52 Great Weekends

No 24: Lighthouse Trail

Let the historic lighthouses guide you along the Great Ocean Road.

Take in the magnificent views atop steep spiral staircases as the historic lighthouses guide you along this spectacular coastline. Five grand sentries still stand tall keeping seafarers safe on the treacherous Southern Ocean. Visit these 5 historic icons and embark on a journey into Victoria’s fascinating maritime history, hear tales of nautical adventure and reflect on the brave keepers and their families that once called these lighthouses home.

ITINERARY

Friday

9AM: Split Point Lighthouse, Aireys Inlet

Start the trail at the Split Point Lighthouse, famous for starring in the children’s TV show ‘Round the twist’. You can spot its iconic red cap from nearly all areas of Aireys Inlet. Still in automated operation today you can see the inner workings for yourself on a self-guided lighthouse tour (open daily, weather permitting). Learn how it was built, how it operates and about the lightkeepers and their families. You’ll be rewarded for climbing the 135 steps of the 34-metre high tower with 360-degree coastal vista views of the Shipwreck Coast.

Continue the adventure with an easy stroll along the Split Point Discovery Trail. From the various lookouts perched high on the stunning 7m tall sandstone cliffs you’ll gain insight into the history of the area, take in the epic views of the Eagle Rock Marine Sanctuary and spot the sandy coves, caves and rockpools below.

11AM: Morning Tea at The Lighthouse Tea Rooms

Treat yourself to the equally famous scones at the historic Lighthouse Tea Rooms below. The café is one of the original lighthouse precinct buildings dating back to the early 1900’s and the outdoor garden offered the perfect, tranquil setting to devour a well-earned morning tea.

3PM: Cape Otway Lighthouse Tour

*By appointment only

Venture onto the towering balcony of mainland Australia’s oldest surviving lighthouse. It’s well worth climbing the 78 stairs to reach the 21m high balcony and take in the 360-degree views, 91metres above sea level. There couldn’t be a better vantage point to admire the vastness of the Southern Ocean and remember over 300 shipwrecks that it didn’t allow to pass by.

There are 8 shipwrecks at Cape Otway alone. These include The Marie (1851), Sacramento (1853), Schomberg (1855), Loch Ard (1878), Joseph H. Scammell (May 1891), Fiji (September 1891) and the Casino in 1932. The first American vessel sunk during World War II, the SS City of Rayville, was also sunk off the Cape by a German mine in 1940, which sank less than 24 hours after the British Ship S.S. Cambridge off Wilsons Promontory.

Cape Otway Lighthouse is just one of the significant buildings on site. There is also the Telegraph Station which was added to the site in 1959 when Tasmania was connected to the mainland by a submarine telegraph line from Cape Otway to Launceston in 1859. And an American radar bunker built on the Cape in 1942 which you can also explore. You can also stay in the historical Head Lightkeeper’s Cottage (1857), home to Henry Bayles Ford, his wife Mary Ann Ford and their nine children, seven of which were born here.

Accommodation: Lighthouse Lodge, Flagstaff Hill

Step back in ‘mari-time’ and stay in an original harbormasters house at the award-winning 1880’s seafaring village of Flagstaff Hill. The windows of your tastefully renovated, three-bedroom lodge overlook the historic Lady Bay Lighthouse precinct. You’ll see the romantic blinking light of the lighthouse is still in operation today as it keeps watch over Warrnambool. 

Saturday

9AM: Lady Bay Lighthouses, Flagstaff Hill

Spend your morning strolling the cobblestone streets of the historic maritime village as you explore what life was like for the Shipwreck Coast’s first European settlers. This is Victoria’s most active maritime museum with Australia’s most significant shipwreck artefact collection. It’s also home to the two heritage-listed Lady Bay Lighthouses.

The Lady Bay Low Lighthouse is still in use and overlooks the bay which gave it her name. If you scale the staircase you’ll see one of the best coastal views in Warrnambool. This lighthouse began its life as one of the two obelisks on Flagstaff Hill (1854) before being merged (1871-2) with the light of its predecessor, The Beach Lighthouse, built in 1859 but ineffective due to its small stature.

The Middle Island Lighthouse was relocated stone by stone to Flagstaff Hill (1871-2) to replace the previous obelisk to become Lady Bay Upper Light. The light was designed to be powered by oil, converted to gas then finally electricity.

2PM: Port Fairy Lighthouse, Griffiths Island

Continue the Lighthouse trail by taking a scenic stroll through the wildlife reserve of Griffith’s Island to the Port Fairy lighthouse. It was built on the tip of the island in 1859 and has safely guided ships into the historic Port Fairy, located on the Moyne River. This short but sweet lighthouse has more than earned its keep ever since – up until 1980’s this port had one of Australia’s largest fishing fleets and was a major port of entry for immigrants and trading. The last lightkeeper that called this island home left in 1954 before the lighthouse was automated.

Sunday

11AM: Cape Nelson Lighthouse Tour

Still in operation today, the picture-book perfect red and while Cape Nelson has been keeping many sailors safe on the treacherous Shipwreck Coast since 1884. As you climb the circular staircase your tour-guide Gordon tells tales of its nautical history and paints the picture of what a lightkeepers life was like. You’ll be awed as you reach the ginormous light itself, still spinning even in daytime. Then, hold onto your hat as you step out onto the (approx.) 100m high balcony, it the wind doesn’t blow it off the spectacular view will.

12.30PM: Lunch at Isabella’s Cafe, Cape Nelson Lighthouse

At the bottom of the Cape Nelson Lighthouse is the Isabella’s Café, named after the ill-fated ship ‘Isabella’ that was wrecked on the South West Coast, luckily no lives were lost. The quaint bluestone building was once the stables of the lighthouse precinct, now it’s a comfortable place to enjoy a gourmet lunch or coffee and cake.

Accommodation: Head Lightkeeper’s House, Cape Nelson

Not ready to leave? Stay the night and reflect on the brave keepers and their families that one called these lighthouses home. From your private Cape Nelson Head Light Keepers Cottage you can hear the high seas and see the bright, guiding lighthouse beam. I bet the 19th Century Light Keepers wished there was the hot tub, fully equipped contemporary kitchen and coffee machine when they lived here!

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Top 5 things that made the weekend great

  • Going ‘Round the Twist’ at Split Point Lighthouse

  • Stepping back in Mari-time at the 1880’s seafaring village of Flagstaff Hill

  • The scenic stroll on Griffith’s Island to the Port Fairy Lighthouse

  • Gordon’s informative tour and nautical tales at Cape Nelson Lighthouse

  • Being a lightkeeper for a night and staying in a historical lightkeepers cottage

It’s a great weekend visiting the five grand ‘Beacons of hope’ that have been keeping seafarers safe on the Great Ocean Road. 

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Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawuurung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Ancestors, past present and emerging. We recognise and respect their unique cultural heritage and the connection to their traditional lands. We commit to building genuine and lasting partnerships that recognise, embrace and support the spirit of reconciliation, working towards self-determination, equity of outcomes and an equal voice for Australia’s first people.