Loch Ard Gorge and Shipwreck Coast
By Richard Moore
In good weather the beautiful coastline along south-western
Victoria often appears as a slice of heaven on Earth, but
when things turn rough that same area can turn nasty and for
mariners - hellish.
There are 700 ships believed to have been wrecked along the
Victorian coast, but fewer than a third of them have been
Tourists travelling down the Great Ocean Road towards Port
Campbell can follow the Historic Shipwreck Trail that signposts
25 of the best-known wrecks.
Perhaps the most famous is that of the Loch Ard, an iron-hulled
clipper ship that was lost in 1878 while sailing from England
Voyaging along the southern Australian coast the Loch Ard
was caught in continuous fogs that left her captain mistakenly
thinking he was some 50 miles out from the treacherous rocks
Instead the Loch Ard was dangerously close to land and on
1 June struck Mutton Bird Island to the east of Port Campbell.
Frantic efforts to save the 1700-tonne ship failed and she
was dashed on to rocks.
Only two people from the 54 passengers and crew survived.
A cabin boy called Tom Pearce helped save a young woman Eva
Carmichael, who had been washed on wreckage into the cove
now known as Loch Ard Gorge. After they spent the night in
a cave Pearce climbed the gorge's cliffs and eventually found
Loch Ard Gorge is one of the places to visit in the Port
Campbell area and in summertime you absolutely have to pack
a picnic basket and spend the day there. It really is one
of those sensational spots where you can relax, have a swim
or muck about on the beach.
To the east of the gorge are the famous limestone towers
of The Twelve Apostles that stand up to 45 metres from the
pounding waves of the Great Southern Ocean.
These magnificent structures are formed over thousands of
years as the churning seas undermine the soft limestone around
them and when that collapses leaves the formation standing
out from the cliffs.
The Twelve Apostles are must-sees and it doesn't really matter
if you are traveling in summer or winter, you'll be in for
Blustery, wintry conditions means rugging up warmly and seeing
the power of the Great Southern Ocean as it crashes into Australia.
The lighting is terrific in the colder months as the often
storm-black skies form the perfect backdrop for a setting
sun on the landscape.
In warm weather you can sit for hours and just marvel at
nature's beauty and the fabulous colours of the seas and the
In the 20+ years that I've been travelling down to the area
there has been a lot of tourist development and not always
for the better.
Once you'd park your car near the cliffs and be one of only
a handful of visitors enjoying the view. Now you park across
the road near a tourist centre and then trudge with hundreds
of others through a tunnel under the Great Ocean Road to the
wooden walkways and viewing platforms.
It has to be said the platforms are good - and do save the
area from being trampled - but the masses of people are not
such fun. And to me the feeling of enjoying something wild
and beautiful has been diminished by conservation and so-called
Now if you want to get down on to the shoreline near The
Apostles then head for Gibson Steps, which are to the east
and signposted from the road. Gibson Steps are fairly steep
and can be a bit slippery, but once you are down on the sands
then you get a real appreciation of how two of The Apostles
look close up and in heavy weather the crashing waves are
If you've been driving for a while and the kids are a bit
cranky then half an hour by the waves will do them - and you
- the world of good. Watch out for the tide though as you
wouldn't want to be caught down there.
As mentioned Port Campbell is in the centre of National Park
area and is a good place to base yourself.
It isn't cheap though and you do need to watch where you
are staying. Budget motel accommodation will still knock you
back around $140 - and that is for a grotty two-room place
with no heating and a missing smoke detector. I should know
- I forked out for it.
Mind you, no matter the price of a bed, there is always excellent
value to be had at the Port Campbell pub. The counter meals
are big and are very good value. The open fire and friendly
attitude of the staff make this a top spot for couples to
have a wonderful night out.
West of Port Campbell is the Bay of Islands National Park
and Peterborough, another potential base for zipping around
There are some wonderful sights in this part of the coast,
including The Arch, London Bridge (sometimes called London
Arch), The Grotto and the Bay of Islands.
All are worth looking at although London Bridge, for mine,
is always stunning. It got its name from looking very much
like the famous span in Britain's capital, but in 1990 one
of the arches gave way and sent thousands of tonnes of rock
crashing into the seas.
Having walked out on to the end of London Bridge many times
in the 1980s I can imagine the terror of the two tourists
who were stranded by the collapse. I would not fancy hearing
the fall of rock and then watching from the middle of the
remaining arch as water - higher than the height of the rock
you are on - rushed away.
I think the Port Campbell National Park and its surrounds
has to be my favourite part of Victoria and the scenery, together
with an excellent meal at the Port Campbell pub, are highlights
of weekends down in the south-west of the state.
And don't forget that an easy drive down the road from the
Port Campbell area will get you to Warrnambool and the chance
to watch some whales.
You shouldn't visit Victoria and not take a tour or drive
down to this spectacular part of Australia - it will almost
certainly be one of the highlights of your journey.