A natural oasis almost in the heart of the town, Griffiths Island supports a number of native animals including a small mob of swamp wallabies. It is also the site of one of Australia’s most accessible breeding colonies of short tailed shearwaters or mutton-birds.
Griffiths Island with its colony of shearwater seabirds, winding pathways and the spectacular lighthouse at the eastern tip, it is a great place to explore.
The Island supports a number of native animals including a small mob of swamp wallabies. It is also the site of one of Australia’s most accessible breeding colonies of short tailed shearwaters or mutton-birds.
A short walk along the causeway from Martin’s Point gets you onto the island. Dogs are not allowed on the island and visitors are urged to stick to the walking tracks, which wind through the low lying scrub. Nesting birds, including the shearwater’s that migrate from the northern hemisphere each year, create burrows for their young hidden in the sand and it’s important these nests aren’t disturbed by wandering sightseers.
The Griffiths Island Lighthouse and a Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage were built was built in 1859 by Scottish stonemasons out of bluestone. The unique stairway of the lighthouse was cut with each step being inserted in the next course of stone in the outside wall.
The lighthouse is still fully operational and over the years the light’s power has changed from vegetable oil, kerosene, gas and wind to solar power. These days it’s a solar powered light with a wind assisted generator.
The lighthouse keepers’ cottages were demolished in the 1950s; however, their gardens live on with many hardy plants flowering in the appropriate season.
The Island is a dune habitat comprising of 37 hectares of remnant coastal scrub and grassland. The Island was named Griffiths after John Griffiths, who established Port Fairy’s whaling industry on the island in the 1830’s. He set up a whaling station on the island and built a large timber house in 1837. By the early 1840’s so many whales had been killed that the supply was almost exhausted and the whaling station closed.
The original three islands (Goat, Rabbit and Griffith) were joined by siltation and deposition of sand after the river training walls were constructed from the 1870s. The Island was reserved as a public park in 1902.
The Short-tailed Shearwater (Ardenna tenuirostris) or “Mutton Bird” nests in large numbers on Griffiths Island.
Each year the breeding birds return to the nesting grounds from Aleutian Islands near Alaska within three days of the 22nd of September. Individuals return to the same nest burrow they occupied the previous year and generally mate with the same partner throughout their breeding life.
Mating occurs early in November and after returning from a two week period at sea the female lays one white oval egg about the size of a hen’s egg. The egg hatches around mid-January with both parents sharing the incubation duties in that time.
At dusk birdwatchers are in for a treat as the colony of shearwaters, or muttonbirds, return in swarms to their nests to feed their chicks after a day fishing out to sea. In mid-April the adult birds commence their northern migration leaving the young behind.
Hunger brings chicks from the nest some weeks later and soon after they set off after the adults at sea.
The name “Mutton Bird” was given to it by early settlers who used its fatty flesh for food and as an oil source.
Over 80 bird species have been recorded on the island, predominantly sea birds and waders. Among the birds likely to be seen are sandpipers, pied oystercatchers, terns and gulls. There is a resident group of Black Wallabies which can regularly be seen feeding quietly as you walk the island. Short Beaked Echidnas, Blue Tongue Lizards, Brown Snakes and Copperhead Snakes may also occasionally be seen.
Griffiths Island has suffered considerably from man’s intervention yet nature has recovered to once again make it a largely natural environment.
A short walk along the pedestrian causeway from Martin’s Point gets you onto the island. Please access the island with caution as severe weather conditions can cause the causeway to flood.
It takes approximately 25 minutes to walk to the lighthouse via the jetty along the formed riverbank and a limestone track. Allow approximately 60 minutes to complete the full circuit of the island.
There is limited disability access, with none beyond the lighthouse as the track is rough, over sand and rocks in some places and walking along the southern beach sections depends upon the height of the incoming tide. Dogs are not allowed on the island and visitors are urged to stick to the walking tracks, which wind through the low lying scrub.
There are no toilets or shelter on the island, the nearest being at Martin’s Point, so make sure you rug up and use the facilities before your walk.
Start your walk at the Port Fairy & Region Visitor Information Centre and follow the trail alongside the Moyne River and Historic Wharf through the eyes of Victoria Walks:
Download the map: https://walkingmaps.com.au/walk/3972
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Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawuurung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Ancestors, past present and emerging. We recognise and respect their unique cultural heritage and the connection to their traditional lands. We commit to building genuine and lasting partnerships that recognise, embrace and support the spirit of reconciliation, working towards self-determination, equity of outcomes and an equal voice for Australia’s first people.