The 12 Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge
The mighty 12 Apostles are world-recognised icons of the Great Ocean Road.
These giant rock stacks soar from the swirling waters of the Southern Ocean and
are a central feature of the spectacular Port Campbell National Park that
extends from Princetown to Peterborough.
The dramatic and imposing limestone cliffs that are the backdrop to the Apostles tower up to 70 metres, while the tallest of the rock stacks is around 45 metres high.
The Apostles had their beginnings up to 20 million years ago with the forces of nature attacking the soft limestone of the Port Campbell cliffs. The limestone was created through the build up of skeletons of marine creatures on the sea floor. As the sea retreated, the limestone was exposed. The relentess, stormy Southern Ocean and blasting winds gradually eroded the softer limestone, forming caves in the cliffs. The caves eventually became arches and when they collapsed, rock islands up to 45 metres high were left isolated from the shore.
This has created the 12 Apostles and a host of other stunning natural features along this truly remarkable stretch of coastline. Among them are Pudding Basin Rock, Island Arch, the Razorback, Muttonbird Island, Thunder Cave, the Blowhole, Bakers Oven, London Bridge and the Grotto.
Extenisve boardwalks and viewing platforms ensure visitors experience sweeping, awe-inspiring vistas. While anytime of day provides great views, sunrise and sunset are particularly impressive for the blazing hues created.
Loch Ard Gorge visitors are treated to a beautiful vista of towering cliffs,
sparkling blue-green sea and a small, sandy beach. It’s hard to imagine that
the drama of one of Victoria’s most tragic shipwrecks was played out at this
very spot more than 120 years ago, giving a name to the gorge.
Fifty-two people died after the sailing ship, the iron clipper Loch Ard, rammed into the sheer cliffs of Muttonbird Island in stormy weather on 1 June, 1878, just days from completing a three-month voyage from England to Melbourne. The island lies near the entrance to the long, narrow gorge. It was this gorge and its tiny beach that were the lifesavers for apprentice crewman Tom Pearce and young passenger Eva Carmichael, both 18 years old.
According to Tom’s account of the disaster, the ship had been sailing in thick, hazy weather. When noticed it was rapidly heading toward shore, Captain Gibb began evasive action and dropped the anchors. But the ship dragged the anchors and desperate attempts to raise the sails were abruptly cut short when the Loch Ard struck the cliffs. “The ship commenced to roll, and was fast sinking, the sea breaking aboard her on both sides,” Tom said in his account. “Captain Gibb ordered the lifeboat to be got ready to receive the ladies. They could not get the boat clear of tackling for some time, owing to it being stuck on the skids.”
Tom said he and five seaman managed to launch the port lifeboat and hold it against the ship to receive passengers. But a huge wave struck and washed them away. Tom was eventually washed into the gorge.
“During the whole of these proceedings, the captain stood on the port side of the ship giving orders. The ship went down within 10 minutes or quarter of an hour after striking the bluff,” Tom said.
Eva was lucky to survive. Washed into the boiling sea with only a life-belt, she managed to grab hold of a floating chicken coop.
“By this time, the Loch Ard had disappeared under the waves,” Eva said in her statement. “In a few minutes, after turning the point of the rock, I saw Tom Pearce standing on the beach. I shouted to him, where upon he walked into the water and swam towards me.
“Tom had a desperate struggle to bring me ashore; and from the time I shouted to him to the time we were safe on the beach about an hour must have elapsed.”
Tom took Eva to the cave in the cliff behind the beach. They found a case of brandy and drank a bottle.
“Cold and exhausted - for we must have been in the water for about five hours - we lay down on the ground. I soon fell into a state of insensibility, and must have been unconscious for hours,” Eva said.
Tom climbed the precipitous cliffs and met a party from nearby Glenample homestead. Eva also was soon rescued and taken back to the homestead to recuperate.
Visitors to Loch Ard today can descend the staircase to the beach and see where Tom and Eva struggled to survive. They can visit the cave where the teenagers collapsed, exhausted. Visitors also can walk along the headlands and overlook the very spot where the Loch Ard smashed into the sheer cliffs. Storyboards on the paths explain the Loch Ard story. A path also leads to the small cemetery where there is a monument to the Carmichael family and where the few bodies that were recovered are buried.
When the sun shines and the weather is calm, it is difficult to understand how this tragedy happened. But visit when storms and galeforce winds are whipping the sea into a frenzy, and you’ll quickly realise it’s miracle anyone survived.