On a sunny, calm day there is nowhere more beautiful than the Victorian Coastline to the west of Melbourne. The blue waters, pristine beaches and amazing limestone features are the picture of serenity, and images of them have graced coffee table books and travel manuals the world over. But for the sailors of years gone by there was nothing enjoyable about this coastline, which is said to have been the demise of over 700 ships in the past. For when the weather turns bad and the waves become turbulent theres nowhere on the planet more dangerous to be sailing past. This has led to the 180 kilometre stretch between Cape Otway and Port Fairy to be dubbed the ‘Shipwreck Coast’ in recognition of the hazards it presented to mariners of the past. The regions historical significance combines with its beauty to create a holiday destination like no other, an intriguing place with wonders around each corner.
The Shipwreck Coast is reached by heading west from Melbourne onto the Great Ocean Road at Geelong. This is renowned as one of the most spectacular ocean drives in the world, and its easy to see why as you wind your way along it, through rainforest and along high cliff faces with scintillating ocean views. The road passes through delightful coastal towns that will entice you to park your campervan and spend a couple of nights enjoying the warm country hospitality. Continuing along you will start to come across what the Shipwreck Coast and the Great Ocean Road are most famous for: the amazing limestone structures carved out by the powerful ocean.
The most striking of these are undoubtedly the Twelve Apostles- huge pillars of resistant rock rising out of the ocean which has worn away the surrounding land. Seven pillars remain standing, pointing crookedly to the sky while their compatriots have succumbed to the waves that crash relentlessly at their base. Close to the town of Port Campbell, there is plenty of accommodation near to the Apostles. They are viewed from a series of platforms and boardwalks built along the mainland that helps prevent erosion, and there is a comprehensive visitors centre with Aboriginal arts and historical artefacts exhibited.
Just up the coast from the Twelve Apostles is the site of possibly the most famous shipwreck on this coastline, the Loch Ard. This was an iron hulled skipper that ventured too close to land in thick fog in 1878 and ending up dashing itself on the rocks, leaving only two survivors. Loch Ard Gorge was named in commemoration of this tragic incident. It has two towering walls that stretch out into the ocean away from a pretty beach that is perfect for a swim or a picnic… provided the weather is calm!
Although many people turn around and head back after reaching Port Campbell there is still plenty to see if you continue west. The first thing you may want to visit is the Grotto, a natural arch that has been created by sinkholes wearing their way through the rock until they meet. Looking at the Grotto from land it creates a perfect natural frame for the ocean behind it, a great opportunity for photographers. Continuing west you will come to the London Bridge, which looks a lot like its namesake in the British Capitol. Unfortunately the bridge part crashed into the ocean a few years ago, although the arches on both sides remain. It takes nothing away from the attraction though, and you should definitely give this a look.
Thirteen kilometres west of Port Campbell is the small fishing hamlet of Peterborough, population 200. Starting here and stretching for 33 kilometres up the coast is the Bay of Islands Coastal Park. The coastline of the bay consists of rocky cliffs dotted with secluded coves that protect rare fauna and flora, but its what lies within the bay that makes it special. Limestone stacks, similar to the Twelve Apostles but not as high and much wider are spread out through the Bay. Eerily they seem to float in the ocean as if not fixed to anything, which makes for some stunning photographs. There are various lookout points up and down the coastline, the nearest to Peterborough being at the Bay of Martyrs, where there is a large carpark and viewing platform which provides some good views of the bay.
A sunset over the Bay of Islands is a fitting end to your time on the Shipwreck Coast. And the great thing is you dont need to get those ‘end of holiday blues’ just yet… all you have to do is turn your campervan around and retrace your steps, taking in all the attractions you may have missed on the way up. There are numerous caravan parks to stay in, but remember in summer it can get very busy here so its best to get on the phone and book your spot in advance!