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On Walkabout At: Great Otway National Park, Australia

Basic Information

  • Name: Cape Otway National Park
  • Where: Victoria, Australia
  • Founded: 2005
  • More Information: Parks Victoria

Picture from Cape Otway, Australia

Narrative

The southern most point of the peninsula the Great Ocean road crosses and the location of the oldest lighthouse on mainland Australia is beautiful Cape Otway:

Here is how the area looks on Google Earth:

The cape is located down a road that travels south about 25 kilometers off the Great Ocean Road. The road is a nice drive through green woodlands before opening up into the coastal shrub land. Along the way my wife and I saw plenty of wildlife, especially birds like these crimson rosellas:

Picture from Cape Otway, Australia

This land traditionally was home to the aboriginal Gadubanud people who used Cape Otway as a regional meeting place. Many artifacts from these Aborigines can be seen on display at the lighthouse station:

Picture from Cape Otway, Australia

Today the Gadubanud land is home to the Cape Otway Lighthouse Station that stands perched over dramatic ocean cliffs that stand watch over the rugged seas of the Bass Strait:

Picture from Cape Otway, Australia

Once the Bass Strait between Tasmania and Victoria was properly explored; large passenger sailboats from England began to sail through the strait instead of around Tasmania to reach Sydney in order to save a week of sailing time. Amazingly the Cape Otway coastline was the first land the passengers of these ships saw during the entire three month journey from England.

The shortcut came at a cost though as many shipwrecks occurred along these rocky cliffs. About 160 ships have wrecked along the dangerous shores of the Bass Strait with the most deadly wreck occurring in 1845 when the passenger ship the Cataraqui wrecked on King Island in the middle of the strait claiming 406 lives. The Cape Otway Lighthouse station was established in 1848 in response to these shipwrecks and continues to operate with this same mission even today.

Picture from Cape Otway, Australia

Cape Otway was more then just a lighthouse, but in fact an entire small community to support lighthouse construction and operations. Less then 50 people lived on Cape Otway which included the families of the lighthouse personnel and the adjacent telegraph station. These families had to endure extreme isolation and had to be extremely self sufficient as they only received supplies once every 6-12 months.

The first structure of this community visitors will see is the old telegraph station:

Picture from Cape Otway, Australia

This building was constructed in 1859 and connected Tasmania to mainland Australia. This connection lasted for only six months when the underwater transmission cable failed. The station was used instead to telegraph back to Melbourne the status of all ships passing through the Bass Strait.

There are plenty of other buildings to check out at the lighthouse station that served as living quarters, storage, and working facilities:

Picture from Cape Otway, Australia

The Cape Otway Lighthouse began construction in 1846 and was completed in 1848. It was designed by Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis and is 15.6 meters high and can be seen 22 kilometers out to sea. 70 workers and 10 mules were used to construct the lighthouse. Every single stone used to construct the lighthouse was hand carved.  Amazingly no cement or mortar was used to construct the lighthouse. All the stones were carved to support each others weight. Pretty incredible when think about how they constructed this structure in the middle of nowhere in the 1840’s.

The light in station was originally lit by 21 polished reflectors and lamps mounted on a frame:

Picture from Cape Otway, Australia

The lamps were lit and kept going using sperm whale oil. Today the lighthouse stil operates but uses electric lamps powered by solar energy, but still serves successfully serves its original purpose of warning ships traveling through Bass Strait of the dangers of the nearby coastline.

After a long, winding walk up the many stairs of the lighthouse, my wife and I were awarded with an amazing view of the 100 meter cliffs that compose the Cape Otway coastline:

Picture from Cape Otway, Australia

We also had great views of the surrounding coastal shrub land that surrounds the lighthouse station community.  Only the small shrubs grow around the cliffs because of the salt in the air from the crashing ocean surf below. Just a couple miles inland the vegetation changes dramatically to the thickly forested rolling hills of the Otway Ranges.

My wife and I walked down the lighthouse and walked towards a small hill to the west of the lighthouse. Something my wife and I were quite surprised about while visiting Cape Otway was the amount of flies. The coastal shrub lands is filled with flies compared to the woodlands of the Otway Ranges where we found few bugs that bothered us while walking in the inland forests.

After a short walk up the small hill, all the while battling the flies, we found another piece of Australian history but of a more recent vintage, which is this RAAF radar station:

Picture from Cape Otway, Australia

Picture from Cape Otway, Australia

This station was in service from 1942-1945 and was part of Australia’s coastal defenses to track Japanese submarines. Inside the station are a few pictures and some history about the Australian radar defenses, but without a doubt the best reason to walk up the hill is to get this great view of the beautiful Cape Otway lighthouse:

Picture from Cape Otway, Australia

Cape Otway is truly a beautiful place with significant Australian history attached to it. This makes Cape Otway definitely worth the time it takes to make the short detour off the Great Ocean Road to visit. Just make sure you bring fly net because you will need it.

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