Forget the small stuff on the dramatic, rugged and windswept coastline where the world-famous Twelve Apostles sit.
By Sue Gough Henly
Rising out of the Southern Ocean, alongside Australia's famous Great Ocean Road, you'll find the 12 Apostles – limestone pillars that were once connected to the mainland cliffs. Waves and wind carved them into caves, then arches, and eventually battered them down into 45 metre (150 foot) tall columns. There are, in fact, only eight Apostles at the moment, but who knows when the next stretches of cliff will become pillars.
- Get a bird's-eye view of the 12 Apostles on a scenic helicopter flight
- Take time to explore the dramatic coastline
- Enjoy a hike along the Great Ocean Walk, which ends at the 12 Apostles
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Top things to do near the 12 Apostles
See the 12 Apostles from the air
Enjoy a panoramic view of Australia's most spectacular coastal scenery with a helicopter flight over the 12 Apostles. Flights depart throughout the day from the heliport behind the 12 Apostles Visitor Centre. Depending on the length of your flight, you might see not only the world-famous limestone stacks but also Loch Ard Gorge, London Bridge, the Grotto, the Bay of Islands, and the entire Shipwreck Coast all the way to Cape Otway, site of the oldest lighthouse in Australia.
Take time to explore each of the natural attractions
Admire the 12 Apostles from the viewing platform and check out interpretative displays along the boardwalk. The best viewing time is at dawn or dusk, when you might also see little penguins. Enjoy the self-guided walks at Loch Ard Gorge, which introduce shipwreck history, geology, and coastal ecology. It was here that the Loch Ard, probably Victoria’s most famous shipwreck, was smashed against Muttonbird Island in 1878 with only two young survivors. Visit the Grotto (where you can often see rainbows made from wave spray and sunshine), the Arch (with its spectacular views of the 12 Apostles in the late afternoon), London Bridge (originally a natural archway, which collapsed in 1990, becoming a bridge without a middle), and the Bay of Islands. Climb down the 86 stairs of Gibson Steps to the beach, which is backed by 70 metre (230 foot) limestone cliffs. Walk along the beach to see the enormous offshore rock stacks of Gog and Magog. Be sure to check tide times and ocean conditions before visiting.
Walk the end of the Great Ocean Walk to the 12 Apostles
Arrive at the 12 Apostles at a walker's pace. From Princetown it is a 7 kilometre (4.3 mile) moderate walk on boardwalk, crushed gravel, steps and rubber tiles. Savour stunning coastal views and look for kangaroos and birdlife. Park your car at the 12 Apostles car park and catch the free 12A morning express bus to Princetown (weekdays during school terms) to begin your adventure. If you're keen to enjoy a longer walk, do the four day 12 Apostles Lodge Walk with superb eco-retreat accommodation or take on the entire 104 kilometre (167 mile) Great Ocean Walk any number of ways.
Check out the shipwrecks
Bass Strait was a major shipping route, bringing immigrants and supplies to Victoria. Most of the early sailing ships took the Great Circle Route south of Cape Town before heading north-east through the Southern Ocean towards Bass Strait. Here, they aimed for the "eye of the needle" gap between Cape Otway and King Island, the most treacherous part of their long voyages. See the historic shipwreck display at the 12 Apostles Visitor Information Centre in Port Campbell including a 1/60th scale model of the Loch Ard as well as its kedging anchor. Explore the entire Shipwreck Coast, which has more than 200 shipwrecks between Port Fairy and Cape Otway. The Historic Shipwreck Trail has 25 signposted sites leading to information plaques that overlook the cliffs where the wrecks occurred.
Get out on the water
Take a scenic tour with Port Campbell Boat Charters to see the 12 Apostles up close. It's an invigorating, end-of-the-earth feeling to see this coastline when it's being whipped by howling winds and huge seas. Feel the sea spray on your face, hear the blowholes roar as they spurt with water and watch the ocean foaming around the stacks. On calmer days, you can see the 12 Apostles morph from foreboding silhouettes to glorious sand-coloured monuments in the sun. You'll also learn about the history of the Shipwreck Coast and the geology of the coastline. Other offerings include fishing as well as snorkelling and diving adventures on some of Australia's finest shipwreck sites.
How to get there
It is a 4½ hour scenic drive from Melbourne via Geelong along the Great Ocean Road to the 12 Apostles. You can return to Melbourne on the 3½ hour inland route along the Princes Highway. From Melbourne there are also many options for day tours, with accommodation available for short trips and longer stays.