I have no idea what makes one long distance walk very popular while another falls into obscurity, particularly when they seem strikingly similar. Perhaps some "'grammer/influencer" is posting dozens of bikini clad selfies along the former, while the latter features only the more traditional, and arguably more real, smelly walkers in dirty shorts. Or, maybe, as in the case of the Great Ocean Walk versus the Southwest Walk it is simply a matter of easy one way transport, a pack shuttling service, a shorter distance overall, and proximity to a large population centre.
Now that I have done both the Great Ocean Walk and the Southwest Walk (in the interests of truth in advertising I should note that the section of the Southwest Walk that follows the Glenelg River we did in a kayak, while we walked the 115 km coastal section from Nelson to Portland, and skipped entirely the less interesting section from Portland to the Glenelg River), I can say that the Southwest Walk is better for beach walking, remoteness, and coastal scenery, while the Great Ocean Walk has far better campsites, is logistically easier and features altogether too much toilet paper strewn along its length.
The sign says it all
Right at the start of this report I may as well address the differences between each walk. The Great Ocean Walk (herein after referred to as the GOW to save typing) is one of Victoria's new "icon" walks. I'm not really sure what an icon walk is but it does seem to allow you to charge more for a campsite than you can in other instances. Campsites (maximum of three people per site) are $30 per night on the GOW, which is more than we frequently pay for a caravan site with power, water, and amenities. However, I am a big proponent of walking and the track is well maintained, the campsites are thoughtfully laid out, and the shelters, benches, and toilets at each campsite make camping a much more comfortable (and cleaner) experience so I believe it to be money well spent.
A few less than 12 Apostles
The GOW is one of the few longer walks you can do on mainland Australia where you are not treated as a second class citizen and have a good campsite provided. Each site has individual camping bays so you get some space and privacy. There are two rain water tanks (it would be good if the backpackers didn't use them for showering!), some scattered benches, and a shelter with seats and tables in case of rain at each campsite. All of the sites are walk in only, and even the two or three that are close to vehicle accessible camping are somewhat removed from the drive in campground. There really is nothing worse than walking all day to arrive at a campground filled with bogans crushing beer cans on their heads, burning tires and blasting those old songs from the '80's. Certainly, the campsites are far better than the marginal, cramped and sloping sites found along the Southwest Walk (which frequently require you to walk a fair distance out of your way to camp right by the vehicle accessible camping).
Marine life along the rock platforms
The track is well maintained and easy to follow, but, almost all the beach walking sections are heavily discouraged due, one can only presume by the signage, to fears of litigation should someone get their toes wet in a rock pool. Most of the time it is easy to work out where you can beach walk (tide dependent) and where you can't, but, we were able to beach walk quite a few sections that are not advertised on the official map or the signage along the track that other walkers may miss. In contrast, the Southwest Walk is almost all beach walking and, where there is an inland option, it is not encouraged over the coastal option.
Logistically, it is very easy to walk one way along the GOW as V Line has a thrice weekly bus service to the western end and a daily bus service to the eastern end (both very cheap). Conversely, if you only walk the coastal section of the Southwest Walk you'll have to find some other method (we rented a car) of retrieving your vehicle at the end of the walk. Most people, we discovered later, actually get their overnight gear carried along the GOW (at least some sections of it) by a local operator who transports overnight gear from one road access point to another allowing walkers to carry only a day pack.
Gellibrand River wetland
There are three problems with the GOW, however, one is that a couple of sections take long inland detours on old or current roads where there is no track along the coast. Apparently, these sections are gradually being re-routed and, in the future, one might be able to walk these sections on coastal track. The second is the amount of garbage, in particular toilet paper, that festoons the walk. While this is worse at areas close to the road, leading me to hypothesise that too much sitting in a car causes incontinence, not all the detritus can be blamed on vehicle based tourists as some tent sites have toilet paper around the margins, which really is inexplicable given it is, at most, a 50 metre walk to the outhouse. The third and final problem is that many of the walkers are not really walkers, just people doing this one walk, one time. That shouldn't be a problem except they really do not seem to know how to behave in the outdoors. They leave food behind in the shelters, they light fires (not allowed at all) right in the middle of the tent platforms so the next walker along has to put their tent into a pile of dirty ash, they shower with the drinking water when there is, literally, an ocean of water nearby, they stuff their garbage into little crevices (you carried a full package in you can carry a full package out) and they contribute to the toilet paper problem.
Track views between Princetown and 12 Apostles
Somehow I have managed to write almost 1,000 words without even coming close to reporting the start, let alone the finish of this walk, so, in the interests of not boring my few regular readers too long at any one stretch, move on to part two for the walk report.