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Victoria's Shipwreck Coast
shipwreck coastOn a bright, sunny day there is no place more beautiful than the Victorian Coastline to the west of Melbourne. The crystal clear waters, pristine beaches and unique limestone cliffs encompass a serenity that has graced the covers of many travel books and magazines worldwide. But beauty isn't all this area is about; it is actually the location of the demise of over 700 ships in the past. Here, when the weather turns bad, the waves become deadly turbulent and there is nowhere else on the planet more dangerous to be sailing past.

The most treacherous part of the coast for this to occur is the 180 kilometre stretch between Cape Otway and Port Fairy to be dubbed the 'Shipwreck Coast'. Obviously it was given this name in recognition of the hazards it presented to mariners of the past. The region's historical significance combines with its beauty to create a holiday destination like no other. This is a truly intriguing place with wonders around each and every corner.

The Shipwreck Coast is easily accessible if you head west from Melbourne onto the Great Ocean Road at Geelong. This road is famous as one of the most spectacular ocean drives in the world, and it's easy to see why this is the case. The drive will take you through spectacular rainforest and along high cliff faces with scintillating ocean views. The road passes through delightfully quaint coastal towns that will entice you to park your campervan and spend a couple of nights enjoying the warm country hospitality. Continuing along you will begin to discover why the Shipwreck Coast and the Great Ocean Road are so famous: the amazing limestone structures carved out by the powerful ocean forces.

The most striking and recognisable of these are undoubtedly the Twelve Apostles. These huge pillars of resistant rock, rise majestically out of the salt waters, which have worn away the surrounding land. Although they were once classed as twelve, only seven pillars remain standing, pointing crookedly to the sky while their compatriots have succumbed to the waves that crash relentlessly at their base.

If you come across the town of Port Campbell, you will find plenty of accommodation options available to you. The Apostles are extremely close and can be viewed from a series of platforms and boardwalks built along the mainland that helps prevent erosion. Here you will also fins a comprehensive visitor's centre with Aboriginal arts and historical artefacts exhibited. This will give you a terrific insight into the local history and heritage of this enticing area.

Take a short drive up the coast from the Twelve Apostles and you will find the site of possibly the most famous shipwreck on this coastline, the Loch Ard. This was an iron hulled skipper that ventured too close to land in thick fog in 1878 and ended up dashing itself on the rocks, leaving only two survivors to tell the tale. Loch Ard Gorge was named in commemoration of this tragic incident. It has two towering walls that stretch out into the ocean away from a pretty beach that is perfect for a swim or a picnic... provided the weather is calm!

Although Port Campbell is usually the point at whihc people turn around and head back, there is still plenty to see if you continue heading west. The first thing you may want to visit is the Grotto, a natural arch that has been created by sinkholes wearing their way through the rock until they meet. Looking at the Grotto from land it creates a perfect natural frame for the ocean behind it, presenting a great opportunity for photographers. For a slice of European culture, continue west and you will come to the London Bridge. Just like its name suggests, this natural formation looks a lot like London Bridge. Unfortunately the bridge part crashed into the ocean a few years ago, although the arches on both sides remain. It takes nothing away from the attraction though, and is still definitely worth a look.

Thirteen kilometres west of Port Campbell you will come across the pleasant fishing hamlet of Peterborough, which is home to a population of 200. Here you will find the Bay of Islands Coastal Park, which spans for a total of 33 kilometres. The coastline of the bay consists of rocky cliffs dotted with secluded coves that protect rare fauna and flora. However, is is what lies within the bay that makes it so special. Limestone stacks, similar to the Twelve Apostles but not as high and much wider are spread out through the Bay. Eerily they seem to float in the ocean as if not fixed to anything, which allows for some stunning photographs. There are various lookout points up and down the coastline, the nearest to Peterborough being at the Bay of Martyrs, where there is a large carpark and viewing platform which provides some fantastic views of the bay.

A sunset over the Bay of Islands is a fitting end to your time on the Shipwreck Coast. The best thing about a coastline is that once you reach one end, you are eventually going to have to travel back to the start. This will allow you to retrace your steps, and take in all the attractions you may have missed on the way up. There are numerous caravan parks to stay in, but remember in summer it can get very busy here so its best to get on the phone and book your spot in advance!

Christine Barton

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