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 is very popular for bird watching from September through to April.
Griffiths Island with its colony of shearwater seabirds, winding pathways and the spectacular lighthouse at the eastern tip, is a great place to explore.
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 Island was name Griffiths after John Griffiths, who established Port Fairy’s whaling industry on the island in the 1830’s. No trace of this activity can be found today.
A dune habitat comprising 37 hectares of remnant coastal scrub and grassland, this crown land parcel was first reserved as a public park in 1902.
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 first documented European to visit Port Fairy was Captain Wishart who took shelter during a storm while looking for sealing grounds in 1828.
In 1833 John Griffiths set up a whaling station on the island and had a large timber house built there in 1837.
The lighthouse – c.1859 and built of local bluestone – stands sentinel on the eastern tip of the island and still sends its light out to sea. 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.
At dusk birdwatchers are in for a treat as the colony of shearwaters, or muttonbirds, return in swarms to their nests after a day fishing out to sea. These little birds arrive here late September from the Aleutian Islands near Alaska. Following the laying and incubating of their eggs in January, the birds leave again for the northern hemisphere in April.
By the early 1840’s so many whales had been killed that the supply was almost exhausted and the whaling station closed.
The lighthouse and a lighthouse keeper’s cottage were built around 1859 with stone sourced directly from the island. Originally painted red, it was changed to white in the 1930’s.
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.
The lighthouse – c.1859 and built of local bluestone – stands sentinel on the eastern tip of the island and still sends its light out to sea.
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 Short-tailed Shearwater (Ardenna tenuirostris) or “Mutton Bird” nests in large numbers on Griffiths Island. The name “Mutton Bird” was given to it by early settlers who used its fatty flesh for food and as an oil source.
Each year the breeding birds return to the nesting grounds 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.
Both parents feed at sea during the day, returning at dusk to feed the chick by regurgitating food from their stomach. 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.
There are no toilets or shelter on the island, the nearest being at Martin’s Point. It takes approximately 25 minutes to walk to the lighthouse via the walk along the formed river bank and a limestone track.
A complete circuit of the island takes about 60 minutes on foot. 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.
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.
Two of the earliest shipwrecks in Victoria happened on the south coast of the island. In November 1842 the Dusty Miller was caught in a gale.
Thankfully all but one person survived; and in May 1846 the Squatter came to grief on a reef after being battered by heavy weather. Fortunately no lives were lost in this incident. Around 1850, a Mrs Dunlop maintained a kind of mission on the island for the education of Aborigines. She was apparently a colourful character, using a whaleboat crewed by six Aborigines in red shirts and white trousers for trips to the mainland. The mission was apparently unsuccessful closing in 1853.
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.