Cape Bridgewater is a small town located on the southern coast of Australia. The town is home to a population of just over 1,000 people and is known for its beautiful beaches and laid-back lifestyle making it the perfect place for holiday makers or adventure seekers.
Cape Bridgewater was formed by an ancient volcano crater which is now connected to the mainland by calcified sand dunes. This gives it some of the most spectacular scenery this side of the state of Victoria.
Cape Bridgewater is located just 21 kilometers (13 miles) south-west of Portland. Though the Great Ocean Road technically ends at Allansford, some 103 kilometers (64.5 miles) away, Cape Bridgewater and nearby Portland are still considered to be classic destinations in the Great Ocean Road region.
Cape Bridgewater is only a 20-minute drive from Portland, an hour and a half from Allansford, and a 4-hour and 15-minute drive from the Victoria state capital of Melbourne.
The History of Cape Bridgewater
On the 4th of December 1800, both Cape Bridgewater and Bridgewater Bay were named after the Duke of Bridgewater by lieutenant James Grant sailing on his ship the Lady Nelson.
However, it wasn’t until more than thirty years later that the Bridgewater Bay region was first settled by the Henty family, a livestock farming family from England that had moved to Australia in hopes of finding better land. Although their settlements in the Victoria region were technically illegal and considered “squatting,” it was through their pioneering that the first settlements in both Cape Bridgewater and Portland were formed.
Between 1849 and 1850, the Cape Bridgewater area was first surveyed, and in 1850 the land was opened up for pastoral leasing. Even through all this growth, the population remained small, by 1860 there were only 38 families living in the area. Nevertheless, the Cape Bridgewater area continued to develop as its first post office opened in 1863.
Jumping into the 20th century, sale yards were created in early 1900 for the display and sale of livestock. This would remain the lifeblood of the community for a few more decades. However, through the 50’s and 60’s the population would decrease and the livestock economy would dry up.
Happily, this wasn’t the end for secluded Cape Bridgewater, as in the 1970’s people first began to see the area’s natural beauty as a draw for vacationers. Throughout the 1970’s and ’80s, holiday homes were built at Bridgewater Beach, and the area began its transition from a town run by the livestock industry, to the attractive vacation spot that it is today!
The Beaches of Cape Bridgewater
Cape bridgewater is known for its stunning beaches, don’t miss them.
Bridgewater Bay Beach
Cape Bridgewater’s main beach, and one of the biggest attractions for visitors, Bridgewater Beach, or “Bridgie” as it is known to the locals should be the first stop on your Cape Bridgewater adventure. The 4-kilometer-long wide sandy beach has been ranked by the Royal Life Saving Club as one of Australia’s top 10 beaches.
It is the only beach in the Cape Bridgwater area that is patrolled by a surf lifesaving club, making it the safest option for watersports such as swimming, surfing, or sailboarding. If you want to swim, it is better to stick to the western side of the beach where it is patrolled. The eastern side of the beach is filled with strong, permanent riptides that can easily pull you out to sea.
If the more well-known beaches aren’t your style, you might check out Whites Beach. A small, isolated beach on the north side of Cape Bridgewater, Whites Beach is one of the lesser-known beaches in the area.
Not easily accessible and backed by 50-meter-high calcarenite bluffs, Whites Beach might be your ticket if you are looking to lose the crowd. The permanent rips and rocks, coupled with the reefs offshore create a challenging surf spot for experienced surfers, but dangerous swimming.
Gaining its name from the fact that much of the beach is covered in small, white shells, Shelly Beach is another must-see destination in the Cape Bridgewater region. The beach is popular with rock fishermen who cast their lines from the rocky outcrops, but it is equally favored by shell collectors who come for the beach’s namesake.
Shelly Beach is a great place to spend the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the view, however it is important to understand that the beach is not considered safe for swimming, due to the dangerous riptides and the fact that the beach is unpatrolled. Here, it’s probably best to stick to the sand.
What to do at Cape Bridgewater
Swimming and Surfing
Bridgewater Bay beach is a well-known spot for surfing, swimming, sailboarding, and surf fishing. If you like to swim, be sure to stick to the western side of the wide sandy beach where the water is calmer and the beach is patrolled by the local surf lifesaving club.
If surfing is your thing, the Bridgewater Bay area offers a range of breaks and waves to suit your experience and capabilities. As a rule, the waves grow in intensity from the western end of the beach to the eastern end, where rocks and reefs crease strong, permanent rips.
The beach is also home to the Portland Surf Life Saving Club which was founded in 1971. The club patrols the western end of the beach and boasts 3 rescues annually.
Following a short section of the Great South West Walk, the Bridgewater seal walk is a grade 2 hike that is considered easy to moderate, with no trail hiking experience needed. The hike is a 6.8 kilometer return hike, and should only take you two hours to complete.
The walk takes you past the highest coastal cliffs in Victoria, and ends at a viewing platform from which you can see a colony of about 650 Australian and New Zealand fur seals. This is the only mainland breeding site for these seals, which makes this a unique opportunity.
If you haven’t had enough of seals, you could always travel about an hour to the west to view the largest colony of Australian Fur Seals in the Southern Hemisphere at Lady Julia Percy Island near Port Fairy!
Petrified Forest and Blowholes
The Cape Bridgewater blowholes are formations of basalt and scoria purple rock that can create large spouts of water in high seas. The large sprays are said to be accompanied by a loud roar and have been the cause of many native superstitions.
Not far from the blowholes is perhaps Cape Bridgewaters most famous attraction. The “Petrified Forest” is a grouping of tall tubular rock formations. The earliest origin theory imagined that a coastal forest had been buried by advancing sand and turned to stone. More recently it has been discovered that the formations are hollow limestone tubes known as solution pipes. The oddity of their appearance have made them the number one sight to see in the Cape Bridgewater area.
Tarragal Limestone Caves
Described as “dramatic,” “commanding,” and, “eerie,” the Tarragal limestone caves are a massive cave network stretching between the towns of Cape Bridgewater and Tarragal. Hidden in plain sight, the cave entrance is easy to drive right past, but once you make it up to the opening you will have a magnificent view over Bridgewater lakes all the way to Discovery Bay.
Travelers have warned that you should wear good hiking shoes when visiting the caves as the 50-meter walk uphill to the cave entrance is very steep. The caves themselves aren’t very deep, so there’s little danger in entering them and taking a look around. With six caves in all to explore, the Tarragal caves make for a great afternoon adventure, or just a nice place to take a break on your South Australian road trip!
Seals aren’t the only aquatic mammal that regularly visits Cape Bridgewater. If you spot the whale flag flying outside the Portland information center, there’s a chance you may be able to catch a glimpse of the cape’s other most famous visitor.
From May to October, Southern Right Whales pass by on their migration from the Southern Ocean to the warmer waters of southern Australia, where they will mate and calve. These whales can also be seen at other locations in Victoria like Warrnambool. Southern Right Whales are easily identifiable by the large white bumps on the tops and sides of their heads.
In the winter you might be able to spot a Blue Whale, earth’s largest mammal. They can grow up to 24 meters long, and weigh over 100 tonnes. Cape Bridgewater is one of the few places in the world where Blue Whales can be viewed while feeding.
As you can see, Cape Bridgewater has much to offer for people of all interests. From surfing on the technical reef of White’s Beach, to watching the Southern Right Wales, to exploring the ancient Tarragal caves, there’s something here for everyone!