Maritime Discovery and Information Centre and weaves its way around three capes, taking in four national parks and the neighboring communities of Cape Bridgewater and Nelson. It features Aboriginal heritage sites plus amazing beach, river and bushland walks. A key highlight is the Petrified Forest, a seascape that is like walking on Mars. It’s believed that advancing sand engulfed an ancient forest of coastal trees that once covered the sea cliff, petrifying them for all time. The walk is suitable for all ages and abilities and includes amazing camping spots. Photographers take note: You will get the most amazing images along this walk.
Nature lovers, take note: The neighbouring beach of Cape Bridgewater is home to the only mainland breeding colony of seals in Australia. There are more than 2000 Australian and long nosed fur seals who call this beautiful beach home, lazing most days on the cape rocks or surfing in the waves. Boat tours are available daily or, for those more daring, try a cage diving experience – it’s the only place in the world where you can do it! This spot is also frequented by hump back and southern right whales in the cooler months. It is also the only place in the Southern Hemisphere where you can see blue whales.
Did you know, Portland is Australia’s bluefin tuna capital? On any given day hundreds of anglers launch their boats from the town’s marina in hunt of this elusive catch. There are more than 30 charter boats ready at your disposal to catch one of the 100kg-plus barrels, something that occurs on an almost daily basis. One recent female angler lured a world record catch with a tuna weighing in at 123kg. The heaviest ever caught was a whopping 176kg!
Gannets are close relatives of the famous red-footed/blue-footed/masked boobies that tourists spend thousands of dollars visiting in the Galapagos Islands and the only mainland gannet rookery found in Australia is located on the tip of Point Danger, a short distance from the city centre. These birds are the overflow from the nearby colony on Lawrence Rocks. During the breeding season their numbers can swell to hundreds, providing a mesmerizing view for visitors.
Keep an eye out for the gannets feeding. They are majestic in flight and are often seen gliding on air currents above the ocean and then suddenly go into amazing high-speed dives with enough momentum to carry them several metres below the ocean’s surface to catch their prey.
Portland has western Victoria’s largest choice of free camping sites. Travellers have the option of a central park in the inner Portland CBD, just a short stroll from the beach, or can settle into a bush setting. Two popular spots are located on the Glenelg River at Dartmoor’s Fort O’Hare and Casterton’s Ess Lagoon – both riverside camping areas with picturesque views and town supplies only a short stroll away. There is also a great range of beachside caravan parks or, for something more high-end, set yourself up in a delightful B&B.
Situated just outside Portland near the township of Heywood is an ancient indigenous settlement that is more than 6600 years old. The Guntijmara settlement pre-dates the Egyptian Pyramids and Stonehenge and is Mecca for scientists and historians who travel from across the world to research its eel traps and stone huts. The traps are proof of one of the oldest aquaculture systems in the world. The indigenous community was thought to have
been nomadic but this evidence illustrates that the Gunditjmara lived permanently in the area, farming and harvesting eels and other marine life. And here’s a hot tip: It’s highly recommended you complete an onsite tour to get the full cultural experience from a local elder.
For the visiting Gold Coasters feeling a little homesick, Portland is one of the most desirable surfing destinations on the Great Ocean Road featuring an array of breaks for beginners through to crusty veterans. It’s true – these waters are not your 25-degree clear blue oceans of the Gold Coast, this mighty southern ocean has some bite but, the rewards are worthwhile. People chasing a fun right point break should consider Crumpets (on the south east side of town) or the notorious Blacknose Point, which produces long deep rides which are believed to be the longest waves in Victoria and recommended for experienced surfers.
For a more gentle approach enjoy the surrounds of Bridgey (Cape Bridgewater) – you just might be riding in with one of the notorious surfing seals!
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE
Want more out of your Portland holiday? Try these ideas on for size:
1. Visit the Portland Maritime Discovery Centre and be amazed by the whale skeleton.
2. Travel on the Portland Cable Tram.
3. Eat locally caught fish and chips on the foreshore and watch the latest catch being hauled in.
4. Have a wine or icecream at the Bridgewater Café after visiting the surfing seals by boat. This café is also your hot tip for easy mainland whale watching – with a great coffee in your hand!
5. Visit the Cape Nelson Lighthouse. Tours are conducted twice daily – you’ll be able to mark off gannets, seals and whales from your Portland bucket list all in the one stop!