Beacons of hope

David Adams discovers the state's lighthouses offer shelter for sailors and landlubbers alike.

Standing tall along Victoria's coastal clifftops, the state's lighthouses have long stood silent witness to the ships that have passed under their protection - whether a hopeful beacon for those looking for a new life in a strange land or warning of the dangers of the turbulent seas they are charged with watching over. And while many still perform an essential task in protecting Australia's shipping, the lighthouses these days are also a great place to visit, whether for a day or overnight.

Cape Nelson Lightstation

The red-capped Cape Nelson lighthouse, which dates from the 1880s and was built to help with navigation into Bass Strait, is about 13 kilometres south of Portland. The atmospheric - and often blustery - lightstation precinct, tours of which are run twice daily at 11am and 2pm ($15 an adult, $10 a child or $40 for a family of four), can be reached by car or as part of the 250-kilometre Great South West Walk (the seal colony at nearby Cape Bridgewater is worth the walk). There's a cafe on site and accommodation available at the two recently restored cottages. One night costs $180 a couple a night or $250 for two couples and includes breakfast.

Not far away is the squat Whalers Bluff Lighthouse, in Portland. Originally built on Battery Point in 1859, it was later moved stone by stone. It's not open to the public but is easily accessible for a look.

Phone 5523 5119 or 0411 479 079, or email mgar4332@bigpond.net.au.

Lady Bay lighthouses, Warrnambool

Originally located on Middle Island, next to Warrnambool's harbour, the south-western town's two lighthouses were moved to their current location on Flagstaff Hill only 30 years after they were built. Now known as the Lady Bay Upper and Lower, both are within the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village ($15.95 an adult, $12.50 concession or $39 a family and includes a guided tour of the upper lighthouse). Accommodation in the newly renovated three-bedroom Lighthouse Lodge, built in 1911 and originally used as the harbour master's residence, opened this week. A single room costs $155, entire lodge is $375.

In nearby Port Fairy, a lighthouse stands on Griffiths Island, reached from the town across a causeway. There are some interesting explanatory panels and the foundations of the former keeper's cottage are still visible.

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Phone 1800 556 111, see www.flagstaffhill.com.

Cape Otway Lightstation

Located just to the west of Apollo Bay, the Cape Otway Lightstation (entry is $16.50 an adult, $7.50 a child or $41.50 for a family ticket) includes the oldest surviving lighthouse in mainland Australia. Roam among the complex's buildings, which include a telegraph station and World War II radar bunker, and climb the lighthouse for panoramic views. The lightstation also has a cafe, and accommodation in charming heritage buildings costs from $195 a night for a couple.

Phone 5237 9240, see lightstation.com.

Split Point Lighthouse, Aireys Inlet

Perched above the clifftops just off the Great Ocean Road, Split Point Lighthouse - known affectionately among old salts as the "White Queen" - is open for guided tours on weekends and during school holidays (adults $12, children $7 or a family of four $35). Built in 1891, it was originally named Eagles Nest Point (it overlooks Eagle Rock). There are some interesting interpretative panels around the base of the lighthouse, which are part of the William Buckley Trail. There's a cafe in one of the former assistant lighthouse-keeper's premises.

Tours by Eco-Logic Education & Environment Services, phone 1800 174 045, see ecologic.net.au.

Bellarine Peninsula lighthouses

A 90-minute drive from Melbourne, the Point Lonsdale Lighthouse stands guard over the entrance to Port Phillip Bay and has witnessed many a ship come to grief at The Rip. It's still a great place to watch ships coming into the bay. Tours, which are for ages five and up, cost $6 an adult or $4 a child and run on Sundays between 9.30am and 1pm. Underneath is a cave that, so the story goes, was once home to the "wild white man", William Buckley, who lived for 32 years among the local Aborigines in the early 1800s.

The nearby town of Queenscliff is home to two functional lighthouses: the White Lighthouse, which dates from 1862, and the Black Lighthouse, which also dates from 1862 and is the only black lighthouse in the southern hemisphere. The Black Lighthouse is located within the town's fort. Tours of the fort run every day for $10 an adult or $20 a family.

For Point Lonsdale Lighthouse tours, phone 5258 3440. For tours of the fort (including the Black Lighthouse) arrive at the fort gates at 1pm.

Cape Schanck Lighthouse

Built in 1859, the Cape Schanck Lighthouse, at the southern end of the Mornington Peninsula, has a rare stone spiral staircase. Day tours of the lighthouse cost $14 an adult, $11 a child or $38 a family plus admission into an on-site museum. Accommodation is available in former lighthouse-keepers' cottages. It costs from $150 a room a night.

Phone 1300 733 315, see austpacinns.com.au/cape_schanck_lightstation.

Wilsons Promontory Lightstation

The Wilsons Promontory Lightstation is the southernmost settlement on the Australian mainland. Located at the southernmost tip of the prom, it can only be reached on foot - a 24-kilometre hike from Tidal River - so book accommodation in one of three former lighthouse-keepers' cottages before setting off. It costs from $48.50 a person for a standard bed (from $78.50 for Saturday night). Guided tours of the lightstation, parts of which - including the grey granite lighthouse - date from the 1850s, are also available free but only to overnight guests.

Two other lighthouses - Cliffy Island and Citadel Island - are located on islands just off the prom but the public are prohibited from landing on Citadel Island and Cliffy Island can only be accessed by boat.

Phone 5680 9555, see parkweb.vic.gov.au.

Point Hicks Lighthouse, Croajingolong National Park

Kristofferson, a former lighthouse keeper who was apparently lost while pulling up a cray pot off the point, is still said to wander this 1890 lighthouse at night, his boots thumping on the steps as he climbs to the top. The lighthouse is the tallest on mainland Australia and the two lighthouse-keepers' cottages were built from oregon taken from shipwrecks. Accommodation is available in these but be warned: the nearest shop is an hour's drive away at Cann River and there are no phones or TV. It costs from $330 for four people in a cottage off peak and $100 for accommodation in a bungalow.

Phone Gippsland Lakes Escapes on 5156 0432, see pointhicks.com.au and www.gippslandlakesescapes.com.au.

Gabo Island Lightstation

The pink granite Gabo Island Lighthouse was completed in 1862 and stands 47 metres high. Accommodation is available in a three-bedroom former assistant lighthouse-keeper's cottage (it costs from $227 a night in peak season and $178.50 a night off peak). Tours of the lighthouse can be booked before arrival or with the lighthouse keeper ($9.50 an adult, $5 a child or $21.50 a family). To get to the island - known for seabird colonies, including the largest known colony of little penguins in the world - you'll need to book with a charter flight or charter boat company.

Phone 131 963, see parkweb.vic.gov.au.

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