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June 25, 2015

The Great Ocean Road: Standing room at Split Point


Staircase – Original staircase, 136 steps to the top.

Words and images by Graeme Willingham

No standing? Must be joking! The lighthouse at Airey’s Inlet on Victoria’s Surf Coast has been standing on Split Point since 1891 and is still at work.

Locally, they call her White Queen or the White Lady. She’s been the set for the hit children’s television series Round the Twist and more recently for Masterchef Series 6. Since 2005, she’s been a shining light for tourists, many of whom take a 30-45 minute tour after visiting The Great Ocean Road’s surfing precinct of Torquay and Bell’s Beach, Point Addis and Anglesea, en route to Lorne, Apollo Bay, Cape Otway (another white lighthouse), The 12 Apostles, to Port Campbell and to the collapsed London Bridge.

On the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, scores of visitors gathering around the icon structure chose not to take the tour, preferring to spend just 10 minutes taking selfies from various angles around the 34metre photo magnet before zapping off to the next selfie opportunity, which will probably be Fairhaven Surf Life Saving Club’s smart new clubhouse overlooking the wide-open beach, or the monument to the returned servicemen who built The Great Ocean Road, a few more kilometres along the beach.

View -- The view along Fairhaven Beach
On my Split Point lighthouse visit, I was joined by two young men from St Petersburg driving The Great Ocean Road (“It’s scary driving on the wrong side!”), a young couple from Melbourne, and a family of four from nearby Geelong.

The original spiral iron staircase hugging the leaning wall inside has 130 steps, we’re told, which takes us to three landings where we’ll gather for a breather and a chat about the 10 shipwrecks dotted along the coast which gave rise to the lighthouse’s construction. We hear how it was built and its operational history.

For the record: the walls at floor level are about 2m thick, and finish about 50cm thick at the top; the tower is only painted on the outside so that moisture can escape internally from the concrete to prevent concrete rot; it was last painted in 2005; the light flashes four times in 20 seconds and is listed on shipping charts as Split Point Lighthouse 4 x 20; the intensity of the white light is 39,800 Candelas (CD) and can be seen for 18 nautical miles (30kms) and the red light has an intensity of 6766 CD and can be seen from 14 nautical miles.


Lighthouse and sign -- In defiance, standing tall.
Split Point Lighthouse on The Great Ocean Road
at Airey’s Inlet
At the second landing, I can sense impatience. Our small crew now just wants to reach the top, step outside and secure the view the selfie people below had denied themselves.

A stiff breeze up there meant we had to push hard on the thick metal door to step out on the metal-fenced landing, wrapped completely round the wall just below the tower’s red metal cap. Standing room only, certainly, but there’s room to edge by fellow spectators.

On this day, the low northern sun was out in patches so the views were brilliantly clear.

To the west, we looked over Painkalac Creek and along the 7km beach. The tide was in but the northern breeze had flattened what is usually booming surf. To the north, the historic slate-roofed lighthouse keeper’s cottages and the village beyond. To the east, the outcrop Eagle Rock immediately below and off to oceanside beaches of Point Roadknight in the distance. To the south, people on cliff top viewing platforms below looking back at us and out to the blue sea where a passing whale should have been putting a show for us at this time of the year. Our guide apologised, told us a humpback whale was there the week previous, the second spotted out there in Louttit Bay this season. We scan the flat sea, but there are no “telltail” signs.

She pointed out the scene’s highlights but gave us uninterrupted time to absorb this special elevated ambience and snap our photos ... and selfies.

Tours operate daily between 11-3 with extended hours during holidays, weather permitting.

Airey’s Inlet is 90 minutes drive west of Melbourne. It has a range of eateries, a thriving brewery pub, accommodation choices (motel, getaway resort, caravan park, B&Bs), a general store and is becoming a hub for live music, arts and literary events. A Winter in Airey’s program has just been launched.

See www.splitpointlighthouse.com.au, www.aireysinlet.org.au

Photos by Graeme Willingham


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