It’s not the tallest lighthouse in Australia (that’s Cape Wickham). It’s not the oldest (that’s Iron Pot). It’s not the brightest (that’s Cape Byron). And it’s not the southernmost (that’s Maatsuyker Island). So the folks at Cape Otway have decided to call their lighthouse “the most significant lighthouse in Australia.”
What makes the Cape Otway lighthouse the most significant? Well, that’s a little unclear. The claim to fame appears to arise from the fact that this is the southernmost lighthouse on mainland Australia — so for many immigrants in the 1800s, this might have been the first point they would have seen after having having traveled across the seas for weeks on end. On the other hand, the “most significant” designation may just be a marketing ploy. But in any case, it makes for an interesting place to visit.
Roughly three and a half hours west of Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road, Cape Otway sits at the start of what is known as “Shipwreck Coast.”
Over the past 200 years, more than 600 ships have met their end on the jagged limestone rocks from Cape Otway westward. So Cape Otway made for a wise site for lighthouse building in 1848.
If you visit Cape Otway Lightstation, you’ll find a range of things to see and do. The most informative spot to learn about history and culture is the old Telegraph Station.
Erected in 1859 as one end of a submarine telegraph cable between mainland Australia and Tasmania, this building has also housed a school, a signal station, a post office, living quarters for the lighthouse keepers, and a World War II lookout post. Today, it’s host to a museum with displays of everything from maritime signal flags to artifacts from life a century ago on this windswept, remote point. They’re not 100% sure how this organ ended up on Cape Otway, but it may have floated in from a shipwreck.
Of course, walking out to the lighthouse …
… and climbing the seventy-plus steps to see the view is a must.
We were lucky to find the lighthouse staffed by a knowledgable guide, who was able to tell us all about the structure’s history and construction (here’s the Fresnel lens).
Other things to do on Cape Otway include exploring a WWII bunker, whale watching (in season, May-October), walking the paths, looking at art …
… sitting at a picnic table and having scones and tea from the cafe …
… and paying a visit to the somewhat random-feeling (and very 1980s-curated) Dinosaur cottage.
Unfortunately, all of this comes at a price: entrance to Cape Otway costs nearly $20 AUD. I would say that it’s totally worth the fee, but if you want to explore the Cape for free, you can take the Great Ocean Walk (this photo is taken further west, not far from the Twelve Apostles) …
… or simply drive down into Great Otway National Park.
If you do the drive, look up — you might see a koala in the eucalyptus trees!