AT rock hound Kerry van der Jagt steps back in geological time to investigate this Biblical oddity on the Victorian coastline. 

Short answer // An increasingly inaccurately named group of fallen rock stars playing in the surf off the coast of Victoria.

Long Answer // An offshore collection of limestone stacks along the Great Ocean Road, this sculpted coastline originated around 20 million years ago when billions of tiny marine skeletons accumulated on the ocean floor, gradually creating limestone formations. As the ocean retreated, the cliffs were exposed above the sea level.

The wild and willful Southern Ocean gradually eroded the softer limestone, forming caves in the cliffs, which eventually became arches. When they collapsed, rock islands up to 65m high were left isolated from the shore. This process also created a host of other natural features including Pudding Basin Rock, Elephant Rock, Muttonbird Island, Thunder Cave, Bakers Oven, London Bridge and the Grotto.

Until the 1960s the formations were called the Sow and Pigs – Muttonbird Island being the sow and the stacks the piglets. Then, in a flash of marketing brilliance, they were renamed the Apostles. By some divine intervention the name soon evolved into The Twelve Apostles – even though you could only see nine at the time.

But how many you can count depends on where you stand and what you include; there are actually as many as 30 stacks stretched along the coast, but not all are visible from the viewing areas. It’s a work in progress. In January 1990 the children’s song “London Bridge Is Falling Down” became reality when the rock formation linking the London Bridge to the mainland collapsed. Two wild-eyed tourists had to be rescued by police helicopter. Then, at 9.18am on July 3, 2005, one of the Apostles had its last supper. Onlookers reported that the stack shimmied and shuddered a bit, fractured and then imploded before sliding into the ocean. The 12th Apostle went from a magnificent 50m stack to a pile of rubble in seconds.

You probably knew // London Bridge is now humbly known as the London Arch.

But did you know // The Twelve Apostles Marine NP includes some of Victoria’s most spectacular underwater scenery, including dramatic underwater arches, canyons, fissures, gutters and deep sloping reefs.

And did you also know // The Twelve Apostles rock formation is the third most popular natural site in Australia (after Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef).

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