Top 5 Places to view the unique geology of Port Campbell National Park

Top 5 Places to view the unique geology of Port Campbell National Park

1 | The Twelve Apostles Lookout

This is by far the most popular view of the limestone cliffs and sea stacks that Port Campbell National Park is famous for. The grey limey clay layers in the lower half of the cliffs (and stacks) are around 13 million years old at the base, these are overlayed by yellow limestone which is as young as 10 million years at the very pinnacle of the highest sea stack here! The red brown soil in and around the walking path is a clay unit called the Hesse Clay which is around 3 million years old. Occasionally the layers in the cliffs are broken by joints or faults.

The play of sunset and sunrise light on these limestone giants draws millions of visitors every year. It is a shame that many leave moved by the experience yet unaware of the 3 million year record of marine and climate history and billions of microfossils that are locked within every layer.

2 | Gibson's Steps

Are you ready for time travel? Gibson Steps provides a unique opportunity to travel back in geological time. Your journey begins near the top of the steps where you will notice a few metres of red brown Hesse Clay which is 3 million years old and sits directly above the yellow marine Port Campbell limestones which are 11 million years old. Huh!! Find out more about the mysterious missing layers of Port Campbell National Park in the “8 geological features about Port Campbell National Park that you may not know BLOG

Are you ready for more? Lets keep descending further in time until you notice a change in colour. You will notice this at a U-turn in the steps about half way down.

Look west at this point along the smooth grey 12 million year old horizon, let your eyes follow this line along the cliff and you will notice that it matches up with the middle layer of the sea stacks  known as Gog and Magog. Geologists don’t need to climb the rock stacks to get samples they just need to know where they can find the same layers within the cliff line.

Down, down and further in time the age at the base of the steps is around 13 million years old.

We hope you enjoyed your journey back through time. Please take care on the beach. You can check tide and ocean swell conditions at Port Campbell Visitor Information Centre…… beware the trip back up the steps to the present day is a little more strenuous.

3 | Loch Ard Gorge

This amazing sea carved gorge is made up of younger layers of the same yellow limestone that forms the upper third of the sea stacks at the Twelve Apostles. This means all the grey layers in the lower half of the stacks at the 12 Apostles are beneath sea level here and the oldest limestone at the bottom of this gorge is the same age as the top of the 12 Apostles (10 million years old.) NB. Beach access to Loch Ard Gorge is currently closed.

All the layers at the Twelve Apostles are shallowly tilted from east to west and disappear beneath the sea somewhere in between.

4 | Lookouts around Port Campbell

While lacking the imposing 40 – 50 metre high cliffs of the rest of the Port Campbell National Park, the various tracks and lookouts around the small town provide stunning views to the south and east. The topography is much lower than in other areas because Campbells Creek has eroded a valley into the limestones and clays exposing the grey limey clays and yellow/beige limestone at sea level. You can view this from a trail that commences just past the pier and ends at a lookout on eastern headland of the bay. One of the best views of the entire coastline is from the  Port Campbell Discovery Walk to the west of the town. This walk along the western headland of Port Campbell Bay can be accessed via a suspension bridge and steps or by driving to a car park off the Great Ocean Road just west of Port Campbell

This walk provides an extraordinary view of the coastline to the east of Port Campbell towards Loch Ard Gorge and the Twelve Apostles. As walkers head along the western headland of Port Campbell Bay the view to the east opens up revealing 70 m high cliffs and a 70 m high sea stack called Sentinel Rock with the Twelve Apostles in the far distance. The entire set of geological layers of the Port Campbell National Park are exposed in these cliffs ranging in age from 14 to 7 million years old.

From this elevated perspective it is easy for viewers to recognise  that the layers are definitely not flat on a north to south plane either, and are are tilted somewhere between 2° and 3° southwards out to sea.

5 | The Arch (currently closed)

This is an excellent example of a sea stack under construction. Make sure you visit before the arch collapses! It could happen at any time. The lower half of the arch is made up of the same grey limey clay as the base of the Twelve Apostles while the upper half made up of the yellow more brittle limestone. The sea has eroded the clay easier than the limestone and has carved out a hollow forming the Arch.

Ironically while the Arch still stands the walkway leading to the popular feature has been undermined by wind and rain erosion causing which has resulted in a temporary closure.

Thanks for reading this blog we hope you have enjoyed reading about the deep history of the iconic landscape of the Port Campbell National Park. Make sure you come along a visit and experience the extraordinary scenery of the Port Campbell National Park on the Great Ocean Road and learn a little more at the Port Campbell Visitor Information Centre.


About The Author

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Stephen Gallagher

Associate Professor

A macro thinking micro paleontologist, stratigrapher and microfossil expert Professor Gallagher’s current research is focused on the climate & oceanography record of Australia's margin as an analogue for future climate change. Professor Gallagher’s community education outreach activities around his new research are fast turning him into Port Campbell’s biggest “rock star”

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