EVER-changing landscapes were strolled through, bush tucker discovered and extra friendships created during a recent 252km fundraising walk.
The Friends of the Great South West Walk host up to 15 walkers at a time on two supported walks each year, with the first 2020 group leaving for their 14-day adventure on Sunday, February 23.
Led by volunteers, walker Sarah Sharp and assisted by camp manager and veteran of the program Gordon Page (who transported food, clothing and tents), there were 11 walkers – including this reporter – who paid to participate in the walk.
It was also the first supported fundraising walk that hosted mainly local people.
None of the guests had completed the full circuit from Portland to Nelson through forests and along beaches and clifftops just yet, but many had walked small sections, and were delighted to take in the full breadth of the diverse track over two weeks.
Participant Rosemary Wilson helped build parts of the track when she went to Portland High School, and reminisced with her former schoolmate Steve Golding when Steve and his father Bill Golding visited the group in camp one afternoon during the walk.
She and Steve recalled the track-building process and the hard work they and their schoolmates put into the task during their time there.
The work was driven by the school’s principal Bill Golding and supported by dozens of people including another camp visitor, Graeme Hume, as well as their families.
The creation of the walk had been suggested to them in 1980 by district ranger Sam Bruton, who was heavily involved in the track’s creation and died recently.
Portland walker Suzi Gallpen said she felt privileged to have the “diverse, beautiful, challenging-at-times walk right on our doorstep to enjoy.”
Walkers were intrigued and pleased to be the first group to walk through a just-reopened area of the Cobboboonee National Park after a fire started there on December 20.
Government staff had made the estimated 3km of impacted track safe enough for walkers to return the day before they went through, Mr Page said, and participants witnessed the beginning of regrowth in impacted areas.
The track is on a combination of public and private land, however most of it is maintained by the Friends of the Great South West Walk.
Gorae’s Colin Hewlett said he was in awe of “how so few volunteers can keep such an epic walk in such a great condition,” as well as the different views provided around every corner of the walk.
The group also enjoyed time offline, absorbed Ms Sharp’s knowledge of the bush foods that were in season and Mr Page’s comforting boiling kettles of water heated by campfires or gas, as well as the camp showers he helped set up.
Ms Gallpen said that with this year’s walkers departing camp at 8am each day, “we had plenty of down time to socialise with each other - lucky we all got along so well!”
She said the group of walkers was friendly and relaxed, getting on well and basking in the beauty of their surrounding landscape rather than dwelling on the fact that there were less conveniences than people would usually have at home.
“Thank you so much to Sarah and Gordon: you two are both amazing people in what you do,” Ms Gallpen added.
Melbourne’s Maureen Minette had never completed an overnight walk before she joined the adventure, but said she was impressed with how well she was able to cope.
“After feeling weary and footsore I would round a corner or reach the top and my sense of achievement would take over: I’d think, “what a view - I’m glad I came,” she said.
The group also appreciated the chance to dine at the Nelson Hotel and Cape Nelson’s Isabella’s Café, which have recently reopened after a period of closure, and were delighted to see friends and familiar faces when they at the Bridgewater Bay Cafe.
The year’s second supported walk will be held later this month, however it is currently booked out, however bookings are open for future walks.
Fundraising from the walk helps the Friends group pay for track maintenance and improvements.
For more information about the supported walk or the numerous volunteer opportunities available with the Friends of the Great South West Walk, go to greatsouthwestwalk.com or phone 0428 234 248.