We step back in geological time to investigate this Biblical oddity on the Victorian coastline.
How old are the Twelve Apostles?
No one knows for sure, but these rock formations are believed to be over twenty million years old.
How did the Twelve Apostles form?
They are an offshore collection of limestone stacks along the Great Ocean Road, this sculpted coastline originated 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 wilful Southern Ocean gradually eroded the softer limestone, forming caves in the cliffs, which eventually became arches. When they collapsed, rock islands up to 65 metres 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.
“We arrived in darkness to position ourselves for sunrise” (photo: Ken Duncan)
How were the Twelve Apostles named?
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.
Why are there only seven?
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 (known as Judas) went from a magnificent 50 metre stack to a pile of rubble in seconds.
On 25 September, 2009, another rock came crumbling down. Although not as dramatic an exit as the Judas, this small formation eroded due to weather conditions. Located out the back near Razorback Lookout, this was the most recent Apostle to have fallen.
What the Twelve Apostles look like today.
Back in January 1990, the rock formation linking the London Bridge to the mainland collapsed. Two tourists who were climbing the bridge at the time needed to be rescued by a police helicopter. Luckily no one was injured. This incident ironically brought a sense of reality to the children’s song, “London Bridge Is Falling Down”.
In June 2009, shortly before the 5th rock had fallen, the Island Archway near Loch Ard Gorge also collapsed and became two separate rock formations. Initially the decision was to leave the name as is, but later on it was changed to Tom and Eva. Paying homage to the two teenage survivors from the Loch Ard Shipwreck.
This natural landmark draws in over 2 million visitors per year. Making it the third most popular natural site in Australia (after Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef).
The Twelve Apostles Marine National Park includes some of Victoria’s most spectacular underwater scenery, including dramatic underwater arches, canyons, fissures, gutters and deep sloping reefs.
Tours to the Twelve Apostles
Dependent on where you’re located, tour packages to the Twelve Apostles differ in terms of price and length.
For Melbourne-dwellers, Sightseeing Tours offers a one-day package to the Great Ocean Road and Twelve Apostles for only $105 per person. Picking you up from a pre-determined CBD or St Kilda location, this bus will take you along the breathtaking coastline, stopping at popular beaches, seaside towns, Otway Rainforest (with the tallest eucalyptus trees in Australia) and of course, ending at the Twelve Apostles.
Kepler Tours offers a two-day small group tour along the Great Ocean Road which picks up passengers from Geelong and Melbourne CBD. Owners (and brothers), Steve and Matt have put together a jam-packed tour full of the essential highlights including the 12 Apostles, as well as a few hidden gems only the locals know about. The tour includes a nights stay in the heart of Warrnambool for the all-inclusive price of $219. You can also choose to upgrade your stay to a suite with your own bathroom and kitchenette for a fee.
This Twelve Apostles tour heads through Otway Rainforest, with some of the tallest eucalyptus trees in the world.
If you want to make the most of this experience and don’t mind splashing a bit of cash, then book yourself in for Helicopter Scenic Flight through the landmark. The cheapest package is $145 per person for 15 minutes of flight time. But you’ll be able to hang above the Twelve Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, The Sentinel, The Arch and London Bridge.
Book a spot on the Twelve Apostles Helicopter Scenic Tour.
If you’re located in Geelong, lucky you! You’ve only got a 2 hour road trip ahead. Whereas Melbourne city slickers, you’ve got a 3 hour drive inland to reach the rocks. If you’re willing to tack on another hour to the journey, take the Great Ocean Road for some spectacular scenic views.
For the brave, there are also walking tours that head out to the landmark. You can choose between a moderate or easy route and Aus Walking Co. also include 5-star accommodation in their package. If you feel comfortable walking 7 hours in a day, then you won’t want to do this trip any other way.
Take a guided tour through the Victorian coastline.
If you’d rather hit the road all by yourself, with no guide and no time limit, we salute you. Great Ocean Road Walks gives you the tools to plan out the entire trip. Pack a tent and choose to rough it under the stars, or treat yourself to any of the many hotel stays along the way.
If you want to walk alongside the highway, then hit up our guide to walking the Great Ocean Road.