Pristine, peaceful coastline west of Portland
Cape Bridgewater is a sublime holiday retreat, a recreational area known for its watery activities - fishing, surfing, canoeing and just lazing on the beach. Only twenty minutes from Portland it was once a volcanic island and today is primarily an impressive cape and a 4 km beach with a cafe and suitable picnic locations. The beach is patrolled in the summer months and is windswept and wild in the winter months.
Cape Bridgewater is located 21 km west of Portland which, in turn, is located on Portland Bay 358 km west of Melbourne via Geelong. Cape Bridgewater is 379 km west of Melbourne.^ TOP
Origin of Name
Cape Bridgewater was named after the Duke of Bridgewater by Lieutenant James Grant who sailed along the coast on 4 December, 1800. He also named Portland after the Duke of Portland.^ TOP
Things to See and Do
Bridgewater Bay and Beach
This windswept bay comprises 4 kms of wide sandy beach between Cape Nelson State Park and the Bridgewater Seal Colony, and is the hub of the area. Facilities include a beach side cafe, public toilets and great picnic spots. It is well known for surfing, sailboarding, swimming and surf fishing. Bridgewater Bay Beach is patrolled by the local surf lifesaving club.
Shelly Beach and Bishops Rock
Located off Bridgewater Road 16 km from Portland and just before the tiny settlement of Bridgewater Bay, there is a track which leads down to Shelly Beach on Bridgewater Bay. This is an intimate destination on the wild coastline. It has impressive views, interesting shells can be found on the beach, and there is good fishing from the rocky outcrops.
There is parking at Fishermans Cove on the Bridgewater Road from Bridgewater Bay. From that point there is a track to the Seal Colony Viewing Platform and a short distance (about a further 300 metres) beyond to Cape Bridgewater which offers excellent views across Bridgewater Bay. Cape Bridgewater overlooks one of the largest colonies of Australian fur seals on the mainland. Stony Hill, which is on Cape Bridgewater, is the highest cliff top on the Victorian coastline. It is 140 metres above sea level and was once the western rim of a volcano, stretching between the Seal Caves and the Springs. The sand which was blown between the island and the mainland formed into dunes which slowly turned to limestone.
The Cape Bridgewater Volcano
Cape Bridgewater offers a rare opportunity to look inside an extinct volcano. A fault line has split the lave vents down the middle and walking around the cape allows visitors to see lava flows, column lava, blow holes, gas bubbles, lava dykes and a huge scoria crater.
The volcano occurred around one million years ago, during the Pleistocene era. A large ash caldera erupted in what is now Bridgewater Bay. The walls of the caldera were created by successive layers of yellow ochre volcanic ash. The ash was blown thousands of metres into the air and fell around the caldera. When the sea rose it built a bridge of sand dunes between the island that was Cape Bridgewater and the mainland foreshore. These dunes hardened into sandy limestone and water percolating through the dunes formed the Petrified Forest, Caves, Springs and Blowholes.
The Bridgewater Fault split the vents of the cones. The eastern side of the caldera subsided and was breached by the sea. The soft ash layers were eroded by wave action. To the west of the caldera the dunes were protected by the harder basalt and scoria and thus Cape Bridgewater became a volcanic island. The black basalt of the vents can be seen rising in the cliffs below Stony Hill through layers of ash.
Seal Colony Viewing Platform and Tours
There are three ways to reach the Seal Colony. It is located 2.5 km south from the Bridgewater Bay Cafe. This takes about one hour one way. There is also a walk south-east along the coastline from the Blowholes to the seal colony viewing platform. This is part of the Great South Walk. The second route is about three hours return and passes the highest coastal cliffs in Victoria. They rise 130 metres from the ocean. There are also an organised daily boat tour to the colony with Seals by Sea, tel: (03) 5526 7247. Seals by Sea Tours have been operating for 20 years and are still run by Jo Austin and his family. Check out http://www.sealsbyseatours.com.au for booking and times. The Park Note on Discovery Bay (see https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/314565/Parknote-DiscoveryBay.pdf) notes that: "Australian and New Zealand Fur Seals can often be seen swimming or resting on the rocks from the viewing platforms at the tip of Cape Bridgewater. The seals live and breed here year-round in two distinct colonies. A 2.5 kilometre section of the Great South West Walk starts at the carpark at Fisherman’s Cove and follows the clifftops to the lookouts." It has been estimated that around 650 seals comprise the colony.
Cape Bridgewater Blowholes
Beyond Bridgewater Bay, Bridgewater Road turns at Blowholes Road and leads for 3 km to the Cape Bridgewater Blowholes car park which is 23 km from Portland. There is an information board and the route to the Blowholes is clearly marked. The blowholes were formed in volcanic rock and are a product of two different rock types - Black basalt and purple scoria - the scoria is softer and is eroded more rapidly by the sea. This creates fissures and blowholes. Before 1900 there was an impressive blowhole which roared so loudly when the sea was rough that it could be heard as far away as Portland. It collapsed around 1900 and new blowholes have subsequently formed. They are formations worn in the volcanic rock at the base of the cliffs. When the sea is rough spectacular spouts of sea spray are forced through these formations. The local Aborigines have legends about the blowholes and there are a number of middens along the cliff tops.
The walk from The Blowholes Car Park leads past the 'Petrified Forest'. In a book titled The Geology and Geomorphology of the Portland Area there is an explanation which claims that the strange formations developed when a moonah (Melaleuca Lanceolate) forest was covered by a large sand dune. The result was a "forest" of unusual sandstone formations which formed around decaying tree trunks.
The Visit Portland site offers a different explanation: "Actually the formation is a collection of hollow tubes of limestone called “solution pipes”, eroded by millions of years of rainfall. The process starts when water gathers in a shallow pan of sand and seeps downwards dissolving the limestone. The mineral saturated water then cements the sand, forming hard, trunk-shaped pipes. Most pipes around Cape Bridgewater are only three metres high, although some are as much as twenty metres." Check out http://www.visitportland.com.au/the-petrified-forest.
Heading north on the track from the Blowholes towards Discovery Bay Beach is a track which leads to the freshwater springs. The springs have been created by the unusual combination of a volcanic basalt base overlain with dune limestone. Rainwater drains through the limestone and when it reaches the basalt it flows and eventually emerges as springs which form in pools. The track is indicated by red markers. There are impressive lookout points along the way and a green marker at Springs Creek - a 'watering place' where, in the 19th century when fresh water was scarce, stock were brought to a specially constructed ramp leading to the freshwater pools.
Only accessible by tracks along the coast from either Cape Bridgewater Blowholes or from Discovery Bay Beach, Whites Beach lies between steep cliffs and has a small area for exploration. See the map at https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/314565/Parknote-DiscoveryBay.pdf which notes: "Whites Beach has a small intertidal area for exploration. Common species of seaweed on the intertidal reefs include Neptune’s Necklace, Sea Lettuce and a range of encrusting red algae. Barnacles, seastars, elephant snails, sea urchins, anemones and crabs all live in and around the rock pools. The beach is generally unsafe for swimming, with strong rips and high energy waves crashing onto the rocks."
Other Attractions in the Area
Discovery Bay Coastal Park
Discovery Bay Coastal Park (8590 ha) extends westwards along the coast for 55 km from Cape Bridgewater to Nelson. Rich in its diversity, the park features white sand dunes, windswept beaches, Aboriginal middens, quiet lakes behind the dunes and rugged rock formations. There are grey kangaroos, red-necked wallabies and over 140 bird species. Coastal, swamp and heath vegetation is prolific. The more westerly sections of the park are accessible off the Portland-Nelson Road. There are boat-launching ramps and surf fishing opportunities.
Camping is available at Swan Lake Flats (access is signposted off the Portland-Nelson Rd) from where a walking track follows Johnston's Creek to the ocean beach. There are also camping facilities on the grassy flats around Lake Mombeong, a freshwater lagoon where trout fishing and birdwatching are the main activities. For more information check out https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/discovery-bay-coastal-park.
Bridgewater Lakes Road heads north from the village on Bridgewater Bay to the freshwater lakes which lie behind the huge dunes on Descartes Bay. Coastal lagoons separated from the sea by sand dunes, the Bridgewater Lakes are sheltered and ideal for picnics, swimming, waterskiing, fishing, canoeing and boating. There is a shady grassed area which is ideal for picnics and a 30 minute walk over the dunes to Discovery Bay. Check out https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/discovery-bay-coastal-park/things-to-do/swan-lake-camp for more details.
Tarragal Limestone Caves
Located opposite the entrance to Bridgewater Lakes on Bridgewater Lakes Road are the Tarragal limestone caves. There is a steep 50 metre climb to the entrance but the visitor is provided with an excellent view across Discovery Bay. Check out https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/discovery-bay-coastal-park/things-to-do/tarragal-caves.
The Great South West Walk
The Great South West Walk, established in 1981, is a 250 km circular walking track which starts and finishes at Portland. Constructed by community groups it initially heads north through farmland, veering westwards through native forests and the Lower Glenelg National Park, following the southern bank of the Glenelg River to its mouth near Nelson, then returning eastwards along the coastline through Discovery Bay National Park. It then reaches Descartes Bay and passes around Cape Bridgewater, past The Springs, the Petrified Forest, the seal colony, Bridgwater Bay, Cape Nelson, Point Danger and back to Portland. Sections are accessible by car to allow shorter day or weekend walks. There is a hugely useful website. Check out http://www.greatsouthwestwalk.com.
* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Gunditjmara Aboriginal people.
* Captain James Grant explored the coast in 1800 in the Lady Nelson. He named both Cape Bridgewater and Bridgewater Bay.
* In 1802 the French navigator Nicolas Baudin sailed along the coast.
* From 1819 the area was used by whalers and sealers.
* In 1833 Edward Henty stopped at Portland Bay to pick up whale oil for the family company in Launceston. He made a favourable report of the area to his father Thomas Henty who decided the land at Portland Bay was suitable for the establishment of a branch of the family firm.
* Edward Henty arrived in the district with stock and servants to manage the operation in November 1834.
* In December 1834 Edward was joined by his brother Frank who brought with him the first merino sheep in Victoria. Apart from grazing they also engaged in whaling, sealing and cropping.
* In November 1835 the Hentys began shearing the first sheep in Victoria. They also planted Victoria's first grape vines.
* Major Mitchell explored the area during his Australia Felix expedition of 1836.
* James Kennedy and James Kittson started grazing in the area in 1842.
* Kennedy built Cape Bridgewater House some time between 1845-1850.
* The Bridgewater area was surveyed in 1849-1850.
* Land was opened up for leasing in 1850.
* By 1860 there were 38 families living in the area.
* A post office was opened in 1863.
* In 1900 sale yards were built at Bridgewater.
* During the 1970s and 1980s holiday homes were built at Bridgewater Beach.^ TOP
There is no specific visitor centre for Cape Bridgewater but there is information at the Portland Visitors Information Centre, Lee Breakwater Road, Open from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm daily, tel: (03) 5523 2671 or free-call 1800 035 567.^ TOP
There is a useful local website. Check out http://www.visitportland.com.au/cape-bridgewater.^ TOP