Port Campbell National Park
The early afternoon sun is still high and the temperature has now hit the low 30’s as we pull into the car park near the Twelve Apostles. Four tour buses have also just pulled up and a steady stream of tourists begin disembarking and making their way down the walkway. I have been waiting years to see this place and I really don’t feel like sharing my first experience of it with over one hundred other people. I decide that I have waited this long, I may as well wait a bit longer. We will visit Loch Ard Gorge first.
Loch Ard Gorge
There are 3 short walks here at Loch Ard Gorge and we are walking the short 900 m Geology Walk first. There are interpretive signs illustrating how the soft limestone rock began to form around 20 million years ago from the soft bodied sea creatures falling to the ocean floor and being compressed by the sheer weight of the ocean above. Over time the ocean has retreated and now the windswept limestone cliffs tower above the ocean below. It becomes apparent in the first few minutes here at Loch Ard Gorge how the power of wind, rain and the unrelenting pounding ocean have formed the marvelous stone sculptures spread out before us.
Harry is beginning to grumble because it is a bit hot. We stop to give him a drink of water, set up his backpack with a wrap for extra shade and put on long cotton pants and socks to stop him getting sun burnt. Now its off to the next walk to explore the area where the Loch Ard came undone.
The Loch Ard was wrecked on the 1st of June 1878 after smashing into the cliffs of Muttonbird Island. All but 2 of the 51 passengers and crew on board perished. Only 5 bodies were recovered, with four of these buried in the cemetary here above Loch Ard Gorge. As we descend down the steps to the beach where the survivors came ashore I am struck by the irony of it all. Here is a gorgeous, calm and secluded beach and yet it was also the site of such horror and tragedy. Eva Carmichael was the only passenger who survived, her parents and her 5 siblings drowning in the shipwreck, She was helped to safety by the only other survivor, a crew member called Tom Pearce. This would be the stuff of a Hollywood movie love story these days, but alas the real tale of these two was that Eva went back to Ireland and they never saw each other again.
My imagination, Chris and Harry spend some time on the beach before deciding its probably time to check in to our accommodation. Despite the sun still being high in the sky it is approaching dinner time (I love how darkness doesn’t set in until late in the evening here in Victoria in Summer). I would have loved to watch the sunset on the 12 Apostles tonight, but Harry is done is for the day. They will have to be a morning trip instead.
The Twelve Apostles
Hooray! Finally after 10 months Harry has his first ever night of sleeping through! For those of you who are not parents this will mean nothing to you, but for me, with a baby who usually wakes up 7 times a night, this is amazing. Mind you I am so thrown by his not waking up that I keep waking up to check he is okay so I was up 7 times anyhow…but again, hooray! This holiday has been fantastic for us all. First up this morning is the 12 Apostles.
The 12 Apostles are not made up of 12 rock stacks at all, there are actually only 7 (there used to be 8 but one collapsed into the sea in 2005). So really a bit of creative licence has been applied here in the naming of this place. Mind you the original name given to the area by the Europeans was the Sow and Piglets, the sow being Muttonbird Island and the numerous rock stacks dotting the coast being the piglets, so the name “12 Apostles” is a bit nicer on the ear.
As we walk down to the first viewing platform the vista that I have seen in so many travel shows and landscape photographs is revealed before me. I have said it before and I will say it again, the beauty and wildness of places like this just can not be captured in a photograph. We take our time walking around the short 500m walk stopping at all four of the viewing areas. I marvel once again at the artistry of nature and how a simple scientific process such as erosion can sculpt rock in this way. One day when Harry is older and can stay up later I will sit here and watch the sun set.
Muttonbird Island, Thunder Cave and Broken Head
We head back to the Loch Ard Gorge area to do the walk we missed yesterday. The aptly named, Living on the Edge walk is a 3.2 km walk taking in the Blow hole, Thunder Cave and Broken Head. From October to April, Muttonbird Island is the nesting place of thousands of short-tailed shearwaters. They fly out to sea to feed during the day and return to the island rookery in the evening.
We continue walking along the path until we reach Thunder cave. It is called thunder cave for a good reason, ss the water sucks in and out of the hollowed out rock a roaring sound can be heard and I can see why the poor Loch Ard never stood a chance once she came so close to these cliffs – the power of the ocean was just too great. The last part of the walk takes us down to Broken Head overlooking the Sherbrooke River mouth and providing more coastal views.
The Arch, London Bridge and The Grotto
After a bite to eat we head back to the car and drive to the other side of Port Campbell. There are three separate car parks with short walks of only about 150 meters each to the other interesting rock formations here in Port Campbell National Park – The Arch, London Bridge and The Grotto.
London Bridge has succumbed to the forces of nature with the middle section collapsing years ago. One day the second segment will collapse and it will be yet another rock stack along the coast. The Grotto is very beautiful but unfortunately I cant get a good photograph as quite a few people seemed unable to read signs and had climbed over the barrier and were playing in the shallow waters of the Grotto. All the photos I have are filled with these people and it makes me feel cross to look at so I decided not to include them in this post!
Bay of Islands Coastal Park
Back in the car we continue driving along the Great Ocean Road until we come to the Bay of Islands Coastal Marine Park just west of Peterborough. The sky has turned dark and brooding, but we risk a walk out to the Bay of Martyrs anyhow. Although this park doesn’t get the same publicity as Port Campbell National Park it is definitely worth checking out.
The yellow, orange and red hues of the earth and rock against the deep blue sea, moody sky and green heath is striking. We make it back to the car just as the rain starts to fall. I would like to spend more time here but the weather is against us. Time to press on to Warrnambool.
The last few days of our Great Ocean Road adventure get a bit washed out but we manage to have a great time anyhow. We visit the pretty little town of Port Fairy, the dormant maar volcano of Tower Hill, and explore the 5.7 km foreshore walk in Warrnambool. I am facinated with the Maremma project on Middle Island. Once home to a thriving little penguin colony, the colony had been reduced to only 10 breeding pairs. The project has bought in and trained Maremma dogs to live on the island and protect the penguins and short-tailed shearwaters and the population has rebounded. Amazing.
On our way back to Geelong for our final evening we take a detour near Colac to Otway Estate. The wines here are nice but it is the Prickley Moses beers that win us over. The Black Panther IBA, Stout and ChainSAW are fantastic. The platter we eat here is delicious as well.
In a previous post I expressed my excitement at having discovered the Split Point Lighthouse which was featured in my favourite TV show as a kid – Round the Twist. Well I have to say that I have deliberately decided to stay our last night in Geelong so I can check out Barwon Heads on the Bellarine Peninsular. Barwon Heads was the filming location of my favourite drama of all time – Seachange. If Chris thought I was excited at the Split Point Lighthouse I think he must have thought I had drifted off into la la land in “Pearl Bay”. I point out Laura’s beach house and Diver and Max’s boatshed. We walk across the bridge which was always missing a big chunk out it in the show and walk up to the headland. I am in Seachange heaven.
I wake the next morning fresh from dreams of towering cliffs, crashing waves, shipwrecks and Max from Seachange (sorry Laura, he had to rescue me from a sinking ship), happy in my head and heart that this trip has been so wonderful yet sad it is almost over. Before driving back to Melbourne for our afternoon flight we explore a bit more of the Belarine Peninsular and visit the lovely Scotchmans Hill winery. As our plane lifts off the runway and Melbourne dissapears behind us I know that we will be back to visit the Great Ocean Road very soon.
At a Glance
Port Campbell National Park
250-kilometre (3 hrs) from Melbourne via the Princes Highway or take the scenic, but windy Great Ocean Road (5 hrs)
Bay of Islands Coastal Park
Approx 15 minutes from Port Campbell
Tower Hill Reserve
Halfway between Warrnambool and Port Fairy
3hr drive west of Melbourne
12 minutes from Colac, 2hrs from Melbourne