I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published June 20th 2013
Cape Otways Beacon Of Hope
A short 12 kilometre detour off the Great Ocean Road will bring visitors to Victoria's southwest coast to one of the most significant lighthouses on the Australian mainland.
The Cape Otway Lighthouse stands on one of the most dangerous stretches of the entire Australian coastline
At the heart of the fabled 'Shipwreck Coast,' which has claimed more ships than any other stretch of the Australian coastline, Cape Otway was frequently the first sight of land for many since departing Europe. The Cape Otway Lighthouse was in continuous operation from 1848 to 1994. It owes its existence to the worst maritime tragedy in Australian history, the loss of the Cataraqui and 400 passengers & crew on a reef just offshore from King Island in September 1845.
Construction of the tower began in 1846 using stone quarried from nearby Parker River. At the time of its de-commissioning in 1994 Cape Otway held the record for the longest continuously operating lighthouse on the Australian mainland.
The Cape Otway light was built in 1848 followng the loss of several ships and hundreds of lives in the approaches to Bass Strait
Other significant wrecks on the coast near Cape Otway include the Schomberg in 1856 and the Loch Ard in 1878.
A Telegraph Station was built adjacent to the Cape Otway Lighthouse in 1859 as part of the introduction of a communications submarine cable between the mainland, King Island and Tasmania. The first transmission, a message from Melbourne to Hobart was made on 29th September 1859. It resulted in the declaration of a public holiday in Tasmania and the firing of a 21 gun salute in Hobart but the celebrations were premature. The submarine cable failed within 6 months and the Telegraph Station became a Lloyds Signal Station, transmitting the details of ships sighted passing Cape Otway to authorities in Melbourne.
The walkway at the top of the light tower provides unsurpassed views along this treacherous stretch of coastline
The waters off Cape Otway were also the scene for the loss of the first American vessel in World War 2. The SS City of Rayville steamed into Bass Strait after departing Port Pirie, South Australia and hit a German mine early on the evening of November 8th 1940. Her 38 crew clambered into life-boats but one returned to the ship and was drowned. The sinking was seen by the light-keeper at Capt Otway who dispatched three rescue boats from Apollo Bay.
The sinking of the City of Rayville was followed in 1942 by the launch of an observation aircraft from the Japanese submarine I-25 off the northern tip of King Island. The aircraft overflew Cape Otway on its way to Point Lonsdale and Melbourne before returning to the sub. The incident galvanized the authorities into action and four radar stations were established along the Victorian coastline, one each at Gabo Island, Metung, Wilsons Promontory and Cape Otway.
The Cape Otway radar bunker has recently been refurbished and adds a modern dimension to the history of the light station.
Cape Otway lies at the eastern end of the fabled 'Shipwreck Coast', a 130 kilometre stretch of coast between here and Port Fairy, which has seen the loss of 800 ships
Visitors to Cape Otway are able to stay in the Head Lightkeeper's House with accommodation options for 2 to 16 people. Built in 1857 using Parker River stone this Heritage Listed property offers sensational views and a great insight into the lifestyle of the early keepers and their families. It's also a popular spot for whale-watching during the annual migration between May and October.
Close to the lighthouse and the coast the Head Keeper's cottage provides accommodation for visitors and an insight into the lives of the keepers and their families
My Beloved and I honeymooned at the lighthouse and stayed in the Assistant Lightkeeper's cottage (when last we visited, it was converted to tearoom & education centre). What a wonderful experience it was and we heartily recommend it. Fresh air, peaceful surrounds, great walks, lots of wildlife to see, local restaurants, super comfy kingsize bed, amazing views, great access to other Great Ocean Road attractions.