Site of Victoria’s most famous shipwreck, the Loch Ard Gorge is one of the many special places in the Port Campbell National Park, Victoria, Australia. The Gorge is a powerful and awe-inspiring location that should be on every walkers and visitors’ itinerary when visiting the Great Ocean Road.
Loch Ard Gorge Australia: History & Self-Guided Walks
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Located in Port Campbell National Park along the Great Ocean Road, Loch Ard Gorge is an iconic attraction just as popular with tourists as the Twelve Apostles. The fact that this is the site of Victoria’s most famous shipwreck is part of the mystery and aura that surrounds this area. The site has also become famous for its coastal scenery.
The Loch Ard is a powerful and awe-inspiring location that should be on every walkers and visitors’ itinerary when visiting the Great Ocean Road.
Continue reading this post to find out the history behind this famous site along with information on self-guided walks and maps.
Loch Ard Gorge Shipwreck
Loch Ard Gorge is the site of one of Australia’s most well-known maritime tragedies, the wreck of the Loch Ard, wrecked here in 1878 when it struck Mutton Bird Island located just offshore. Of the 54 passengers on board, only 2 survived.
The fact that anyone could survive a shipwreck amongst these insurmountable cliffs is a testament to both luck and tenacity. It was fortune that washed two survivors into the one of the few sandy coves along this part of the coast, and the heroism of Tom Pearce not only to rescue Eva Carmichael in the boiling surf but also to trek some considerable distance to a homestead, Glen Ample, is remarkable.
Loch Ard Gorge History
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Loch Ard 1873 – 1878
The Loch Ard was on the final stage of its voyage from Gravesend to Melbourne when sea mist obscured the land causing the vessel to run into Mutton Bird Island near Port Campbell. Of the 51 people on board the ship, only two managed to get ashore.
The Loch Ard clipper left England on March 2 1878. Aboard were 54 people.
The voyage was a good one. The ship was favoured with fair conditions. As the ship approached Australia the passengers were jubilant.
After almost three months at sea, the passengers celebrated with what turned out to be an ill fated ‘End of Voyage’ party on the 31st May 1878.
The Loch Ard Ship was wrecked on June 1st 1878 when it struck Mutton Bird Island.
The captain thought the ship was 50 miles out to sea. When the mistake was realised the anchors were dropped, but the boat continued to drag shoreward and struck Mutton Bird Island. Of the 54 on board, 52 lost their lives.
The two survivors were an 18 year old cabin boy, Tom Pearce and an 18 year old passenger Eva Carmichael. Eva a non-swimmer clung desperately to a chicken coop before striking out for a timber spar. The waves washed her into the mouth of a narrow gorge where her feeble cries for help were at last heeded.
Tom Pearce, the only other survivor had battled his way through the wreckage to the shore where he was wandering dazed on a little beach at the end of the gorge. Hearing a faint cry, he took to the water again, dodging flotsam to reach Eva, he dragged her onto the beach, both exhausted. Tom opened a bottle of brandy and gave it to her, he then got some grass and made a bed for her to lie on.
They both fell asleep in a cave to the west of the beach. Upon wakening Tom left Eva in the cave and went for help. He struggled out of the gorge by clambering up the steep cliff face. After walking a short distance he luckily ran into a stockman on a horse from the only homestead in the vicinity, Glenample. The men from Glenample descended into the gorge and Eva was rescued. Both Tom and Eva spent eight weeks recuperating at the homestead in the care of the Gibsons. They both made a full recovery.
Eva braved another sea journey back to Ireland to her extended family and married a doctor. Tom left for Melbourne soon after the wreck, where he was celebrated for his gallantry and on behalf of the Government of Victoria he was presented with a gold watch as well as the 1st gold medal from the Humane Society of Victoria. He went on to pursue his career as a seaman and married the sister of a fellow apprentice sailor who had lost his life aboard the Loch Ard. They had three sons and two sons were lost in shipwreck disasters as well as surviving another shipwreck himself.
Only four bodies were recovered from the shipwreck. They were the bodies of Mrs. Carmichael, her daughter Ruby and two other sailors, Reginald Jones and Arthur Mitchell. The bodies were hauled up the cliff in an open shell and then placed in coffins fashioned from piano cases washed ashore from the wreck. A lock of hair was cut off for relatives before the victims were buried on the cliff top overlooking the gorge. This cemetery can be visited still today.
The beach in the gorge was covered with wreckage and cargo more than 2 metres high. The wreck of the Loch Ard lies in depths ranging from 10 to 25 metres to the south west side of Mutton Bird Island. The bow remains relatively intact with the anchors lying nearby but the stern was broken up and disappeared. Cargo and artifacts are still visible on the sea floor include railway iron, rolls of lead and zinc, marble tiles, pewter mugs, inkwells, etc.
Loch Ard Walks
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There are three self-guided walks at the Loch Ard Gorge site, all of which should be attempted in order to appreciate the beauty and wonder of this iconic location. These connected walking tracks not only take in the spectacular views of the gorge and Island arch but also provide good views of Mutton Bird Island, a rookery for the short-tailed shearwater (mutton bird) which travel from Alaska every year.
Walking commences at the Loch Ard Gorge carpark and the numerous tracks, giving access to many spectacular vantage points, are not only well-signposted but very informative. Interpretive signs along these walks reveal the fascinating stories about the area’s history, geology and natural features.
Allow 2-3 hours to walk them all, or one hour for each. Stay on the designated walking tracks at all times.
1. Loch Ard Geology
Distance: 900m return
Time: 40 minutes
Discover the secrets of the forces that shape the coastline on this easy self-guided walk.
2. The Wreck of the Loch Ard
Distance: 1.4 km
Time: 50 minutes
This easy walk follows the tragic story of the Loch Ard shipwreck site to the cemetery. For more details about this amazing story of courage and survival visit the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village in Warrnambool.
3. Living on the Edge
Distance: 3.2 km return
Time: 90 minutes
Discover life on the edge of the sheer cliffs. This easy walk encompasses the Muttonbird Island viewing platform, Thunder Cave and Broken Head.
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While in this area a visit to the cemetery and to the blowhole is recommended. You should also aim to walk down the stairway to Loch Ard beach to experience the sheer power and the foreboding that these cliffs impart to all who come to see this area.
A visit to the Visitors Information Centre at Port Campbell is also worthwhile if time permits. The display in the Port Campbell Visitor Information Centre showcases relics from the Loch Ard Wreck and provides more information on this fascinating story.
Wildlife Watching at the Loch Ard Gorge Site
Be patient and you will be rewarded with sights of wildlife in the area. Penguins, terns and dotterels use the narrow protected beaches. Australasian Gannets, Wandering Albatrosses and Muttonbirds fly huge distances out to sea hunting for food, but return to nest in the area. Watch from the Muttonbird Island viewing platform as these remarkable birds fly ashore each evening from October to April. Look skyward for Peregrine Falcons, sometimes seen swooping above the cliff tops.
Loch Ard Map
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Where is Loch Ard Gorge located?
Loch Ard Gorge is situated about 5 km east of Port Campbell and 2 km west of the Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road that winds its way along the south coast of Victoria in Australia.
Tell us what you think. Have you been to the Loch Ard Gorge site? What were the highlights of your trip there? Please leave your comments below.