|Great Ocean Road: The Shipwreck Coast|
|Continuing from the Surf Coast section of the Great Ocean Road, which took us 108 km from Torquay, we pick up at Cape Otway. Perched on the road's southernmost tip, Cape Otway is the halfway mark of the Great Ocean Road, a place from which we can look back on the Surf Coast and forward to the Shipwreck Coast.|
Driving north from Cape Otway, we rejoin the Great Ocean Road, again wending our way through the Otway National Park. Once we pass through the park the scenery changes from that of rainforest to farm. The small village of Hordern Vale is not far off the road, and is a good base from which to take bushwalks back through the Otway National Park to Cape Otway. The walks are spectacular, offering coastal views, waterfalls and pristine rainforest - it's not unusual to go without seeing any other people along a walk. Three kilometres south of Hordern Vale is the mouth of the Aire River, where excellent camping grounds and picnic areas are located. If we decide to push on along the Great Ocean Road our next stop is Glenaire. Separated from the Southern Ocean by the Otway National Park, Glenaire also offers great bushwalks, and the surfing and fishing in the area is superb. Dinosaur Cove, a short walk from Glenaire is the site of one of Australia's most important dinosaur diggings. Slightly further west is the town of Johanna, a place with a dramatically beautiful beach, which like others in the area, such as Castle Cove, is a place the waves can be large, which in combination with rips makes them far from safe swimming beaches.
Staying on the Great Ocean Road, which then passes through Lavers Hill, located some 10 kilometres from the coast. After this town the road again swings south to the sea, to the true start of the Shipwreck Coast, Moonlight Head, 15 kilometres from Lavers Hill. The Shipwreck Coast extends from Moonlight Head to Port Fairy, 130 kilometres further west. The temptation for ships to cut 1200 kilometres from the trip from England to Sydney by negotiating the treacherous and unpredictable Bass Strait was strong, resulting in over 160 ships coming to grief on this coastal stretch. The noted naval explorer and navigator Matthew Flinders once wrote, "I have seldom seen a more fearful section of coastline". Over 50 of these wrecks have been incorporated into the Historic Shipwreck Trail, with road signs indicating wreck sites and, on the coast, plaques detail the story of each wreck. The turn-off to Moonlight Head is midway between Lavers Hill and Princetown, and once at Moonlight Head you have the choice of The Gable, with magnificent coastal views, or a track taking you down to Wreck Beach, the final resting place of the vessels 'Maria Gabrielle' and 'Fiji'.
Fifteen kilometres from Moonlight Head is the town of Princetown, a small town by the estuary of the Gellibrand River. Princetown marks the start of the Port Campbell National Park. This park closely hugs 27 kilometres of the coast, 2,400 hectares of natural wonder. The 100-metre high sheer limestone cliffs, thunderous seas and howling winds are a reminder not only of the beauty of nature, but also of its power. Like the park, the Great Ocean Road stays by the coast on the 18 kilometre drive between Princetown and Port Campbell, and it is on this stretch that the most recognisable and most photographed attraction of the road is situated - the Twelve Apostles. Once part of the mainland but separated by millennia of erosion, these rock islands are up to 45 metres high. The first sighting of the Twelve Apostles is from the lookout at Gibsons Steps Beach, or you can continue on to the Twelve Apostles lookout. Boardwalks and viewing platforms ensure visitors get the best view. Newly constructed is the Visitor Centre, which contains historic information about the area, details on how nature has shaped the coastal formations, a tunnel beneath the Great Ocean Road which takes visitors to the viewing platforms, and, along the boardwalks, displays featuring explanations of the features. If you are both fit and in a mood to appreciate the full majesty of the formations, steps lead down to the beach, allowing you to see them up close and to appreciate their scale.
Slightly further west along the road from the Twelve Apostles is Loch Ard Gorge, a spot which is both beautiful and sad, named as it is after the ship that wrecked there. The 'Loch Ard' came to grief here in 1878, killing all but 2 people. Much of the story is on offer here, in the form of plaques and 40-90 minute guided walks, while the Loch Ard Shipwreck Museum is located in Glenample Homestead, a few kilometres west of Princetown. On a sunny day you'll wonder how such a tragedy could happen is so lovely a place; on a rough day you'll marvel that there were any survivors at all. The danger of this whole area exists to this day - the beaches of Port Campbell National Park are beautiful, but few are suitable for swimming. Fishing and surfing can be unforgettable experiences but great care is to be taken. Surfers should ideally ride with someone who knows the area.
Port Campbell is an ideal base from which to explore the wonders of the area. From the town you can take a scenic boat tour, fishing tour or scuba diving tour, allowing you an up close look at the caves, stacks, arches and cliffs. Port Campbell has a broad range of accommodation on offer, and a good number of restaurants and cafes. Driving through Port Campbell and continuing west along the road are two more of the Great Ocean Road's icons - the spectacular rock formations The Arch and London Bridge. The next major town along the road is Peterborough, perched upon one of the many spectacular headlands of the Great Ocean Road. The sea and wind can be particularly powerful here - the shapes of the sandstone cliff are testament to this - so again take care when fishing and surfing. Not only is Peterborough close by the ocean, but also Curdies Creek, a broad estuary where you can go freshwater fishing, birdwatching or walking along one of the tracks in the area.
Once leaving Peterborough the Great Ocean Road continues toward its official end, 44 kilometres away, in Allansford. There is one more spot of note before we reach the end, and that is the Bay of Islands Coastal Park, a narrow 33-kilometre strip of coastal heathland that runs alongside a series of secluded coves. Erosion has resulted in scene similar to the Twelve Apostles, and though the limestone stacks in the water are of lesser stature, they are greater in number. Spots to visit here are the Bay of Martyrs, Crofts Bay, Worm Bay - there are numerous lookouts, car parks and walking tracks, allowing you to explore the area. When in bloom the native flora adds a blaze of colour to the coast, and amongst the fauna of the area are bandicoots, small wallabies, penguins and seals, and in winter, you might be lucky enough to witness whales pass by. Be prepared for strong winds - generally the winds gust up to 50 kilometres per hour, and in winter up to 90 kilometres per hour. It is these strong winds, in concert with the rough seas, which eroded mainland Australia to create the Great Australian Bight.
Once past the Bay of Islands the road for the most part veers inland, meeting the Princes Highway at Allansford. While Allansford marks the official end of the Great Ocean Road, it is by no means the end of scenic drives and coastal sights and towns in this part of the world. The Princes Highway stays close by the coast, and such towns as Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Portland are well worth a visit. After Portland take the Portland-Nelson Road, and drive past the large expanse that is Discovery Bay, continuing on to the South Australian border. Of course you could retrace your route along the Great Ocean road, to perhaps take in places you missed, or, to return to Geelong and Melbourne the quickest way, take the Princes Highway.
The Great Ocean Road is a marvel of human endeavour and engineering ingenuity, and a stark reminder of the power and beauty of nature. The region attracts over a million visitors annually, so please remember to drive carefully, particularly in summer and on the weekend.
A full list of accommodation in the Great Ocean Road region can be found in Travelmate's Accommodation section.