For most people, the attraction of the Port Campbell and Peterborough region is the 50 kilometres of vertical cliffs, steep gorges and photogenic offshore islands seen from the Great Ocean Road. But to explore the area from the sea is a very different experience. The cliffs soar into the sky, screeching seabirds fly high above and the waves seethe around you. Huge arches, like those at Mutton Bird Island near Loch Ard Gorge, are big enough for a boat to go through.
What are the key natural features of this area?
- This area has habitats of the cooler waters of western Victoria. But the most obvious environmental factor is the energy of the waves. The sea is seldom calm; waves pound in from the Southern Ocean every 10 to 16 seconds.
- The west Cape Otway National Park consists of coastal plains on tertiary marine sediments. The plains end with vertical sea cliffs with numerous caves.
- Moonlight Head, Lion Headland and Dinosaur Cove have been identified as important sites for their unique character and the occurrence of fossils. Moonlight Head is a vertical and in places overhanging cliff that is 50m high and one of the best vertical exposures of Otway Group sediments along the entire coast.
- Just to the east of Moonlight Head is possibly the largest single landslip area on the Victorian coast. From Moonlight Head to Milanesia Beach and Lion Headland to Slippery Point the coast is characterised by outcrops and landslips. The outcropping rocks are Otway Group sediments of two main types: channel sandstone, or floodplain and overbank spill deposits. This section of coast is one of the most active cliff sections in Australia. Dinosaur Cove is a site of significant discoveries of dinosaur fossils.
- Everybody knows the image - surging waves, golden cliffs, and the crumbling pillars of the Twelve Apostles. But the wild and powerful Southern Ocean also shrouds a remarkable underwater seascape– a labyrinth of towering canyons, caves, arches and walls. These features are festooned with colourful seaweed and sponge ‘gardens’, resident schools of reef fish such as sweep gliding above, and the occasional visit by an Australian Fur Seal.
- Known as the Shipwreck Coast, the coastline in this area has cliffs up to 60 m high and offshore rock formations exposed to high wave energy. Spectacular rock formations continue to erode and break away with time. Popular examples of rock formations are at The Grotto, London Bridge, The Arches, Loch Ard Gorge and the Twelve Apostles.
- There are few beaches, due to the lack of sand in the eroding cliffs, and the beaches that are present are generally narrow. Sites with beach access include Port Campbell, Childers Cove and Loch Ard Gorge.
- The coastal areas around Port Campbell contain some of the largest and most important areas of native vegetation remaining between Portland and the Otways, including estuarine swamp sedgeland, cliff top grassland and shrubland, sand dune shrubland, heathland, open forest, riparian open forest, dune-swale community, swamp communities, eucalyptus low woodland, low heath, coastal heath, dune complex, and wetlands.
- From the cliffs you can see the thick brown fronds of Bull Kelp, swirling in the ocean swell. Beds of kelp (large brown seaweed) sway as far as the eye can see. Lobster, abalone and sea-urchins are common under the kelp canopy. Southern Giant Kelp forms mini-forests at some locations, reaching the surface from 10 metres in depth.
- Away from the coast, the seafloor is mainly low rocky reef, with extensive areas of sand and shell rubble. The offshore reefs (30-60m depth) are known to support ‘sponge gardens’, the best examples lying offshore from Moonlight Head. In these gardens, colourful and varied sponges, sea-quirts and sea-moss shelter many smaller animals including sea-spiders, beautiful sea-slugs, a diverse range of shells, and seastars.
- Some of the most unique underwater scenery in the world can be found around Port Campbell. The powerful swell of the Southern ocean has created awesome subtidal canyons, arches, cliffs and walls lined with a diversity of invertebrates and sponge gardens in which colourful seastars can be found.
- The subtidal canyons, arches, cliffs and walls are a habitat for invertebrate life characteristic of deeper Bass Strait waters and including a range of sponges, bryozoans, gorgonians, hydroids and an abundance of colourful seastars.
- The walls and arches are covered with plants and animals. Large red and orange sea fans emerge vertically from the rock and stinging hydroids form feather-like colonies. Delicate sea-mosses and lace corals cover many surfaces. These are actually colonies of minute zooids, most with feeding tentacles and a stomach, but others that specialise in reproduction, support or defence. Various sponges and gelatinous tunicates complete the scene.
- Many of these creatures are brightly coloured, advertising their toxins to predatory animals. However, many animals have evolved to deal with these toxins and consequently thrive in this environment. These include a variety of red, orange and purple sea-stars and a range of sculptured sea snails.
- Fur seals can sometimes be seen enjoying this playground, plunging through the tunnels and in and out of the arches.
- Mutton Bird Island, near Loch Ard Gorge, is a nesting place for Short-tailed Shearwaters.
- Little Penguins feed in the park area and nest in caves near the Twelve Apostles.
Marine Protected Areas
Twelve Apostles Marine National Park
Port Campbell National Park
Merri Marine Sanctuary
The Arches Marine Sanctuary