The Shipwreck Coast along the Victorian shoreline, extending between Torquay and Warrnambool is not only a splendour of waves crashing, rugged cliffs and Mother Nature’s elegance, it’s also a historian’s delight. Anyone interested in early Australian settlement history or that of the maritime, will marvel at the rich stories of sunken ships and struggle while walking along the pristine sands where these tales once took place.
One stretch of the Great Ocean Road, in particular, earns the title Shipwreck Coast more than other locations. Encompassing miles of cliff and Southern Ocean, what are now tourist attractions, were once fatal sea traps for the unsuspecting sailor. Loch Ard Gorge is one of them.
Loch Ard Gorge and its seascape rivals just about any other location in Victoria. It’s towering limestone structures and aqua blue waters easily distract from what really lies just below the surface. If the weather turns rough, this paradise quickly turns hellish.
Around 700 ships are believed to have wrecked along this coastline, but Loch Ard Gorge – named after the famous 1700-tonne ship Loch Ard; that met its demise against the rocks – is the more iconic of them all.
Loch Ard Gorge
Photo Source: Aral Bereux
Caught around 50 miles out, Loch Ard, back in 1878, was sailing from England to Melbourne. Almost at their destination, the iron-hulled clipper ship struck Mutton Bird Island, east of Port Campbell. The treacherous oceans, littered with rocks and cliffs quickly took hostage of the ship. Only 2 survived of the 54 on deck, with one cabin boy, an 18-year-old, washed into the Loch Ard Gorge.
This is one of many sights to see; and trying to understand what a battered and bruised young man, stranded in the Gorge may have thought at the time of this wreck, is nothing short of surreal as you walk in his footsteps along the sands.
Wreck Beach at Moonlight Head
Photo Source: Explore Great Ocean Road
If you follow the Great Ocean Road down towards Port Campbell, the Historic Shipwreck trail will lead you to some of the more well-known historical wreck sites. The Arch, The Grotto and the Bay of Islands, not to mention The Twelve Apostles, are but a few of these sites.
For a real maritime treat, Wreck Beach at Moonlight Head is still home to two rusted anchors – a reminder to all, of the lives lost along this coastline.
Matthew Flinders, the first explorer to map the Australian coastline once wrote on his experiences, “I have seldom seen a more fearful section of coastline.”
Beauty and tragedy, history and the surreal, this is what the Shipwreck Coast is all about.