Insider’s guide to Portland

Coast with windfarm in the background

Mary O’Brien

Posted January 08, 2018

A local reveals the 10 best things to see and do in and around Portland.

Your guide:

  • Name: Cynthia Alexander
  • Location: Owner of Portland RACV agency
  • Why she loves it: Portland has so many outdoor activities, beautiful beaches, forest walks and a strong sense of community.
  • Absolute favourite: With Bridgewater’s safe beach, award-winning cafe and stunning scenery, it’s like being on holiday every day.
Boats in the habour at sunrise

Portland Harbour Sunrise. Photo: Anne Morley

Fresh fish

Portland is a fishing port and a popular destination and hunting ground for recreational fishers. Depending on the season you can buy fresh whiting, snapper, crayfish, prawns and mussels on Trawler Wharf. Some people bring their own boats, or you can do tours, or book a charter. Tuna fishing is good around Easter.

All aboard

You can’t come to Portland without taking a ride on the Portland Cable Tram, which runs for 7.4 kilometres along the foreshore. You can hop on and off at any attraction along the route including the tram depot and museum, the Maritime Discovery Centre, Powerhouse Museum, botanic gardens and the World War II Memorial. The two trams, which came from Melbourne, are manned by volunteers and run year round. In winter people still ride the trams – they just cover up by putting rugs on their knees.

People watching

I like to sit outside with a coffee and watch the comings and goings of the harbour. Portland is the deepest seaport in Victoria so it’s always busy. Cafe Bahloo occupies a beautiful old bluestone watchkeeper’s house. The focus of the food is local, healthy and organic and the specialty coffee is roasted in Mount Gambier.

Bridgewater break

Cape Bridgewater is a small town on the crescent-shaped Bridgewater Bay 20 kilometres from Portland. The Cape Bridgewater Cafe is a local favourite and I love to have lunch here on my day off. In summer it opens in the evening, while in the winter the seas are wild and it’s beautiful just to sit inside and watch the waves rolling in.

This area has the highest clifftops in Victoria and there’s a scenic walk where you see the sea spraying from the Blowholes and the remains of a petrified forest, which is only a 50-metre walk from the Blowholes carpark. The beach is quite safe and I go bodyboarding there.

Go bush

The Great South West Walk is one of the best bushwalking trails in Victoria. It stretches for 250 kilometres, beginning and ending at the Maritime Discovery and Visitor Information Centre in Portland. It winds through national parks, forests, the Glenelg River, Nelson, Aboriginal sites and Bridgewater Bay. You don’t have to do the entire thing – you can pick out a short section, which is what I do regularly, as there are several two-hour loops and one-day walks. In total there are 15 sections, which vary from eight to 21 kilometres and are set between different campsites. I love the outdoors and because we’re right on the coast we get beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

Enchanted forest

Part of Cape Nelson State Park, this section of the Great South West Walk is very different, with dense vegetation, moonah trees and lots of creepers. The forest is part of an old land slip on Scenic Road, between Portland and Cape Nelson Lighthouse. The 45-minute walk includes bowered paths, lookouts to the ocean and boardwalks. Some of the trees are at right angles because of the wind; it’s a magical place.

Sunset over rocks by the water

Sunset at the Petrified Forest. Photo: Anne Morley

Aboriginal heritage

The freshwater Bridgewater Lakes are overlooked by the Tarragal Caves, part of an ancient Aboriginal camping ground. At Lake Condah, 45 kilometres north-east of Portland, the Gunditjmara people have used stone traps for eel hunting for at least 6000 years. The government has applied for World Heritage status for the area.

Whale of a time

Portland is a great spot for whale watching. Outside the Visitor Information Centre, a yellow flag means there are whales in the area. Southern right whales visit in winter, and the best viewing areas are on the breakwater, the whale-shaped platform near the cable car and on the clifftop. In summer, it’s blue whales, and you might be able to see them from the Cape Nelson Lighthouse viewing platform or the Blowholes at Bridgewater.

See the seals

Cape Bridgewater is home to more than 2000 Australian and long-nosed fur seals. You can see them from the viewing platform on the Great South West Walk or you can take a boat trip with Seals by Sea Tours. People also spot whales, dolphins and penguins on the trip. The seals are known for being playful and usually put on a good show. Go to

Pioneering times

Originally the lands of the Gunditjmara people, Portland became Victoria’s first European settlement in 1834 and today more than 200 historical buildings survive. Call into the Visitor Centre for self-guided walks. It’s also worth visiting Cape Nelson Lighthouse outside town.