The Southern Ocean is something to behold.
Rough and rugged. Crystal clear. Shades of blue, green, and turquoise as far as the eye can see.
I’ve always been drawn to the mystery of the sea, but there’s something extra clandestine about this ocean that flows at the bottom of our world. It’s almost as though it taunts you with its secrets as it dances and crashes along the jagged edge of Australia’s southern cost, while begging you to listen to its countless stories of failed journeys and lives lost.
Yet it also tells stories of success, of those who dared to brave its treacherous tides and failed to fall victim to the curse of Australia’s famed shipwreck coast. It’s these stories that intrigue me the most for they tell of courage and strength and determination. Of intuition and faith. And maybe even of a wee bit of luck.
My love affair with lighthouses and the ocean began as a child thanks to my grandfather, a WWII navy pilot who used to regale me with tales of scenic flights over “captivating seas” and battles fought over “the dark and scary waters below.” He retired to an island off the coast of Georgia, which is where I saw the ocean for the first time and where he took me to see my first lighthouse. There he explained the importance of the “light that shines in the dead of night,” and gave me a lesson about life as it relates to water, mixing sadness with humor as he was so known to do. (A lesson that in retrospect I was far too young to hear.) My obsession with lighthouses and the ocean began in that moment, and it repeatedly leads me to places where the water meets land and the light shines over it from above.
If there’s a lighthouse to see, I’m going to see it. Although a vast majority are no longer in operation or relied upon now as they were by ships back in the day, they always have a story to tell and a bit of history worth learning. Each one is unique, one perhaps designed more beautifully than another or some with more breathtaking views than others, yet I always find myself impacted by their significance and transported back to those special moments with my grandfather.
So of course I had to stop at Split Point Lighthouse in Aireys Inlet, the first lighthouse I came across during my drive along the Great Ocean Road. Originally called Eagles Nest Point, this 112-foot concrete tower was built in 1891 and is currently still a working lighthouse, guiding ships traveling along the Victorian coast between Cape Otway and Port Philip. Initially lit by kerosene, it switched to automatic lighting in 1919 and eventually to electric in 1972, leaving it unmanned ever since. Affectionately known by locals as “The White Queen” (and also made famous by the Australian children’s TV show, Round the Twist), Split Point Lighthouse overlooks Eagle Rock and offers sweeping views across the Eagle Rock Marine Sanctuary, Philip Island, the Great Ocean Road, and the Southern Ocean itself. The grounds here are open to the public all year with tours available on weekends, and there are also several short trails and bush walks surrounding Split Point that I recommend taking the time to explore.
I offer fair warning that lighthouses will be a regular theme in my writing and my travels, and look forward to soon taking you to the lighthouse in Georgia where my love of them first began. And for any of you who share this fondness, please tell me your favorites in the comments below. From one lighthouse lover to another, I welcome your stories and would love the chance to discover new beacons of light through your tales.