Aireys Inlet is an attractive resort town perched on rocks alongside the ocean between Anglesea and Lorne. The Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch at nearby Eastern View marks the beginning of the Great Ocean Road. Angahook-Lorne State Park has hiking trails weaving through virgin bushland. Eagle Rock Marine Sanctuary is close by.
Where is it?: 11 km west of Anglesea, 120 km from Melbourne on the Great Ocean Road.
While the coastline at adjacent Fairhaven is a long uninterrupted sand beach, the coast at Aireys Inlet is a series of rock shelves, interrupted by sandy swimming beaches, most of which are relatively secluded. Each beach has its own character, a result of differing lengths, orientation and nearby rock formations. Beaches include Sandy Gully, Steppy Beach and Sunnymeade. At low tide it is possible to walk (or scramble) around all these rocks and beaches, making it possible to walk along the beach, all the way from Eastern View – the historical start of the Great Ocean Road, all the way to Anglesea.
Many surfers stay in Aireys Inlet to take advantage of the popular Fairhaven beach. As the inclination of the beach can change dramatically between years, the surf is regarded as unpredictable. Swimmers should take note there is a strong rip current.
Painkalac Creek, which separates Aireys Inlet from Fairhaven, forms a salt lake or inlet behind the sand dunes before it cuts through to the ocean. Due to low water levels in the inlet it is not often that the inlet breaks through. There is also a horseshoe-shaped reef at Step Beach which forms an excellent swimming hole at low tide.
Seafarer’s Monument, in the centre of town, honours all those who have lost their lives on the dangerous southern oceans. The anchor is believed to be over 100 years old. It was discovered in Port Phillip in 1936.
Fairhaven Beach is recognised as an outstanding surfing beach.
Split Point Lighthouse
Perched on the cliffs 70 metres above sea level the main light of the Split Point Lighthouse can be seen 30 km away. The lighthouse provides excellent views of the surrounding coastline. It is also part of a pleasant cliff walk to Anglesea which starts near the car park. Built in 1891 as a reaction to the sinking of the ship Joseph Scammell, Split Point Lighthouse is said to be haunted.
Whether you want to step back in maritime, forward in coastal conservation or capture the now with a perfect snapshot, this is a stop worth every minute.
Guided tours are run every day at 11am, 12 noon, 1pm and 2pm, and last around 30- 45 minutes. Tour guides will introduce you to a life of maritime responsibility, engineering perfection, a pristine Marine Sanctuary, cultural connections, the famous setting for the TV series ‘Round the Twist’ and ‘Masterchef’ (series 6, when Gary, George and Matt brought their amazing home cooks down the Great Ocean Road to cook our beautiful local produce) as well as stunning, ever-changing 360 degree coastal vistas.
Eagle Rock Marine Sanctuary
At the base of the Split Point Lighthouse, the 17 hectare Eagle Rock Marine Sanctuary is home to a huge variety of marine life. Popular with snorkellers and scuba divers, you can expect to see a diverse range of invertebrates. The rock platforms are covered in the iconic brown seaweed Neptune s Necklace which is unique to Australia and New Zealand. Within the rockpools you can find fascinating creatures such as octopus, chitons and decorator crabs. Offshore, Eagle Rock and Table Rock are fringed with swirling Bull Kelp and in deeper waters colourful sea tulips and encrusting sponges can be found.
Along the shore, there are ancient Aboriginal cooking and feasting sites called middens. The middens in this area date back over 2,000 years. Within them, one can find remnants of a range of molluscs including Turban Snails, Elephant Snails, mussels and even Maori Octopus. These invertebrates were critical food sources for coastal Aboriginal people.
The Painkalac Creek Estuary is a beautiful coastal lagoon system alongside the township. The creek rises in the deeply-dissected rolling hills at the north-eastern end of the Otway ranges, it flows mostly in an easterly direction for around 20 km, entering Bass strait on the south-west side of Aireys Inlet. The open landscape of the Painkalac Creek Valley separates the timbered hillsides of Aireys Inlet and Fairhaven. Long ago the valley formed an enormous lake, which separated two Aboriginal tribes. The name the aboriginies used for the small estuary at Aireys Inlet, was ‘Mangowak’ which meant ‘a good place for hunting swans’. The current name of the creek, the ‘Painkalac’, comes from their words, ‘Paen’ for fresh water and ‘killock’ for camping place.
William Buckley, an escaped convict, camped at ‘Mangowak’ in 1803 on his first foray westwards and later visited the area with the Aboriginal tribe that adopted him. He talked of using one of the filtered wells the Mon-mart dug near the salty river mouth. Grinding stones, sharpening stones, hafted axes and flints have been found in the valley. The Glen Fam Cottages property has the only registered Coolamon tree by the Aborigines in The Otways. A coolamon is an Indigenous carrying vessel created from a piece of bark cut from a tree.
The 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires destroyed the original Airey’s Inlet Bark Hut which had stood since 1857 but the current building, a loving recreation, is an interesting replica of the kind of early homestead in the area. It is located in the Allan Noble Sanctuary off the Great Ocean Road. The sanctuary with its small lake and seats is a pleasant retreat from the tourism of the district.
Angahook-Lorne State Park
Located a few kilometres to the north of the town, Angahook-Lorne State Park is excellent for bushwalking and picnics. It is considered one of the best forest reserves on the coast and has a number of excellent views over the ocean. Angahook-Lorne State Park covers 22 000 ha of coastline (from Aireys Inlet to Kennett River) and mountainous hinterland. It incorporates the Otway Ranges and is characterised by cliffs, coves, sandy beaches and rock platforms. Between the ridges are deep valleys and gullies carved by the Erskine, Cumberland, Kalimna and St George Rivers and a plenitude of streams.
Distillery Creek is a great place for a bush picnic or to follow a Nature Trail with a great range of native plants and flowers. Interpretive signage tell about the nature and history of the area. The picnic area is divided into two sections, the first (lower) on the right and the second (upper) on the left of the road. To reach the Distillery Creek Picnic Ground from the Great Ocean Road, turn north into Bambra Road just north east of the Bottom Shops. Follow Bambra Road until it merges with Distillery Creek Road and then watch for the left turn where Bambra Road diverges into the Distillery Creek Picnic Area, before continuing on to the north west.
Taking the Currawong Falls track out of the Distillery Creek Picnic area, you start a slow climb that follows the contours of the East side of the Ironbark Gorge. Along the way you can see the results of wild bush fires that have swept through this area. A good first stop on this walk is the cliff tops of the Ironbark Gorge. The view is quite spectacular with 25 – 30m drops into the gorge. Leaving the rock platform you start to climb again, this time to the east and its along this part of the walk that the big panoramic views back to Aireys Inlet appear, The top of the walk is Trig Point and its here that you cross over Loves track and start to descend across Heathlands and into the gully s heading towards the Curawong Falls. The big view here is back towards Anglesea and Mount Ingoldsby.
Winding through some gullies you find yourself walking along Distillery Creek, crossing a small bridge and up the other side the Currawong Falls come into view. Following Distillery Creek you descend down back towards the Distillery Creek picnic ground, picking up the Nature Trail, along the board walk and through a gum forest which has a small Koala population living in it.
Eastern View Hotel, tennis court and Great Ocean Rod c. 1930s
Eastern View was already a remote coastal settlement prior to the construction of the Great Ocean Road. At that time there were only four houses there. The Eastern View Hotel, built in 1927, was a popular tourist destination for many years, thanks in part to a tennis court being built by the hotel on the ocean side of the Great Ocean Road. A tollgate was closed following the abolition of tolls when the state government took over the control of the road in 1936, the same year in which a nine-hole golf course was developed. It was closed at the beginning of World War II, and was never re-opened. The hotel closed in 1957. Both the former hotel building and the remnants of the golf course were destroyed in the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983. Eastern View today consists of a small strip of houses along the Great Ocean Road between the beach and the Great Otway National Park.
The Great Ocean Road Arch, which is located within the town, is a prominent landmark of the Great Ocean Road, and marks its official gateway (see below). The Cinema Point lookout is also located at Eastern View. It was the view from the lookout that gave the township its name. The descent to Lorne begins from this point. A few kilometres further south is the Cathedral Rock Lookout.
Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch
Memorial Arch is a tribute to the World War One servicemen who built the Great Ocean Road. The present arch is the third built to replace the second one destroyed in the Ash Wednesday bushfires of February 1983. The timber log archway with cement and stone supports on each side spans the Great Ocean Road.
The Great Ocean Road was completed in 1932 as a memorial to those who served in World War One and the arch first erected in 1939, replaced in 1973 and again in 1983 when bush fires destroyed the second arch. Plaques commemorate the three arches and the 50th anniversary in 1982 of the opening of the road. Recognised as one of the world’s most scenic drives, the Great Ocean Road follows the stunning coastline of Victoria’s south-west. The road winds its way to Warrnambool along cliff tops and beside breathtaking headlands, down onto the edge of beaches, across river estuaries and through rainforests, offering ever-changing panoramic views of Bass Strait, the Southern Ocean, Victoria’s Shipwreck Coast and Port Campbell National Park.
Cathedral Rock, between Eastern View and Lorne, is another prime surfing spot along this section of coast. The Great Ocean Road hugs the bluffs here and you cannot miss seeing the beach and adjoining rock platforms and reefs. There are three small car parks off the road to park and view, or go surfing. There is a 300 metre long beach extending south from the mouth of the small creek. It has rock platforms at either end and a few rocks and reefs, particularly toward the creek. Permanent rips run out at each end. The beach is dominated by rocks, reefs and strong rips and unsuitable for swimming, however the rocks along the southern point provide the base of a long right hander for surfers. The easy access and rock platforms make this a popular location for rock and beach fishing.
Like so many seaside towns the development of Aireys Inlet was slow and haphazard. The first settlers arrived in the area in the 1820s and the town was named after J. M.C. Eyrie (somehow the spelling has been changed over time) who settled in the district in 1846. With the advent of the goldrushes Cobb & Co. provided a regular service from Geelong to Anglesea. From Anglesea passengers travelled on to Aireys Inlet on a four-horse wagonette conducted by James Hasty. By 1891 the lighthouse had been built. The town developed very slowly and even modern tourism has tended to pass it by somewhat.
Sculpture beside the Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch honouring the workers who built the road.