Along the Shipwreck Coast

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The next part of our travels took us through the Otway Ranges and then along Victoria’s ‘Shipwreck Coast’.

For the first hour out of Apollo Bay, we drove though many kilometres of dense temperate rain forest. The road wound around the topogrophy of the area with barely a straight stretch anywhere along the way.

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Before reaching Moonlight Head, the road traversed a flat area of land near Hordern Vale and the mouth of the Ayre River. This is a low lying and boggy area of grazing land with just a few farming properties.

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From Horden Vale, the road returned along a long stretch of forest before reaching the seaside hamlet of Princetown. This little village hosts a pub which doubles as a general store, a post office and some accommodation options. It is located on the mouth of the Gellibrand River. It looked to me as though this place has seen much better days as neither the pub or post office seemed to have been open for quite some time. The only thing that was open (thankfully) were the public toilets that overlooked the wetlands of the river estuary.

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From Princetown, the road passed many of the iconic sights for which the Great Ocean Road is famous. We stopped at all of them, even though we had seen them on a number of trips previously.

Near the Twelve Apostles are the Gibson Steps,  one of many highlights on the Great Ocean Road.  They consist of 86 steps that have been cut into the 30-meter-high cliff face and provide one of only a couple of access points to the beach along this spectacular cliff-dominated stretch of coastline. Once you get to the beach, you immediately feel dwarfed by the sheer size of the limestone cliff and the rock formations in the ocean. There are two huge rock stacks in the ocean, known as Gog and Magog, but you need to be on the beach at low tide to see both of them.  They are similar to, but not part of the Twelve Apostles, and are constantly battered by the ferocious surf along this coast.

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This stretch of coast is thought to have around 700 shipwrecked vessels from the sailing ship days submerged in its water. It’s estimated that only around 240 have been discovered. Matthew Flinders, the first explorer to circumnavigate the continent of Australia said that he had never seen a “more fearful section of coastline”.

Nearby, are the famous Twelve Apostles. The harsh and extreme weather conditions from the Southern Ocean gradually erode the soft limestone to form caves in the cliffs, which then become arches that eventually collapse, leaving rock stacks up to 50 metres high. The stacks are susceptible to further erosion from waves. In July 2005, a 50-metre-tall stack collapsed, leaving only seven standing at the Twelve Apostles viewpoint. Due to wave action eroding the cliffs, existing headlands are expected to become new limestone stacks in the future.

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The stacks were originally known as the Pinnacles, and then the Sow and Piglets, with Muttonbird Island being the Sow and the smaller rock stacks being the Piglets. The formation’s name was eventually official changed to the Twelve Apostles, despite them only ever having had eight stacks.

Perhaps the most famous shipwreck story along this coast is that of the sailing ship, the Loch Ard, which disappeared on its way to Melbourne from England. Caught up in fogs along the coast, the captain thought he was miles away from the cliffs of the Australian mainland, but in fact, he was fatally close. The ship hit Mutton Bird Island on the 1st of June 1878, killing 52 of the 54 people on board. The only survivors were Eva Carmichael and cabin boy Tom Pearce, who managed to spend the night in a cave in this gorge before climbing the cliffs and finding help once the bad weather had cleared.

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The next iconic site along this coast is that of the London Bridge. Before 1990, London Bridge was a bridge with a double arch that connected the outer island to the mainland. There was a massive structure collapse on 15th of January 1990, with part of the bridge collapsing into the ocean, leaving behind a chunk of land isolated in the ocean. However, it didn’t just leave the land isolated, but also two tourists who were stranded before they could be rescued by helicopter.

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Closer to the next town along this section of coast, Port Campbell, we found the turn off to a feature known as The Grotto. On our previous trips to this area, we had bypassed this feature and I regret that we had not stopped here earlier. It is perhaps the most enchanting of all the rock formations in this part of Australia. Part-blowhole, part-archway, part-cave, it offers a delightful place to observe the sea views and soak up the wonderful things that nature is capable of creating.

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Our lunch stop in Port Campbell was in a grassy park by the waterfront. We noticed that a very nice cafe where we had eaten before is now closed and the property is for sale. Another Covid victim! We spent most of the time while eating at our picnic table bracing against a cool breeze and also fending off hordes of seagulls that were looking for scraps of food. I think that the seagulls were missing the tourists as much as the local businesses were.

At the end of this section of the coastal road is the village of Peterborough. It is a tiny coastal town located on the western shore of the Curdies River estuary. By contrast to the long stretch of limestone cliffs along the coast, Peterborough, with its small beaches and sand hills, is a quiet family-friendly holiday destination with caravan parks and camping grounds that are popular in the summer months. There is a seaside golf course, a picnic area beside Curdies River and plenty of fishing and swimming opportunities in the river and sea. 

Peterborough Beach, which is accessible from the Foreshore Reserve, is 800 metres long and protected by offshore reefs and cliffs. It is recognised as being moderately safe for swimming.

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Web stopped over in the city of Warrnambool for the night and this gave me a chance to catch up with my good friend, Peter Fry. Pete and I were in the same army unit at Puckapunyal (before we both left for Vietnam) and have been good mates ever since. While I was posted to 85 Transport Platoon,  Pete was posted to Headquarters Company. 1st Australian Task Force, where he became the Commanding Officer’s driver. We had dinner together at the Warrnambool RSL and were clearly the last to leave. I think that they were waiting for us to go before closing up for the night.

This morning, we met up again to attend the Remembrance Day Service (11th November) at the Warrnambool Cenotaph. It was a joy to meet up with Pete and some of the other Vietnam Veterans that I have come to know in Warrnambool.

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After the service, Jill and I moved on to Tower Hill for another picnic lunch. Tower Hill is an inactive volcano on the south-west coast of Victoria, approximately 15 kilometres north-west of Warrnambool. The Tower Hill crater is roughly 3 kilometres wide and 80 metres high. Within the crater, a series of later volcanic explosions formed a number of scoria cones and spheres, surrounded by a crater lake. Being a giant nested maar, Tower Hill is of international geological significance.

Tower Hill volcanoes erupted at least 34,000 years ago and were known in Aboriginal spoken history. Its eruption resulted in molten lava being pushing up through the Earth’s crust, before hitting a layer of water-bearing rock, which led to huge explosions. A shallow crater was left, later becoming a lake once it filled with rainwater. Subsequent to this, later eruptions occurred in the centre of this crater-lake, pushing up islands and cone-shaped hills,  known as scoria cones.  It is one of the largest eruption points of the Newer Volcanics period in Victoria. 

We keep having picnic lunches to minimise our contact with other people. The one inside the crater today  was very pleasant although the breeze chilled the air somewhat. We were interrupted by repeated incursions of a few wild emus that constantly needed to be shepherded away from our table and our picnic food.

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We are now staying in the scenic town of Port Fairy and we will send the next three days exploring this cute little fishing village.

4 thoughts on “Along the Shipwreck Coast

  1. Great report Bruce, thoroughly appreciated and enjoying your travel log.You and Jill are covering a lot of ground. I am envious.

  2. Great report Bruce, thoroughly appreciated and enjoying your travel log.You and Jill are covering a lot of ground. I am envious

  3. A wonderful part of the world described in this bulletin. Love Port Campbell and Port Fairy. Wonderful.

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