Visited by more tourists than any other natural attraction in Australia, the Apostles are in the Port Campbell National Park which gets pretty busy with over 2,500,000 visitors each year.
Over the last 15-20 million years, the oceans’ erosion has created these huge stacks from the Sandstone & Limestone coastline that formed at the bottom of a super deep ocean.
The 12 Apostles are pretty impressive and a highlight along this coastline, but just one of the many wonders of the Great Ocean Road and nearby area.
The Eight 12 Apostles
There are eight ’12 Apostles’ and there has only ever been nine of them, since they were renamed in the 1920s.
You can see just five of them from the 12 Apostles viewing area and need to drive a few kilometers down the road to the Loch Ard Gorge car park then go for a short walk to the Razorback to see the other three.
Each of the eight Sandstone and Limestone ‘stacks’ that make up the ’12’ Apostles are just one group of them along this incredible coastline. Heading further west, from the Apostles right deep into South Australia, you’ll find hundreds more, although the 12 Apostles are by far the most well known and potentially the most impressive.
Getting to the 12 Apostles
It’s not just the amazing group of sandstone stacks that makes so many people want to travel here. The Apostles are the main attraction in the area, although they’re surrounded by hundreds of kilometers incredible coastline and forest that attracts millions of people each year
It is possible to get to the Twelve Apostles in less than three hours from Melbourne by taking the inland and most direct route, although it’s most commonly one of the last visits on a single or multi-day Great Ocean Road trip.
History of the 12 Apostles
This coastline is the tragic site for hundreds of shipwrecks, most of which occurred in the 1850’s during the Australian gold rush era, when tens of thousands of Europeans and Chinese rushed to Melbourne on the hunt for wealth.
The 12 Apostles were first seen by large amounts of Europeans and Chinese in the 1800’s, although it was inhabited for tens of thousands of years prior by the local Indigenous people.
Geologically, the intriguing history of the 12 Apostles spans back a much longer amount of time.
How the 12 Apostles were formed
The 12 Apostles are eight 45 metre tall Limestone Stacks shaped by erosion.
Over 20 millions years ago the area where the 12 Apostles are today was a super deep ocean for a really long time.
Plant and animal matter that died and sunk to the ocean floor, along with sand from the rivers and other ocean debris that ended up down there slowly compacted over thousands of years from the massive pressure of the huge amount of water above. This created the Sandstone and Limestone (Limestone is Sandstone where 50% or more is made up of fossils) right along the Great Ocean Road.
The water level has changed many times, it’s current level has remained similar for the last 6,000 years, since the end of the last Ice Age. The wind and ocean have eroded the stone at a rate of about 1.5-2cms per year.
At first, the erosion causes caves to form at sea level. Eventually, the caves will turn into passages tunneling through the stone. Some parts of the stone will erode faster than others, depending on its’ make up. In time, the tunnels will get so big that the roof will fall out in areas and the entry or other parts of the tunnel turn into large arch ways. With a bit more time, the centre of the arch way will collapse, leaving what is called a Limestone ‘stack’.
In the future, more Apostles and similar stacks will collapse, although many more of these stacks will form along the Limestone coastline that stretches for hundreds of kilometers across the south of Australia.
Sow & Piglets renamed 12 Apostles
The original name came from George Bass in 1798 when he was exploring the area by sea, then the name was used commonly by new immigrants to identify the landmark that meant they were close to the end of their long voyage.
During the 1800’s, particularly from the 1830’s when immigration from Europe to Australia started to increase, then in the 1850’s right up to the early 1900’s during the gold rush era, ships use to take the ‘Clipper Route’ from England to Melbourne.
The Clipper Route went south of Africa, using the the Roaring Forties (strong winds below Africa & Australia) to sail thousands of kilometers east where no land would be seen until the 12 Apostles and surrounding area.
As ships sailed past a small sandstone island that is now known as ‘Mutton Bird Island‘ and the stacks now known as the 12 Apostles, they’d refer to the landmark as the ‘Sow and Piglets’. Mutton Bird Island was the ‘Sow’ (mother Pig) and the Apostles were the Piglets.
It’s said that when the gold rush ended in 1918 due to the last large gold mine closing in Ballarat, less people would travel past the Sow & Piglets, the beauty of this place was less talked about and tourism was down.
A few years later in the 1920’s, the locals started investigating why such a lack of people wanted to visit the incredible Sow and Piglets. After a short while, it was determined that the name wasn’t too attractive so in order to give a bit of justice to the incredible coastline, it was renamed ‘The Apostles’.
Some locals say that originally there was no ’12’ in the name, then due to the bible reference and some other natural stone formations around the world being named the ’12 Apostles’, tour agents begun referring to them as the ’12 Apostles of the Great Ocean Road’ and the Sow & Piglets name was forgotten.
Tips for visiting the 12 Apostles
Being the most visited tourist attraction in Australia and hours from the capital city, it’s worth being prepared for your visit so that you can get the absolute most out of your trip to the 12 Apostles.
How to get the best photo of the 12 Apostles
Morning. Sunny Day, Some Clouds. East, Facing West.
You’ll just need to take a look at a small sample of photos of the 12 Apostles to see that some are breathtakingly incredible, others look like a photo of a dirty rock or overcrowded boardwalk.
Millions of people visit the Apostles every year, so it’s best to get there early in the morning, before the loads of buses arrive from Melbourne.
From the car park and visitor information centre, head straight to the furthest part of the walk that you can go, which is out to a point called Castle Rock at the main Apostles viewing area. It’s tempting to stop and take photos as soon as you get to the area where the Apostles can be seen, but if you keep walking you’ll get an insanely better view with another huge 45 metre sandstone stack that you won’t be able to see from the first viewing area.
At this area, if you face east (towards Melbourne), you’ll actually be looking at Gog & Magog, which are also Sandstone stacks, but they aren’t part of the 12 Apostles. Make sure you’re facing west and you’ll be able to see five of the 12 Apostles. It looks like you can see more than five stacks, but a lot of the what you see is actually still attached to the mainland.
To view the other remaining three of the 12 Apostles, you’ll need to drive for few minutes west to Loch Ard Gorge and walk about 300 metres to the Razor Back (it’s all well signed) Once you get to the Razor Back, look past it and you’ll be able to see the other three of the eight 12 Apostles.
Due to the position of the sun, you’ll get the best photo in the morning as the main viewing platform faces west, otherwise if you arrive in the afternoon, you’ll still be able to get an amazing photo of Gog & Magog or just head down the road to Loch Ard Gorge (we actually think it’s more fun down at Loch Ard Gorge anyway!).
When to visit
It starts getting busy at about 10:30am and peaks in the mid afternoon at about 3:30pm. Summer is much busier than any other time of the year, the most busiest week being from Boxing Day (26th of December) to the New Year.
It’s definitely best to visit in the morning! It gets extremely busy here, there have been times in recent years where tens of thousands of visitors have headed there from Melbourne on the same day.
Most of the tour companies aim to leave Melbourne between 7:00-7:45am. The majority of the tour companies and tourists traveling in their own cars will go via the Great Ocean Road and arrive at the 12 Apostles at about 3:00-4:00pm, however it’s becoming pretty popular for the tour groups to head straight to the Apostles first, getting there between 10:00-11:00am.
People heading directly to the Apostles from Melbourne also usually arrive from about 10:00am onwards and it’s common to still find a crowed there long after the sun goes down.
To avoid as many people as you can, aim at arriving at about 9:30am. There will still be some tourists around, but not many and then you’ll be able to get one of the best coffee’s that can be found anywhere on the Great Ocean Road when the visitor information centre opens at 10:00am.
Single Day Visit versus a Multi Day Trip
We’ve met people that only want to see the 12 Apostles and don’t care for anything else, so of course it makes sense for these people to head directly to the 12 Apostles from Melbourne and then return again in one day.
It takes about three hours to get to the Apostles directly from Melbourne. Allow one-two hours to check the place out.
We suggest at least heading along the Great Ocean Road on a full day or multi-day trip. The Great Ocean Road is incredible! It starts about one and a half hours south-west of Melbourne or 25 minutes from Geelong.
Although you can drive along the entire 243 kms of the Great Ocean Road, visit the 12 Apostles and return to Melbourne in one day, there’s so much to see along the way and past the Apostles. We have taken people on nine night tours along the Great Ocean Road, into South Australia to the Limestone Coast, returning to Melbourne via the Grampians. In short, the more time, the better!
Tours to the 12 Apostles
It’s possible to do express tours to the 12 Apostles from Melbourne or Geelong. But it’s a long way to see just one of the dozens of incredible sights along the Great Ocean Road.
A 12 Apostles express tour isn’t recommend but contact us if this is what you’re after – we can take you or give you some other options on how to do this.
Typically, Great Ocean Road tours are just single day tours, which means they are long! Usually, tour groups leave Melbourne between 7:00-8:00am and return about 12 hours later. It is a good day, but you only experience a fraction of the Great Ocean Road and Otways Forest.
There’s a huge amount of variety in these tours. The most common “small group tour” is still on a 25 seat bus, which leaves people with quite a few complaints by the end of the day in regards to comfort and the lack of time spent at each destination. It is possible to book a seat on a larger coach for a bit more comfort, but the bigger the bus, the less places it can visit.
If you have the time, we strongly suggest booking an over night tour so that you can really experience the Great Ocean Road. A week could easily be spent traveling the road, so a single day tour just isn’t enough time but if that’s all you can do, it’s still definitely worth it!
BPTRV run tours for with a maximum of three passengers (unless booked well in advance so there’s time to hire a larger vehicle). Whether it be that you just have time for a one day tour or are wanting to spend several days exploring the Great Ocean Road, chat to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll figure out the best tour for you. Otherwise, if you want information on any other tours for whatever reason, feel free to email us as Guy has worked for a bunch of different Great Ocean Road tour operators.
Accommodation & camping near the 12 Apostles
If you’re lucky enough to be spending the night along the Great Ocean Road, staying at a hotel, hostel or camping near the 12 Apostles could be the ideal location.
Depending where you’re coming from and where you’re going, the location works well. If you’ve left Melbourne to head along the Great Ocean Road, the Apostles are almost at the end of your journey, making it a great choice for your first or second nights accommodation. On the other hand, if you’ve come from Adelaide, the Grampians or anywhere else, camping near the 12 Apostles allows you to be right at the start/end of the Great Ocean Road so that you can explore it on your way to Melbourne the following day.
There are no camp grounds or hotels at the Apostles, but a 5-10 minute drive along the Great Ocean Road in either direction will take you to small towns with loads of options.
Heading east (towards Melbourne) for 10 kms brings you to Princetown. There is some budget accommodation in the centre of Princtown called the 12 Apostles Inn or set-up your caravan or tent across the road at the Apostles Camping Park & Cabins. The camping park here is our preferred place to stay as it’s small and quiet with good, clean facilities.
If you want to camp right next to Kangaroos and hear the roar of the Southern Ocean breaking into the Gellibrand River Mouth, then head down to the Princetown Recreational Reserve where you can can camp on the oval at one of the most affordable campsites on the Great Ocean Road. There are showers and toilets here but not much else. The reason you’d chose this camp is due to the nearby wildlife and short walk to the mighty Southern Ocean, not for comfort and the facilities.
You can take part of the Great Ocean Walk and head to the 12 Apostles by foot from Princetown. It’ll take a couple of hours but the view is well worth it! Here’s some more information on Princetown.
Heading west from the 12 Apostles for about 11kms will take you to Port Campbell which has to be one of the most beautiful towns along the entire Great Ocean Road.
Here, there are dozens of accommodation options, from luxurious beach houses to a backpackers hostel, motels and campgrounds.
Port Campbell is the last town on the Great Ocean Road that has shops, restaurants and accommodation (although Warrnambool is much larger and only a ten minute drive west from the official end of the Great Ocean Road Allansford or it’s about one hour from the 12 Apostles). You can read more about Port Campbell here.
Looking for somewhere a bit more remote? If you’re willing to drive for another hour or so into the Great Otway National Park, back along the Great Ocean Road towards Melbourne, then you could be treated with a campsite in the rain forest at Aire Crossing or camp just behind the incredible 3.6km beach at Johnanna Beach Campground.