I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published March 6th 2020
A little piece of coastal paradise
Down in Victoria's far southwest, you'll find a little piece of paradise. A stretch of shoreline where the Shipwreck Coast meets South Australia's Limestone Coast and the Southern Ocean laps the shores of Discovery Bay Coastal Park. Inland the Lower Glenelg National Park roughly follows the Glenelg River from its estuary at Nelson up to the South Australian Border and then east, back into Victoria and covering a total distance of about 400-kilometres from its headwaters in The Grampians.
The Glenelg River at Nelson. Once described by Major Thomas Mitchell as 'the finest body of freshwater I had seen in Australia' and home to boat hire and river cruise operators. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
As parks go, the two combined are relatively small, just 55-kilometres of coastline and a total area of only 377 square kilometres, but a real haven for campers, bushwalkers, canoeists and fishermen.
For me, the outstanding natural attractions here are the Glenelg River and two of its major features, both created by the river and the abundance of limestone found here. One, the Glenelg River Gorge stretches over 15-kilometres along the lower reaches with imposing limestone cliffs rising as high as 50 meters in places. The other the magnificent Princess Margaret Rose Cave[/LINK], the result of river and rainwater seeping through cracks and fault lines in the rock, dissolving it and carving out a subterranean wonderland.
Visitors to Nelson can hire a boat and do their own thing .....
..... or hop on-board with a number of commercial operators to cruise the fabulous Glenelg River. Photos: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
The majority of the region is comprised of eucalypt bushland, home to an estimated 700 species of native plants and something of an environmental melting pot – the most westerly point in Australia that tree ferns are found and the most easterly habitat for a variety of Western Australian plant species.
There's an abundance of wildlife – koala's, wombats, brush-tailed possums and yellow-bellied gliders along with red-necked wallabies and the inevitable eastern grey kangaroo.
Then there's the fishing. The Glenelg River provides an exceptional mixed bag of bream, perch, salmon, mullet and mulloway.
Nelson, located on the banks of the Glenelg River, just a couple of kilometres from its mouth, is the unofficial capital of the Discovery Bay/Lower Glenelg region. The first Europeans settled here in 1848 and a punt provided river crossings on the Portland to Mount Gambier road until a bridge was constructed in 1893.
The coastline near Bridgewater Bay and Cape Nelson is ideal for wind turbines. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
The town comprises the Nelson Hotel, a general store & kiosk, a BP service station & roadhouse and a small caravan park. It's also home to a boat & canoe hire business and Glenelg River Cruises who offer a variety of river trips.
No tour of this part of Victoria would be complete without a visit to the Princess Margaret Rose Cave. Reputed to be the most decorated cave per square meter of any in Australia it features some of Mother Nature's finest work.
The cave was discovered by a local farmer, Keith McEachern, in 1936. With the help of three friends, he lowered himself more than 17 metres down a vertical shaft to discover one of nature's great treasures.
Over the next 5 years, McEarchern and his friends dug a stairwell through the limestone and opened the site to the public as a tourist attraction in January 1941.
Led by Park Rangers visitors to the Princess Margaret Rose Cave descend 20 metres below the surface to inspect the magnificent formations dating back some 800,000 years. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Walking through the cave you can't help but be amazed by the spectacularly coloured formations and mind-blowing timeframe of their creation but I must admit to being pre-occupied, wondering whatever possessed a man, having stumbled across a hole in the ground, to tie a rope around his waist and be lowered all that way into a pitch-black abyss.
Today the cave complex includes an information centre & kiosk, landscaped surrounds and camping facilities including on-site cabins and caravan sites. A River View Nature Walk leads down to views of the Glenelg River Gorge and a nearby jetty.
The cave complex comprises an information centre and kiosk, landscaped surrounds and camping facilities. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Just a 15-minute drive from Nelson or 30 minutes from Mount Gambier the Princess Margaret Rose Cave is open to the public daily with frequent guided tours lasting about 45-minutes. Glenelg River Cruises run a 3½-hour return trip between Nelson and the cave site. Cave tours cost Adults $22, Concession $19, Children under 16-years $15 and a Family (2A 2C) $48.
Cape Bridgewater and its expanse of pristine beach is popular with holidaymakers. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Canoeists love the Glenelg River with 75-kilometres of pristine river beckoning between Dartmoor on the Princes Highway and the river mouth near Nelson,
Seven of 9 dedicated canoe camping areas are within the National Park. Stays are limited to one night, must be pre-booked and cost $10.80 per person per night.
Vehicle access is available at two of the sites, Pines Landing and Moleside, but other non-dedicated canoe campgrounds and picnic areas along the river are accessible.
This part of Victoria is also very popular with walkers of all levels of ability & fitness, here to engage in short scenic walks or to test their mettle against the Great South West Walk.
This challenging 250 kilometre walking trail begins and ends at Portland's Maritime Discovery and Visitor Information Centre. Easily accessible at a number of points, it includes a series of short looped walks, some taking as little as a couple of hours to complete, with other more advanced treks made up of 1, 2 and 3 day options.
If you decide to go the whole hog, there are 14 campsites along the full length of the Great South West Walk, the longest distance between camps being 22 kilometres. The trail transits three national parks, parallels the Southern Ocean along rugged cliffs, through sand dunes, bays & beaches past Bridgewater Bay and the Cape Nelson Lighthouse. Along the way, and depending on the season, you might be lucky enough to see Blue and Southern Right Whales, Fur Seals and the only Australian mainland rookery for the Australasian Gannet.
Over the centuries the river has eroded the local limestone to create the Glenelg River Gorge, a favourite playground for boaties and fishermen. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
River Vu Park, Nelson www.rivervupark.com.au
Tel: (08) 8738 4123
River-Vu is a small park located in the centre of Nelson and comprised of just 23 sites (powered/non-powered and en-suite). Just 50 metres from the river and even closer to the pub it offers a private landing for fishing, swimming & boat mooring.
A powered site costs $32 per night twin share and $5 per night for each additional person.
Blue Lake Holiday Park, Mount Gambier www.bluelake.com.au
Tel: (08) 8725 9856
There are 6 caravan parks in Mount Gambier and on this occasion we chose to stay at Blue Lake Holiday Park, and what a great choice it was.
Sitting high above Mount Gambier's iconic Blue Lake the park provided every amenity in relaxed and secluded surrounds. Accommodation on offer includes un-powered, powered & en-suite sites and a variety of cabins. Powered sites start from $40 per night.
The picturesque Cape Nelson Lighthouse was completed and commenced operations in 1884, replacing an earlier wooden light tower built in the 1870's. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
There are 50 vehicle accessible campsites at 9 locations within the Lower Glenelg National Park, 28 south of the river and 22 to the north. There are an additional 9 canoe dedicated campsites between Dartmoor and Nelson.
All sites must be pre-booked and fees apply. Check the website www.parkstay.vic.gov.au for details.
Toilets are provided and water is available but must be treated before use. Fires are permitted in fireplaces provided except on days of Total Fire Ban or High Fir Danger. No pets permitted.
Portland is a key population centre in the region. Its Customs House is the oldest continuously used Customs House in Australia, in operation for almost 170-years. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
This very scenic part of Australia comes with a long list of activities and attractions that beckon to a broad spectrum of outdoor lovers, primarily remote campers, walkers, fishermen and canoeists. But, if you're more a 'glamper' than a camper the nearby cities of Portland and Mount Gambier offer the perfect, comfortable, some might say indulgent, base camp for a visit to the Discovery Bay and Lower Glenelg region.
Getting There …..
Discovery Bay and the Lower Glenelg region are located in south-west Victoria, between Portland and the South Australian border. Nelson is 427 kilometres west of Melbourne and 470 kilometres south-east of Adelaide.
Why? Don't miss the opportunity to visit this little piece of paradise in Victoria's far southwest with its abundance of wildlife, outdoor activities and world class natural attractions including one of the world's great underground cave systems.
When:There are attractions here year 'round. The pick of the weather is in autumn, wildflowers abound in spring and during late winter and early spring migrating whales can be seen from the clifftops at Cape Nelson and Cape Bridgewater.
Beaut article and photos Ian. Have been through the Princess Margaret Rose Caves twice, one time staying in Nelson just to catch a ferry up the Glenelg River to visit. A beautiful part of Victoria. Neil.