Stretching some 30 km (19 miles) along Victoria's southern coastline, Port Campbell National Park is the site of some of the most famous and most beautiful geological formations in Australia. The ferocious Southern Ocean has gnawed at the limestone cliffs along this coast for eons, creating a sort of badlands-by-the-sea, where strangely shaped formations stand offshore amid the surf. The most famous of these formations is the Twelve Apostles, as much a symbol for Victoria as the Sydney Opera House is for New South Wales (The name has always been a misnomer, as there were originally only nine of these stone columns—or sea stacks as they are correctly termed. Collapses in 2005 and 2009 mean that seven remain). If you happen to be visiting the Twelve Apostles just after sunset, you're likely to see bands of Little Penguins returning to their burrows on the beach. There's a population of around 3,000 of these cute creatures in the area.
Loch Ard Gorge, named after the iron-hulled
clipper that wrecked on the shores of nearby Mutton Bird Island in 1878, is another spectacular place to walk. Four of the Loch Ard's victims are buried in a nearby cemetery, while a sign by the gorge tells the story of the ship and its crew. This stretch of coast is often called the Shipwreck Coast for the hundreds of vessels that have met untimely ends in the treacherous waters. The Historic Shipwreck Trail, with landmarks describing 25 of the disasters, stretches from Moonlight Head to Port Fairy.
The best time to visit the park is late September to April, when you can also witness the boisterous birdlife on nearby Mutton Bird Island. Toward nightfall, hundreds of hawks and kites circle the island in search of baby mutton birds emerging from their protective burrows. The birds of prey beat a hasty retreat at the sight of thousands of adult shearwaters approaching with food for their chicks as the last light fades from the sky. Other amazing sea stacks and stone formations farther west along the Great Ocean Road are also not to be missed. These include the Grotto, London Bridge (now an arch after an earlier collapse), and the spectacular Bay of Islands and Bay of Martyrs.
The Twelve Apostles Information Centre is open daily 9 to 5. A self-guided, 1½-hour Discovery Walk begins near Port Campbell Beach, where it's safe to swim. The pounding surf and undertow are treacherous at other nearby beaches.