Portland, Victoria is a scenic holiday destination located on the Western shore of Portland Bay. As the Western gateway to the Great Ocean Road and close to the South Australia border, this charming city is great for a holiday in and of itself or as a stop along your travels between Adelaide and Melbourne. Whether you are looking to discover deserted beaches, learn about unique cultural heritage, or catch a glimpse of the bountiful native flora and fauna, Portland has it all.
Visitors are always surprised by the numerous things to do in Portland. The city is home to breathtaking ocean views, tons of historical landmarks guaranteed to satisfy any history buff and lots of natural wonders. Whatever you’re interested in, Portland Victoria has you covered.
Discover Portland, Victoria
Get back to nature and learn about history in this thriving seaside hub. You can catch waves, wander beautifully maintained historic streets, and wash everything down with a delicious meal from one of many harbourside pubs.
You can satisfy both your inner history buff and nature lover in Portland. There are plenty of local attractions that Portland offers to guarantee a great weekend adventure in this city.
Portland’s Local History and Heritage
Portland was the location for Victoria’s first permanent European settlement in 1834. The small town flourished and became an important shipping outlet due to the natural surroundings supporting the fishing industry and agricultural endeavours of the settlers.
In 1842, Anglican and Presbyterian schools were opened, followed in a short time by an 1844 court house, an 1849 customs house, and an 1843 immigration depot. Some buildings from this period of construction are still available to visitors and are listed in the Victorian Heritage Register.
Some of the historic buildings that are still standing in the modern era include the former Steam Packet Hotel, the old town hall, and the former National School. The Portland Visitor Information Centre is also available for those interested in learning more about the rich history of this city. The visitor centre is open seven days a week.
The Gunditjmara, also known as the Dhauwurd Wurrung, are the traditional owners of the land that encompasses Portland and much of Southwestern Victoria. This area exists upon their traditional lands. There is a long history of colonialism there and they are currently working together towards developing and building genuine and lasting partnerships that center upon Indigenous self determination.
Where is Portland Bay Located?
Portland is located in Victoria in the Great Ocean Road Region. You’ll find it midway between Port Fairy and the small town of Nelson, which is adjacent to the South Australian border.
Just south of Portland lies Cape Nelson, where you can visit the Cape Nelson Lighthouse and the Cape Nelson State Park. To the West, there is Cape Bridgewater which has several hiking trails and lookouts that overlook the breathtaking Bridgewater Bay.
Within the city of Portland, you can find a commercial centre along Percy Street. This bustling centre offers plenty of places to shop and dine. It continues into Bentinck Street, which overlooks the sandy shores of Nuns Beach.
The Top Things to Do in the Portland Region
There are tons of exciting things to do in Portland. If you’re planning a visit to this seaside town in the Great Ocean Road region, do not miss the following attractions.
The Portland Maritime Discovery Centre
The South Western Victoria area has plenty of maritime history to discover. Learn all about this rich history at the Maritime Discovery Centre. It is open every day from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and is great for families, friends and solo travellers alike.
Some of the major features of this centre include the 1858 lifeboat, which is one of the oldest surviving vessels in Australia, and a 14-metre long sperm whale skeleton. There are also several other exhibits where visitors can learn about Portland’s former whaling industry and local marine life.
World War II Lookout Tower Museum
This building was originally constructed in 1931 to store drinking water reserves. In 1994, the tower was converted into a museum that commemorates Portland’s contributions to World War II. At 25 metres high, it is hard to miss.
The lookout tower has a spiral staircase that leads guests through educational exhibits on the landings. At the top of the tower, there is a memorial lookout with 360-degree views.
The Great South West Walk
For those looking to add an additional adventure to their Great Ocean Road trip, the Great South West Walk is a perfect option for avid hikers. This 250 km closed-loop walk will take hikers along a scenic journey through the forests, river gorges, and coastal towns of South West Victoria. The walk begins and ends in Portland.
There are companies which will guide your hike or arrange for accommodation along it, but experienced hikers can also make arrangements on their own. There are GSW walk campsites every 10 to 20 kilometres along the trail. For many, the hike takes about 12 days but it will depend entirely on the pace of the hikers. Day-trippers can also do sections of the trail.
Portland Cable Tram System
Established as a tourist attraction in 1996 and run entirely by volunteers, the Portland Cable Tram system connects several local tourist attractions. The trams are refurbished saloon cars.
The tram path runs along a scenic route. It passes through Henty Beach so tram travellers can get a view of the deepwater harbour. Then, the Portland Cable Tram goes up the rugged cliffs so visitors can experience the stunning panoramic views of Portland Bay. A must do!
These are the second oldest botanic gardens in Australia, second only to the Geelong Botanic Gardens. They have an impressive array of local flora. The workman’s cottage on-site is also a fascinating example of nineteenth century architecture.
The gardens are located on the eastern end of Glenelg Shire, in the city centre. However, they are on the smaller side so you will only need about an hour or less to explore all the trails.
Cape Bridgewater Bay
Once a volcanic island, Cape Bridgewater now exists as a secluded and peaceful area. Bridgewater Bay itself offers 4 km of sandy shoreline for tourists to enjoy. Spend the day here swimming, picnicking, soaking in the sun or just walking up and down the shore.
Cape Bridgewater is just a 20 minute drive from Portland but remains one of the most beautiful beaches in the state. Plus, if you are lucky you might spot the seals, dolphins and whales which frequent the shore.
Point Danger Gannet Colony
Any bird watcher simply can’t miss a visit to the Point Danger Gannet colony, which is the only locale for spotting Gannets on Australia’s mainland. Gannets can dive for prey from a height of 30 metres and reach speeds of 100 km/hr in order to catch fish lurking beneath the water’s surface.
Gannets nest and raise chicks from July to April. That is an ideal time to visit the Gannet colony so that you can see these impressive seabirds at all stages of their lives. Located just 6km out of town near Portland Aluminium, you will find the Interpretive Center and viewing platform.
This breathtaking limestone formation takes its name from an early theory. Previously believed to be an ancient forest that had been consumed and transformed by sand, these formations are actually due to limestone erosion. Still, the namesake lives on.
These limestone formations, although they might not be an ancient forest, are nonetheless a testament to nature’s power and the power of time. They are stunning to behold. The limestone “tubes” are formed through the erosion of millions of years of rainfall hitting rock. They are located close to Cape Bridgewater, just a short drive from Portland.
Whaler’s Bluff Lighthouse
Whaler’s Bluff Lighthouse is an interesting piece of Portland history. This lighthouse has been guiding ships past the treacherous waters of the Whaler’s Reef and into the safe haven of the Portland Harbour since it was originally erected in 1859.
Any avid fisherfolk or scuba divers would definitely enjoy the trip out to Lee Breakwater. This spot is located within the Portland Bay, also known as Henty Bay. It is a 1,179 metre long stretch of water that forms the Northern boundary of the Portland Harbour.
Lee Breakwater is known for being a great dive site for scuba beginners and people interested in night diving. It is also a common fishing location, with commonly caught species including snapper and tuna. Sometimes, fairy penguins can be spotted in this area at nighttime.
Portland Festivals and Events
Portland is also home to a number of festivals and events throughout the year. There’s a little something for everyone with these various occasions. You’ll be able to mingle with locals and tourists alike during these fun festivals and events.
Hooked on Portland Seafood and Fishing Festival
The Hooked on Portland Seafood and Fishing Festival’s aim is to celebrate Portland Victoria as a thriving cultural centre and fishing hub. It is held in partnership with the Victoria Fisheries Authority. Hooked on Portland is held in April. The entertainment lineup typically features local artists and musicians as well as educational information about fishing.
The annual Upwelling Festival occurs every November. This festival celebrates the Bonney upwelling, which is a unique marine phenomenon.
This phenomenon occurs when spring winds shift to the Southeast, which drives a change in ocean currents. In turn, this results in an incredibly rich tapestry of marine life feeding. This includes tuna, giant crabs, squid, seals, and even blue whales.
The Upwelling Festival consists of a street parade, market stalls, live entertainment, and educational information about the preservation of marine life.
3 Bays Marathon
The 3 Bays Marathon happens every October. This challenging two-day event consists of a 60 km coastal trail run through the Great South West Walk and a second day of smaller road events and relays. Runners can take in the sights of the national parks and Bridgewater Lakes along the Great South West Walk.
Ultimately, the city of Portland exists in relation to its historic significance and the beauty of its natural surroundings. This tourism destination has something to offer every visitor that comes through the area.
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