Port Campbell is a tiny village nestled into a small horse-shoe bay towards the western end of Victoria’s famous Great Ocean Road. The village provides a perfect place to stay for anyone motivated to spend quality time exploring the iconic natural attractions that sit – literally – on Port’s door step.
Some of the most famous tourist icons dotted along the Great Ocean Road are all within a stone’s throw of Port Campbell.
About 14km east of Port Campbell, if you’re wanting safe access onto a golden sand beach at the base of the cliffs along the coastline, clamber down Gibson’s Steps. (Pays to take your shoes off and get some sand between your toes when you’re on the beach. And – please, please, please! – keep a close watch on sea conditions on the beach. It’s normally safe, but watch out for greater than expected wave surges).
And, if the tide and weather allows, you may wish to enjoy a short walk on Gibson’s beach, heading west, towards the 12 Apostles. Not only does this provide the spectacular sea-level vantage point to see a couple of ‘forgotten’ limestone stacks (Gog and Magog, who don’t normally gain the acknowledgement they should as part of the 12 Apostles ‘family’) if you’re able to safely walk westwards on the beach, you’ll eventually come up to the base of the cliff face that marks the small peninsular where the most popular 12 Apostles viewing platform sits. When you get there, look for the entrance into a small, but still accessible, tunnel that’s bored through the cliff, which provided public access onto the 12 Apostles beach up until a decade or so, ago. The tunnel can still be accessed, as long as you can handle enclosed spaces. You can normally clamber (maybe waddle is a better way of describing this trak. It all depends on how much sand has built up on the base of the tunnel) into the tunnel and make your way towards the 12 Apostles beach. However – and you need to note this – access onto the beach is (literally) barred. To protect the colony of small (aka: ‘Fairy’) penguins that call the 12 Apostles beach their home, a stainless-steel barrier has been installed close to the tunnel’s western exit, to ensure we can’t interfere with the natural flora and fauna inhabiting that immediate part of the coast. But, you can usually scramble your way through the tunnel until you reach the barrier, which still allows you to view the sea from that vantage point. And, at the very least, you’ll be in a position for some speccy photos! However – you must note that access to the tunnel, and it’s entrance into the cliff-face, is very much dependent on the condition of the sea at the time. If you’re in any doubt as to whether you feel it’s safe to walk along “Gibbo’s” beach… DON’T.
Only 12km east of Port Campbell are some of the most famous visitor attractions you’ll see anywhere around Australia – the 12 Apostles. There’s been millions of words penned about them… so let your fingers do the walking and type ’12 Apostles’ into a search engine to let you read what they’re all about.
About 7km east of Port is Loch Ard Gorge. Many visitors to this neck of the woods claim that the Gorge offers a much more intimate way of gaining an up-close-and-personal appreciation of this stretch of coastline. You be the judge… if you have the time, you can spend hours exploring this component of the Port Campbell National Park. (And, if you do, you may wish to visit the mouth of the Sherbrook River. You can either walk there from the Loch Ard Gorge car parking area (allow about 1.5 hours return) or take a way shorter 5 minute stroll from an (unmarked/unsigned) parking area that’s just west of the Sherbrook River bridge. To access this, turn towards the sea, off the Great Ocean Road, about .5km west of the Sherbrook River bridge. Then, once you’re off the Great Ocean Road, turn left and drive about 700m down a small gravel track. You’ll come to a small vehicle turn-around… you’ll see a small, unpaved walkway heading east. Follow that for about 5 minutes towards the Sherbrook beach. But, be careful (again!). Not only does this walk require a little bit of rock-hopping – if the condition of the sea offers any indication that accessing this small beach looks too dangerous, it probably is. (So – DON’T attempt to access the beach!).
To the west of Port Campbell are five other brilliant natural attractions. First up, about 3km west, is The Arch. Very easily accessed from a sealed carpark, and offers spectacular coastal views. Then, 7km west: London Bridge. Not only is this limestone stack one of the most (in)famous attractions in this area, if you’re visiting the Bridge around sunset, stay another quarter of an hour and grab the chance to see a colony of Small (‘Fairy’) penguins come home. They normally start making their way onto the London Bridge beach about 15 minutes after sunset, on any given night. (Pays to bring a set of binoculars… you can see them on the beach with your naked eye, but a decent set of binocs will enhance the experience).
Only a short drive west of the London Bridge is The Grotto. More spectacular limestone formations.
Then, around 14km west of Port Campbell are the Bay of Martyrs and Bay of Islands. These two attractions mark the beginning of the Bay of Islands National Park. (Many visitors remark that they offer better viewing than the 12 Apostles!) While these stacks are smaller than the 50 or so metre high 12 Apostles, they are much more of them, and they have the unusual knack of appearing to ‘float’ above the sea, in certain conditions.
Also, there’s way more to see and do in the area for those willing to explore just a little bit off the beaten track. For instance, if you like whiskey – or, the kids like fresh, farm made ice-cream, visit Timboon. It’s a small village only 17km inland from Port Campbell, which has a brilliant little whiskey distillery operating out of the refurbished railway station.
If you like Belgium style hand-made chocolate, visit G.O.R.G.E chocolates (14km east of Port Campbell). If you like cheese, check in with Apostle Whey cheese (about 16km east of Port Campbell). Fresh strawberries? Catch up with ‘Al’ in Timboon, anytime after the start of day-light savings. His strawberries are famous across Australia. If you like cycling, you’ll love the Timboon-Cobden rail-trail. It was opened in mid-2010, and offers a brilliant and sheltered trail through native bush and around, and over, plenty of trestle bridges, for those wanting to spend a bit of energy pushing the peddles.
For wine buffs, pop in and say G’day at the Newtons Ridge wine cellar. They’re the original cool-weather south-west Victorian vineyard in this area, and are located about a 15 minute drive inland from Port Campbell.
Finally, the western end of the Great Ocean Walk which (as at October 2010) finishes close to the 12 Apostles, is planned to be extended into Port Campbell during 2011. Once that’s completed, this will offer a truly amazing dual-use trail (for both walkers and cyclists) for users to enjoy a safe and environmentally sound means of seeing this stretch of coastline – and all the icons and attractions that are dotted along the coast – without needing a car.
Also, in order of appearance – west going east – here is my list of the natural coastal attractions you can see around here. Of course, the icons – the Twelve Apostles – appear, along with some of the not-so-famous attractions such as the Grotto, Sherbrook River and Gibson’s beach. While they don’t get the airplay that the Apostles do, in the right conditions that can offer an equally enjoyable experience.
Other coastal attractions close to Port Campbell are:
1. The Bay of Islands National Park: 18km west, via the Great Ocean Road (GOR)
2. The Bay of Martyrs: 14km west, via the GOR
3. The Grotto: 8km west, via the GOR
4. The Arch: 6km west, via the GOR
5. Lace Curtains: 4km west, via the GOR
6. 2-Mile Bay, directly outside the western side of the Port Campbell Bay’s mouth. The wave at 2-Mile is one of Australia’s largest surfable waves (around 40-foot high face, in the correct conditions), which normally comes to life each April and May. See it in action from the western end of the 2km long Discovery Walk, which follows the cliff face along the western edge of Port Campbell Bay.
7. Eastern Reef, directly adjacent to the mouth of Port Campbell Bay. This reef provides a much gentler left-hand wave, in the correct conditions.
8. Double Bay Track: 4km east, via the GOR
9. Sherbrook River Mouth: 6km east, via the GOR.
10. Loch Ard Gorge (incl. The Razorback, Island Archway, Muttonbird Island, The Blowhole, Thunder Cave and Broken Head): 8km east, via the GOR.
11. The Twelve Apostles: 12 km east, via the GOR
12. Gibsons Beach: 13km east, via the GOR.
13. Wreck Beach and Moonlight Head: 40km east, off the GOR