From a vantage point high on the coastal cliffs, Australia’s Great Southern Ocean stretches away. As the ocean heaves, it smashes mighty white capped waves against the limestone cliffs. A fierce wind, straight from the Antarctic continent, has carved these cliffs into razor sharp formations. Centuries of strong gales have sculpted weathered inlets, small islands, and archways that frame amazing views of the turbulent sea.
To my left, a rolling bank of dark clouds announces the arrival of a coastal scud. This sudden, localized storm sheds grey curtains of rain that blend the sea and sky into a pewter coloured horizon. The water-washed sky above the cliffs offers no relief either, as it may be days before the warmth of the sun can lift the heart again.
Above this coastal drama, the Great Ocean Road — a two lane highway — threads its way along the Victorian cliffs. Stretching from Port Fairy in the west to Moonlight Heads in the east, a strip of beach known by all as the Shipwreck Coast, meanders below. The wreckage of some two hundred ships rest here beneath the waves. Dense fog, strong gales, high seas, human error, and even foul play, have caused the destruction of these vessels. Sadly only a few survivors lived to tell their stories.
To the east of the Loch Ard Gorge a group of famous limestone stacks appear — the Twelve Apostles. Carved into grotesque shapes, they stand offshore in the pounding waves. These magnificent structures were formed when the raging sea undermined the soft sand and wet limestone foundations. One by one they separated from the cliffs only to shrink and finally collapse. Once there were twelve of these grand vertical structures until erosion, the elements, and passing time, reduced their number to eight.
Here in the wild heart of the coast, tourists travelling down the Great Ocean Road toward Port Campbell can follow the Historic Shipwreck Trail. This has been marked by twenty-five signposts of the best known wrecks where deadly weather, strong seas and a rock-lined shore created a perilous journey. Even the early Australian explorer, Matthew Flinders, has declared, “I have seldom seen a more fearful section of coastline than this.”
If you have not visited the Shipwreck Coast yet, put it on your bucket list. Once this magnificent scene is viewed it will never be forgotten.
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