Glenelg Cliffs

There are few paddling destinations in Australia that can rival the Glenelg River for sheer visual splendour. Spectacular white cliffs decorated with striking splashes of orange and grey rise up to fifty metres high above the water and shine brightly in the sun.

WATERWAY Glenelg River
REGION South West, VIC
DISTANCE 22 kilometres
TIME 4.5 hours
START Red Gum Camp, via Wanwin Road, Lower Glenelg National Park
GPS DMS: 38° 2′ 4.1″ S, 141° 9′ 18.4″ E
DD: -38.034472, 141.155111
FINISH Dry Creek boat ramp, via Border Road, Lower Glenelg Nat Park
PARKING Small parking areas at both ends
TOILET All vehicle access points
CONDITIONS Sheltered, tidal, some heavy traffic
FISHING Black bream, estuary perch, flathead, luderick, mullet, mulloway

Glenelg River Cliffs Map

The vertical limestone cliffs that soar high above the shining and incredibly reflective surface of the Glenelg River are the premier attraction of the Lower Glenelg National Park. Most people have to climb aboard river cruise boats or drive to a small number of selected vantage points to see this secret wonder of the natural world but the only way to get a true appreciation of their grandeur is to launch onto the Glenelg River Canoe Trail and paddle right up close.

Glenelg River Cliffs Photo 1

The mere sight of the Glenelg’s splendid stone walls is enough to make your jaw hit the floor but the story of how they were made is arguably more awesome. More than 20 million years ago this part of Australia was under a shallow sea that was teeming with shellfish. Shells that were no longer required fell to the floor where they became crushed into tiny sand-sized grains of carbonate. These little grains formed into great dunes which eventually hardened to become hills made from a type of limestone known as calcarenite. When the ocean receded, the river sculpted a path through the landscape and created the cliffs that can be seen here today. The Glenelg Estuary Management Plan prepared by the Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority in 2006 says that this is “the only estuarine system in Victoria that lies within limestone gorges that have formed in a system of dune calcarenite ridges”.

Paddle camping is the best way to experience the Glenelg River Canoe Trail but if you don’t have the time or the means for that then it is possible to do day trips using any of the eighteen vehicle access points. This is a 22 kilometre paddle from the Red Gum camping area in the national park to the Dry Creek boat ramp on the border between Victoria and South Australia (GPS: 37° 59′ 37.9″ S, 140° 57′ 57.5″ E). It is the second of three adventures that are designed to let you complete the entire trail from the Moleside camping area to Nelson using nothing but day trips. Details for the other two days can be found in the Global Paddler guides for ‘Glenelg Bushland’ and ‘Glenelg Coast’.

All camping and vehicle access options are shown on the maps and campsites must be booked in advance through Parks Victoria. Canoe hire is available from both Nelson and Winnap. Make sure to keep to the right and always observe ski zone transit lanes.

The cliffs aren’t the only extraordinary feature to have resulted from the interaction between the river and the limestone landscape. There are places where water has worked its way into cracks and hollowed out some remarkable caves. The outstanding example of this is the Princess Margaret Rose Cave which contains an astounding array of stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, shawls, blankets, bacons, cave coral, and rimstone pools. This is a short distance from the water (see map). Tours run daily and admission fees apply. The campground at Princess Margaret Rose Cave also has a kiosk and a hot shower for those who are missing the creature comforts.

This trip is at its best first thing in the morning. The birds are active, the air is still and the lighting is superb. As the day dawns individual rays pick out delicately sculpted features one by one until soon entire walls are ablaze.

Glenelg River Cliffs Photo 2

“In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins – not through strength, but through persistence.” Buddha

EAT Nelson Hotel, 36 Kellett Street, Nelson, (08) 8738 4011
DRINK Nelson Hotel, 36 Kellett Street, Nelson, (08) 8738 4011
SLEEP Princess Margaret Rose Cave, Caves Rd, Mumbannar, (08) 8738 4171

2 thoughts on “Glenelg Cliffs

  1. Laurence Westcott says:

    We asked at the Princess Margaret cave if we could have a shower for a fee, but they refused as they are short of water. they send us to the show ground camping ground in Mount Gambier ( where we were heading for food shopping), and for $5 we had a beautiful shower.

    • Hi Laurence, A lack of water can be a problem in a lot of places. I have tank water at home so I know that all too well. It is fantastic they were able to give you an alternative and everything worked out for the best. Thanks for passing this information on. I am sure it will prove useful for other Global Paddler members. All the best, Scott

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