Quiet holiday town on the Great Ocean Road surrounded by impressive cliffs, bays, rock stacks and gorges
Peterborough is a tiny coastal town located on the western shore of the Curdies River estuary. To the east lies Port Campbell National Park and to the west is the Bay of Islands Coastal Park. These are the main attractions in the area. They are characterised by sheer limestone cliffs, offshore islands, towering rock stacks, gorges, arches, blowholes and other impressive rock formations. By contrast Peterborough, with its small beaches and sandhills, is a quiet family-friendly holiday and retirement destination with caravan parks and camping grounds which are popular in the summer months. There is a seaside golf course, a picnic area beside Curdies River and plenty of fishing and swimming opportunities in the river and sea.
Peterborough is located on the Great Ocean Road 239 km south-west of Melbourne between Port Campbell (13 km to the east) and Warrnambool (52 km to the west).^ TOP
Origin of Name
One of the earliest British settlers in the area was Dr. Daniel Curdie. In 1845 he followed Curdie's River (it was named after him) to its mouth. The estuary became known as Curdie's Inlet, and it was on the estuary that the village of Peterborough came into existence. Dr Curdie named it after his friend Dr. Peter Reid of Richmond, Victoria.^ TOP
Things to See and Do
Peterborough Beach, which is accessible from the Peterborough Foreshore Reserve, is 800 metres long and protected by offshore reefs and cliffs. It is recognised as being moderately safe for swimming. There is good fishing from the beach and the rocks and in the lagoon. For more information check out https://beachsafe.org.au/beach/vic/moyne/peterborough/peterborough.
Curdies Inlet is a 1245 square kilometre estuarine lagoon behind the sand dunes which is known for its impressive collection of birds (including the Australasian Bittern and endangered Great Knot), its recreational fishing, motor boating and good picnic and barbecue facilities. For more information check out http://www.estuarywatch.org.au/estuary/ccma/262.
James Irvine Monument
Located on the headland overlooking Peterborough Beach (at 1 Irvine Street), the James Irvine Monument is a simple granite memorial which was, as the dedication explains "Erected By The Residents & Visitors Of Peterborough In Affectionate Memory Of JAMES IRVINE Who Lost His Life Crossing The River 24th June 1919." See https://www.monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/people/tragedy/display/33075-james-irvine for more details.
Other Attractions in the Area
The Bay of Islands Coastal Park and Port Campbell National Park
Peterborough is surrounded by coastal parklands. To the west is the Bay of Islands Coastal Park which extends for 32 km from Peterborough to Lake Gillear which is 8 km east of Warrnambool and to the east is Port Campbell National Park which extends from Curdies Inlet to Point Ronald at Princetown.
Port Campbell National Park
Port Campbell National Park is famous for its rock stacks and wave-sculptured limestone formations. It stretches for 65 km along the coastline (17 km eastward and 48 km westward from Port Campbell) and is edged by the Great Southern Ocean. It was proclaimed in 1964 and extended in 1981. It grew from its original size of 700 hectares to its current size of 1,830 hectares. It features sheer cliffs overlooking offshore islets, towering rock stacks, gorges, arches, blowholes and other spectacular coastal scenery.
The Geology of the Park
The Port Campbell National Park and Bay of Islands Coastal Park Plan has an excellent description of the geology of the area:
"The geology of the Parks comprises marine limestones and marls of the Tertiary (Oligocene and Miocene) age overlain by Pleistocene dune limestones. The exposures in the coastal cliffs include the type sections of three major geological units of the Heytesbury Group (Clifton Formation, Gellibrand Marl and Port Campbell Limestone). Some of the Tertiary beds are richly fossiliferous, and fossil soils are preserved in the Pleistocene dune limestones.
Precipitous or undercut cliffs up to 60 m high are the dominant coastal landform and create some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in Australia. Strong wave action is very effective in eroding these relatively soft, horizontally-bedded rocks, which are fractured along intersecting joint planes. Where the joints are closely spaced, a deeply indented coastline with narrow, elongated bays and headlands has developed, as at Loch Ard Gorge, The Grotto and the Bay of Martyrs."
The sculpted coastline was formed around 10-20 million years ago when billions of tiny skeletal fragments accumulated beneath the sea gradually creating limestone formations. The sea then retreated leaving the soft limestone exposed above sea-level to the waves and wind of the Great Southern Ocean which have carved out arches, rocks stacks, blowholes and coastal gorges including London Bridge, The Arch, The Twelve Apostles, The Grotto and Loch Ard Gorge.
There are opportunities for sightseeing, surfing, snorkelling, walking, beach combing, photography and surf fishing. As the Great Ocean Road passes right alongside most of the coastline it makes for some excellent scenic driving.
Flora in the Park
The park has some fragile grasslands and heath lands which support six nationally significant plant species including the metallic sun orchid, swamp greenhood, Scented Spider-orchid, Clover Glycine, Square Raspwort and Lime Fern. In the protected areas of the coast it is possible to see sea box, coast beard heath, bower spinach, coast daisy bush, small daisies and cushion bush. In the wilder terrain there are she-oaks, dogwoods, correa, messmate, trailing guinea-flower, woolly tea-tree and scented paperbark.
Fauna in the Park
Between June and October the cliffs of the Park are ideal for viewing Southern Right Whales and Humpbacks can be seen in May, June, September, October and November. At both the Twelve Apostles and London Bridge lookouts it is possible to see little penguins returning to their nests at dusk. It has been estimated that there are around 800 birds at the Twelve Apostles. There are also dolphins, porpoises and seals in the waters.
The birdlife is richly diverse and includes Otway white goshawks, pied cormorants, honeyeaters, southern emu-wrens, superb fairy-wrens, swamp harriers and the rare rufous bristlebird which lives near the ground amidst sword-grass tussocks and coast beard-heath. It can sometimes be seen around Loch Ard Gorge. Peregrine falcons can sometimes be seen flying above the cliff-tops. Pelicans, ducks, black swans and egrets inhabit the estuaries and wetlands. Penguins, terns and dotterels inhabit the shoreline and hooded plovers nest in exposed beach locations. Australasian gannets, wandering albatrosses, nankeen kestrels, peregrine falcons and short-tailed shearwaters (known as mutton birds) can be seen out to sea.
The terrestrial fauna includes Eastern grey kangaroos, swamp wallabies, red shouldered wallabies, southern brown bandicoots, spotted tail quoll, swamp antechinuses, potoroo, the rare eastern pygmy possum and echidnas and, of course, reptiles - copper heads and tiger snakes are common and the swamp skink and glossy grass skink are rare.
Bay of Islands Coastal Park
Here is a guide to heading west from Peterborough along the coast. The attraction of this area is that there are beaches, bays, impressive cliffs, excellent lookouts and a number of roads which divert to car parks where the views, or short walks, can be enjoyed. There is an excellent Visitor Guide which can be downloaded - it has useful maps. Check out http://www.gippslandinfo.com.au/images/gipps/Port-Campbell-NP-Visitor-Guide.pdf.
* Wild Dog Cove - The walking trail along the coast starts at the Peterborough Golf Course. The first bay is Wild Dog Cove which is a small secluded beach with rock pools and safe paddling for children. Steps lead down to the beach from the car park.
* Bay of Martyrs Trail - A walking track - the Cliff Top Walk - continues westward along the coast past Halladale Point to the Bay of Martyrs. It is 4 km return and takes around two hours. The quality of the trail varies. There are steps and at some points it is narrow.
* Worm Bay - Further west along the Great Ocean Road is a turnoff into a dirt track which leads to a small carpark at Worm Bay which is a popular fishing spot with sheer red cliffs projecting out on either side. The excellent Beach Safe website (see https://beachsafe.org.au/beach/vic/moyne/peterborough/worm-bay) notes: "Worm Bay is a small gap in the limestone bluffs located on the eastern side of the Bay of Martyrs, and 300 m west of the Falls of Halladale car park. It lies just off the Great Ocean Road and there are car parks at both ends of the 100 m long beach. Steps lead down to the beach from the 10 m high limestone bluffs.The beach faces west and is partially protected by two headlands and the numerous reefs in the Bay of Martyrs. Waves tend to be low in the bay and surge up the beach face."
* Bay of Martyrs - The Bay of Martyrs is 2.5 km long and includes both Massacre Bay and Crofts Bay. There are viewing areas, interpretative signage and a short self-guided clifftop walk from the car park which leads to Point Halladale where there a sign tells the story of the shipwreck of the Falls of Halladale which ran aground off the coast in 1908. Fine beach walking can also be enjoyed at the Bay of Martyrs. Check out https://greatoceanroadmelbournetours.com.au/attractions/bay-of-martyrs/ for additional information. It notes that "There is also a vibrant wildlife population here, which is predominantly made up of birds. If you’re lucky, you might be able to spot emu-wrens, honeyeaters, and the very rare bristlebird. There are also peregrine falcons that glide above the cliff-tops, pelicans, an array of duck species, black swans, and penguins that hang out near the shoreline."
* Massacre Bay and Massacre Hill - Located 5 km west of Peterborough via the Great Ocean Road, Massacre Bay and Massacre Hill are testimony to the likely massacre of the local First Nation people, the Kirrae Whurung, by the early European settlers.
Local oral history suggests that Europeans killed a large group of Kirrae Whurung men by driving them off the cliffs. The women and children were allegedly killed in a nearby swamp. Although there is, not surprisingly, no written evidence, there is evidence that the local First Nation population dropped from a couple of thousand to virtually nil. There is more information at https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/conflict/indigenous/display/33076-massacre-hill. There are also viewing areas where it is possible to see the middens which are reminders that this was a popular place for the Kirrae Whurung.
* Crofts Bay - The next carpark leads to the viewing area above Crofts Bay, a secluded beach area is the westernmost of the smaller bays within the larger Bay of Martyrs. There are cliffs and offshore reefs which protect the beach and make it suitable for swimming, fishing and picnics. Check out https://beachsafe.org.au/beach/vic/moyne/peterborough/crofts-bay.
* Bay of Islands - The Bay of Islands lies 8 km west of Peterborough and, as its name suggests, it is characterised by a series of tiny offshore islands. A walking track starts from the car park and leads along the coastline to viewing platforms with panoramas over the bay and to the small, and beautiful, Bay of Island beach. It was around this area that the Falls of Halladale was shipwrecked in 1908. Rock stacks offshore provide nesting sites for silver gulls and the rare black-faced cormorant.
* Boat Bay - Further west a signposted side road - Boat Bay Road - on the left leads to Boat Bay where there is a boat ramp. The Visit Twelve Apostles website notes: "Lots of offshore stacks are visible in this sheltered bay. The ramp is used by maverick fishermen providing the only ocean access for boats between Port Campbell and Warrnambool." See https://www.visit12apostles.com.au/attractions/boat-bay/#moreinfo for more information.
* Lookouts - Beyond Boat Bay the Great Ocean Road heads inland, a series of side roads on the left lead out to viewing points on the coast. Of particular interest is the turnoff into Radford Road which leads out to a carpark with a viewing area, information boards and shipwreck views.
* Three Mile Beach - The next stop is Three Mile Beach which is accessed by turning left into Mathieson Road which leads to a carpark with a lookout above Three Mile Beach.
* Childers Cove - Just beyond the Mathieson Road turnoff is Childers Cove Road which leads to Childers Cove where the barque Children was wrecked in 1839 with the loss of 16 lives. There is a carpark, viewing area, picnic tables and toilets. To the immediate east are a series of bays, beaches, coves and points - Murnames Bay, Sandy Cove, Dog Trap Bay, Stanhope Bay, Buttress Point and Burnies Beach.
Head away from the coast on Childers Cove Road and you will reach the Great Ocean Road which heads east to Peterborough or west to Warrnambool.
Port Campbell National Park - The Arch, London Bridge and the Grotto
Some of the most impressive formations on the coast can be seen by driving east of Peterborough. The first place is Newfold Bay, there is a road opposite the Peterborough Airport, which is a popular surf-fishing and beach-walking spot with good views over the coast.
Located 4 km east of Peterborough, via the Great Ocean Road, is a turnoff on the right which leads to a lookout over 'The Grotto' - a geological formation created when sinkholes in the limestone cliffs met with a receding cliff line.
Another 2 km east is London Bridge, which was a natural archway and tunnel in an offshore rock formation caused by waves eroding away a portion of softer rock. It collapsed on 15 January 1990. Two people were on the bridge at the time but no one was injured. Artificial burrows have been built to encourage the nesting of fairy penguins. There is no access to the beach. It is located 6 km east of Peterborough via the Great Ocean Road and has good parking facilities and plenty of vantage points where visitors can inspect the formations and take photographs.
About another 600 metres east, just beyond Point Hesse, is the lookout over The Arch, which is another rock formation caused by water erosion. There are some good maps available for download at http://www.gippslandinfo.com.au/images/gipps/Port-Campbell-NP-Visitor-Guide.pdf. They provide detailed information for visitors wanting to view The Arch and the viewing platforms over London Bridge.
* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was inhabited by people from the Kirrae Whurung First Nations language group. Shell middens along the coast have provided evidence of the ancient presence.
* By the early 1800s sealers and whalers were moving along the coast.
* By the 1820s Bass Strait had become a major route for cargo ships.
* The area was settled by Europeans when a clipper, the Schomberg, was wrecked on a rock just east of Curdies Inlet (now known as Schomberg Rock) in 1855. Some of the survivors of the wreck stayed on in the area.
* In 1877 the schooner Young Australia was driven ashore at Curdies Inlet after receiving damage to its foretop mast at Cape Nelson during inclement weather. No lives were lost.
* A Post Office was opened in 1890.
* In 1892 the Newfield was grounded 1 km east of Curdies Inlet when the captain mistook the Otway lighthouse for the King Island light. Captain Scott and several other seamen died and are buried at the Port Campbell cemetery.
* In 1908 the Falls of Halladale, bound from New York, was wrecked when it was wedged between two reefs. The wreck became a tourist attraction until it broke up.
* In 1914 Antares was wrecked along the coast.^ TOP
There is no Visitor Information in Peterborough. The closest is Twelve Apostles Visitor Information Centre, 26 Morris St, Port Campbell, tel: 1300 137 255. Next door is the Parks Victoria office, tel: (03) 5598 6382.^ TOP
There is an excellent guide book on the entire coast. Check out http://www.rodneyhyett.com.au/great-ocean-road-guide-book.html for details. The local website is https://www.visitgreatoceanroad.org.au/towns-and-villages/peterborough.^ TOP