Big waves breaking over cliff tops on the West Coast near Port Campbell

The forecast was for gale force onshore winds with an 8m+ swell around Pt Campbell on Sunday, peaking a few hours after midnight – and that’s what happened.

Coastal cliffs just west of Loch Ard Gorge & Mutton Bird Island

Huge surf breaking on cliffs near Pt Campbell and Twelve Apostles
The wind at the time this was taken was blowing from the SSW at 30-44 knots according to the BoM observations. When I took this photo it was in the higher range and blew me off balance requiring a few backward steps to stay upright.
Huge surf breaking on cliffs near Pt Campbell and Twelve Apostles
Huge surf breaking on cliffs near Pt Campbell and Twelve Apostles
Huge surf breaking on cliffs near Pt Campbell and Twelve Apostles
Huge surf breaking on cliffs near Pt Campbell and Twelve Apostles

Huge surf breaking on cliffs near Pt Campbell and Twelve Apostles

Huge surf breaking on cliffs near Pt Campbell and Twelve Apostles
Big surf breaking at Pt Campbell
Just after dawn when the wind was strongest, the seas at all locations I visited were generating a lot of foam. The gale force wind picked it up from the waves and lifted it up and over the clifftops in sizeable foamy clumps. I tried unsuccessfully to capture a shot of the flying foam. But when editing the photos I noticed I had inadvertently caught this clump whizzing past me. The flying foam pieces looked as though someone was throwing scones up and over the cliffs. Car parks were covered in pieces of foam as if there had been a snowball fight.

Port Campbell

The Pt Campbell jetty, looking out to sea. Any ocean swimmer who has done the annual ocean swimming race at Pt Campbell will know that conditions like this at the seaward turn buoy would be a daunting sight.
Pt Campbell bay with big swell
This photo was taken pretty early in the day. I arrived at Loch Ard Gorge at sunrise just after low tide. This line of kelp and seaweed on the nature strip at Pt Campbell is stark evidence that I had clearly missed the main show in the dark early hours of the day. Even if only momentarily, at some point, this was the high water mark in the wild conditions after midnight! This bay faces south west, the exact direction the wind was coming from at that time. Later in the morning the wind eased slightly and backed around to the south.
Storm surf at Pt Campbell
I have never seen Pt Campbell beach sand lifted by waves on to the elevated nature strip as shown.

Views from Curdies River mouth at Peterborough

Huge surf breaking on cliffs near Peterborough
This photo was taken looking east from the lookout in the middle of Peterborough, which overlooks Curdies River mouth and the exposed rocky reefs just offshore which have claimed more than one sailing ship in the nineteenth century. The larger of the two points shown is Point Hesse (which is the point with London Bridge on its western side).
Huge surf breaking on cliffs near Peterborough

View from remote west coast cliffs

There is no maintained or marked path to this west coast location. After bush bashing for a short distance to one of my favourite vantage points on this part of the coast, a squall line moved in with very strong gusty winds and driving rain. Luckily I was in fully waterproof gear. The short duration storm was so wet and wild that sitting in the lee of this bush appealed more than taking it all on the chin. As shown, my Nikon with its 150-600mm telephoto lens fitted also has fully waterproof cover. The camera stayed dry all day. I was soaked more than once, including by saltwater from spray and water blowing up and over clifftops at some locations.
Storm surf at Two Mile
With gale force onshore winds, this big surf location was blown out. But waves of significance were still marching to the cliffs over the offshore reef here, even if they were closing out as shown. The green face of this wave would have been at least four times overhead in my estimation. I readily acknowledge that surfers would call it a ‘solid 8 foot’.
The immediately preceding post on this blog discusses rips including this one near Pt Campbell. The long line of unbroken water heading from inside Pt Campbell bay and out to sea, is a deep channel. In surf of this size it is the location of a strong rip (shown by the arrow in the second of these two shots) as all that water coming ashore with the swell finds it way back out to deeper water.
Big current going out to sea at Pt Campbell
The channel going out to sea from Pt Campbell bay.
The very centre of this image shows where the rip coming out to sea via the green channel finally reaches deeper water and slows down and dissipates. The area of surface turbulence as currents and wind oppose each other is clear. The water is also discoloured in the rip as sand and other material from the seabed inshore is carried seaward by the rip. It would be quite a quick trip paddling a surfboard from the beach inside the bay at Pt Campbell out to this point beyond the zone of breaking waves. As for paddling back in, surfers would have no option but to use the white water either side of the rip, with wind and waves assisting the passage back to dry land. For the record though, I didn’t see a single surfboard off car racks west of Cape Otway. Had the wind been offshore with this swell, there would’ve been some epic surfing and the day would’ve gone down in local surf lore as Big Sunday.

The Twelve Apostles

Twelve Apostles in storm surf
The Twelve Apostles as viewed across wild seas. A less common perspective on these iconic sea stacks (of which there are actually 8, and counting, down).

Broken Head viewed from headland near Bakers Oven Rock

Big surf breaking over cliffs at Broken Head near Twelve Apostles
Broken Head as viewed from the adjacent headland west of it. Loch Ard Gorge and Mutton Bird Island are just to the east of this promontory. The more vivid colours in this shot are attributable to a brief appearance by the sun. For perspective, visible on the very left of the image on the headland, is a multi-strand wire fence of conventional waist height. The difference in water level ahead of and behind the wave in the foreground is a good indication of the size and power of the swell. The unbroken waves in the top right above the headland also give some idea of the size of the swell.
Big surf breaking over cliffs at Broken Head near Twelve Apostles

Mutton Bird Island, viewed from Broken Head

Big surf breaking on Mutton Bird Island near Loch Ard Gorge
This is the southern tip of Mutton Bird Island, which is where the sailing ship Loch Ard was shipwrecked just before dawn on 1 June 1878. The Loch Ard was a 263 foot clipper, carrying freight, 37 crew and 17 passengers. Only two passengers survived, Tom Pearce (a crewman) and Eva Carmichael (a passenger). They were both around 18 years of age. Parts of the wreck are still visible and divers continue to visit the site. The story of the Loch Ard shipwreck is well worth reading.
Big surf breaking on Mutton Bird Island near Loch Ard Gorge
Big surf breaking on Mutton Bird Island near Loch Ard Gorge
Note the difference in water level ahead of and behind this wave. Duck diving under this wave would be a singular experience.

Broken Head & Survey Gorge

Broken Head and Survey Gorge near Twelve Apostles
I took this photo while standing on Broken Head. The white spray in the foreground is rising from the gorge which feeds into Thunder Cave. The other higher curtain of spray is in the adjacent Survey Gorge.
Broken Head and breaking waves
Waves breaking over cliff tops near Loch Ard Gorge

Thunder Cave at Broken Head

Thunder Cave at Broken Head
The water was constantly white and turbulent as wave after wave poured untold volumes of water into this narrow gorge, with the water level rising and falling up the rough walls
At the head of the gorge, in a pattern repeated right up and down this coast, the water has created a cave by flowing in and out with great force in sea conditions such as these, thereby progressively undermining the land above it. (See the videos below).

Little Henty Reef, from Hayley Point

Surf at Little Henty Reef
No big swell day would be complete without a trip to Hayley Point at Marengo, located a couple of kms from where I live. Readers of this blog will know that I have taken countless photos of big waves breaking over the reefs comprising Little Henty Reef. There are many more to come.
Surf at Little Henty Reef
The wave in front has some substance. The looming peak following has more.
Surf at Little Henty Reef
The nature of the reef, the seabed and the surrounding channels at Little Henty mean that waves rarely break simply in text book fashion on this Reef. I find it endlessly fascinating when the swell is up, and I spend hours on my photographer’s eyrie on the tip of Hayley Point rugged up, camera in hand. I saw a lot of waves along the coast on Sunday, but none quite like this one.

5 thoughts on “Big waves breaking over cliff tops on the West Coast near Port Campbell

  1. G’day John.

    Great photos!

    We were away for the weekend and unfortunately missed it all. How will the beach protection work withstand a sea like that?—-Reg

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Awesome photos. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been there will realise just how high the spray from those waves is going! I’ve been down there on days like that (including last year when almost no one was around). It’s amazing to see just how powerful the sea is on a stormy day in this region and makes it easy to understand how it has claimed so many ships.

    Like

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