VIC – Twelve Apostles

The Twelve Apostles – How to survive Australia’s busiest coastal icon Photos M.Jacques & P.Fuller The Victorian coast arguably has the nation’s most compelling coastal scenery. The Twelve Apostles Marine Protected Area is world class, and offers a good mix of spectacular if well-trodden tourist icons, as well as sleepy coves and invigorating walks. The coastline is a mixture of crumbling sediments facing south towards the wild storms and south-westerly swells of the Southern Ocean. The contest is one-sided with the coastline regularly retreating in an avalanche of undermined rock. This has left behind beautiful sculptures shaped by wave and wind. Erosion has carved rugged rock stacks, caves, arches, tunnels and blowholes. Photos really don’t do it justice, the real thing is way more attractive, so much so that you can easily get “coastal lookout fatigue” after a dozen or so overwhelming sites. The coastline adjacent to these natural monuments has been protected in a 7500ha and 17km long marine park. Singing the praises of the scenery is easy, harder to explain is when and how to visit the area to maximise the depth of your experience. It is a spot inundated by visitors, and it appears on every postcard, screensaver, calendar and tourist brochure in the world. It’s on everyone’s bucket list and they squeeze it into a rushed itinerary of iconic spots that can mean a five minute photo opportunity followed by 30 minutes of queuing for souvenirs. That’s fine for some, but I’d like to see it and feel exhilarated, rather than jostled. Twelve Apostles Visitors Centre Firstly, you have to see the coastal features known as the Twelve Apostles as they are worthwhile despite the hordes of tourists. We drove past twice on the theory we could come back when there were no tour buses in the car park. Wrong, they are always there. In the end we came by at close to dusk, when there was only a small horde waiting for the sunset. Communing with nature via busy carparks, while sightseer helicopters fly overhead might seem alienating, but it’s the only way to manage the site without creating a disaster zone. The good news is that it is crowded but everyone is on holidays and in a good mood. The other good news is that they get their ‘picture postcard’ snap and race off to the next hurried landfall, so you can always get to a vantage point in the end without having to look over the heads in front. Ok, done that. It’s hard to believe that I came here in the late 1980s and thought it was crowded then, when there were a few dozen people. Now you have done the hard part. You won’t see 90% of these people again and the surrounding 17kms of coast is relatively empty. Relatively quiet means except for the busy car parking areas at the better known sites in summer, skip them. Thunder Cave and Broken Head Track Set aside an hour or two from the hectic schedule of landscape gazing, to try this short and easy set of walking trails. Its popular and often busy, but nothing like as crowded as the Twelve Apostles, which is only a stones throw away. There are the usual fabulous coastal lookout points as well as verdant coastal greenery and interesting birdlife. It is also relatively easy walking. 15 The Loch Ard Gorge This one was my favourite. We came in at dusk and the place was empty. Whoever was still around was discouraged by the steep set of stairs to get to the beach. The bay has an absolutely million dollar view and entices you to swim or snorkel, which is only advisable in calm weather. Admire not only the beach, but also the interesting stalagmites growing from the cliffs at the back of the bay. Despite the steep stairs it’s obviously still popular at the height of the day as the beach was totally trampled with footprints. The tides have to be out as the water almost fills the bay at high tide. Wreck of the “Loch Ard” Loch Ard Gorge gets its name from the wreck of the “Loch Ard” which is not actually in the Gorge, but the site can be seen from the cliffs above the wreck. This 80m long square rigged iron sailing ship was built in 1873. The “Loch Ard” was on her fourth voyage to Australia, bound for Melbourne loaded with passengers and cargo, when she went aground in fog off Mutton Bird Island. Of the 54 crew and passengers on board, only two survived. Divers do visit the site from Port Campbell, but rarely is the weather suitable. One operator will take groups of six from Port Campbell by appointment. The Warrnambool Dive club also occasionally visits the area. The scenery on the way out and back is worth the cost on its own. Saved from the wreck was the unique Minton peacock. This can be seen at the Flagstaff Hill Museum in Warrnambool. Sherbrook River Walk The main path continues until it forks off to Broken Head in one direction and Sherbrook River in the other. The path leading to the Sherbrook River entrance is sealed and slopes steeply down towards the river where the waters empty into the sea at another picturesque bay. This is a longer walk, and being more energetic and time-consuming it’s guaranteed to discourage crowds. Thunder Cave The nearby Thunder Cave viewing area is approximately 550 metres from the Loch Ard Gorge carpark and is located 15 metres from the main path. The tracks will also take you past the collapsed roof of Thunder Cave. It is an easy walk. There are an unknown number of sea caves in the area. Most are so shallow they are often dry and are even used by nesting little penguins. A series of sea caves have been explored by divers around Loch Ard Gorge and include Thunder Cave, which extends into the cliff face for around 100 m. The collapsed roof makes it into an 16 archway as much as a cave. In the back of the cave it ends in a blowhole that is another local tourist attraction. The tourist blowhole is only one of a system of tunnels. One to the north east opens out into a cavern that is 50m long and 40m wide and 20m high. There is also an air pocket cavern with a small beach. Of course you can’t see all of this fascinating feature from the surface. The nearby coastal lookouts are awesome. Divers from Port Campbell will only venture in on the few days each year of exceptional weather. So that does it for the Twelve Apostles? Well for 90% of tourists this is true, but there are still 16 or so kilometres to go and plenty of coastal lookouts, so many we won’t mention them all and none of them are the really famous ones blown with tourist buses. They are worth seeing too, but you don’t need any help finding out where they are. Pt Campbell This beautiful little bay offers not much shelter from the swell, but that was enough to make it an important fishing port on this coast. The main place to go to get out to sea on charter trips is Port Campbell. Charters boats use a winch to lower the boats into the water from the old jetty, so tenuous is the sheltered offered by this photogenic little port. This is a good spot to take the kids to a beach with some shelter and be quick, it’s just starting to get built out with trendy apartments and restaurants. The family can snorkel along the shore or fish from the jetty. Experienced surfers can try the reef breaks outside the harbour. It doesn’t hurt that there is a nice hotel overlooking the bay for a postswim beer or wine. Port Campbell jetty dive Entry can be made off the pier ladder, or from the beach. It isn’t deep here and would also suit a family snorkel dive. The seaweed is very interesting and diverse, but fish are sparse. Out further in the bay are the overgrown remains of old moorings made from engine blocks and gearboxes. The western shoreline offers some slightly deeper reefs and it also deepens closer to the entrance, where there is also more swell. In deeper areas there are the usual Bass Strait fish including wrasse, herring cale, sweep and schools of Bastard Trumpeter. You should expect 3m visibility on average. The small steamship “Napier” was engaged to salvage the wreck of the “Loch Ard”, but came to grief while entering Port Campbell inlet. Swell forced the vessel onto rocks on western wall of bay opposite the jetty. She was considered salvageable but was torn apart by another gale. Look along the western shore for an overgrown boiler. Not much remains of her but the boiler and a winch. A plaque describing the wreck can be seen near the pier at the rocket shed. The Arches Dive 19 to 25m Hundreds of hidden reefs are located off this section of coastline if its calm and a boat can get out to sea. Depths vary from 15-25 m, and the terrain consists of gutters, caves, ledges and pinnacles. Pretty sponge gardens and fields of kelp cover the bottom. Divers 17 usually see Port Jackson sharks, pike, sweep, morwong, boarfish, rock lobsters, snapper, leatherjackets, perch, ling cod and an interesting variety of invertebrate life The small Arches Marine Sanctuary protects a popular dive reef often visited on the way back from the “Loch Ard” wreck site. The 45ha reserves covers limestone reef that has been sculpted by the heavy swell into canyons, caves, arches and walls. The reef is adorned with many types of seaweed with Ecklonia radiata dominating. Due to the shaded nature of the caves created by the underwater arches, animals more often found in the deeper waters of Bass Strait can be seen including gorgonians, sponges, bryozoans and hydroids. The upper side of these structures are covered in the thick, brown kelp with an understory of delicate red algae. These habitats support schools of reef fish, seals and a range of invertebrates such as lobster, abalone and sea urchins. Peterborough It is a tiny collection of shacks and not as upmarket as Port Campbell, but this small town is surrounded by shallow reefs and bays that are reasonably sheltered and accessible. making it one of the better onshore diving and snorkelling spots on the Victorian West Coast. The weed-covered reefs have crevices that shelter colourful invertebrate life, as well as being home to plenty of reef fish like leatherjackets, wrasse, morwong, wobbegongs, Port Jackson sharks, and blue devilfish. There are good shore dives and snorkels at Peterborough on the relatively protected shallows along the cliffs behind the golf course in Wild Dog Cove. Wild Dog Cove is a 500 m wide bay on the western side of Peterborough. It is a south facing bay, backed by 10 m high red limestone cliffs, with a shallow bay floor dominated protected by offshore limestone reefs. The bay has four small beaches on the eastern side of the bay and one longer beach receiving low to often calm waves, particularly at low tide. Access to each is by steps or a climb down the bluffs from the Great Ocean Road. Great for family picnics and snorkelling among the weed gardens in calm weather. Wreck of the “Schomberg” 3-9m (WGS84)-38 37.00 142 53.18 This three masted wooden ship was built in Aberdeen for James Baine’s Black Ball Line as a fast and luxurious immigrant ship. In 1855, the “Schomberg” was on its maiden voyage from to Australia. Only a day’s sailing from Port Phillip Bay, the “Schomberg” was sailing close to the coast in light winds when the winds failed and she drifted onto an uncharted sandspit at Peterborough. Captain “Bully” Forbes, was accused of neglect of duty which couldn’t be proved although he was playing cards with two female passengers when the “Schomberg” ran aground. By the time he came up on deck and gave orders it was too late. The remains of the “Schomberg” now lie southeast of Schomberg rock off Peterborough. The wreck runs north south along a reef, with its bow to the north. The site is badly broken up and heavily concreted with only railway iron usually noticeable in the thick kelp. Plenty of reef fish now inhabit the wreck. Southerly and south-easterly winds expose the wreck to dangerous swells. It is safer after a period of northerly weather. Launches can be made at the Port Campbell Beach Ramp, or by 4WD at the very steep Bay of Islands boat ramp near Peterborough. A permit is required to dive the site. That’s it, we forgot about London Bridge and all the other popular coastal sites, oh well, there is always the next trip. 18 NSW News The Gems of Eden – Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre The Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre is a hands-on encounter with the gems of the sea. It is kid friendly and for the Winter school holidays they have a number of exciting activities for all ages. The centre is located in Eden but the centre’s programs and activities extend beyond the Bega Valley Shire, across the Victorian border, up into the Eurobodalla and Snowy Mountains and even into the ACT. There are aquariums displaying local species, a touch tank – always a hoot for the kids, a theatrette showing local marine videos, games and activities, microscopes, hands on displays and information on the the Sapphire Coast. All the things that a Playstation can’t provide. Guided tours can be organized with a qualified marine guide and it even offers good views over Eden’s fishing fleet and beautiful beaches. It is in the Wharf Building, Snug Cove, Imlay St, Eden Opening Hours Monday – Friday: 10am – 3pm School Holidays Monday – Saturday: 9.30am – 3.30pm Rhyse’s Work Experi