Tours of the precinct

Tours are normally conducted every day at 11:30am

Our tour guides have extensive knowledge of both the history of the precinct itself, the maritime history of the region and many aspects of the natural history of the area. Hear stories of the shipwrecks that lie in the depths of the Southern ocean off Cape Nelson.

The tour takes you back in time into the world of the lighthouse keeper from the inception of the lighthouse in 1884. See the cottages in which the lighthouse keepers lived and climb all of the steps to the top of the lighthouse, viewing the Capes from 32 meters above the ground.

Costs
Adults $15.00
Children $10.00
Families $40.00

To book contact Gordon 0438 012 352

The restoration work on our lighthouse has been recently completed! Tours are running again so visitors can climb the tower and see the completely restored lighthouse.

The restoration works were vital to ensure the longevity of the Lighthouse as a marine safety aid and culturally significant tourist drawcard. Specialist engineers and trades were engaged by AMSA to:

  • Remove all external and internal paint to reveal the limestone back to the original stone.
  • Remove, restore and reinstall internal stairs and landings.
  • Update the electrical system vital to the tower’s function.
  • Reinforce and strengthen the balcony that has provided an important and impressive lookout for keepers and tourists over the years.
  • During these works, the lens was stopped and a temporary light was be erected to flash with the same signal frequency to ensure that shipping is always protected.

Cape Nelson Lighthouse History

On 7th July 1884 the Cape Nelson Lighthouse was officially lit. The need for a lighthouse west of Portland had been apparent since the earliest years of European settlement. The state of navigation, the nature of sailing vessels and the treacherous coastline meant that vessels were in danger as they made their way to and from Melbourne to Adelaide. From time to time there were major ship wrecks.

In 1854 a government committee recommended that lighthouses were built on a number of prominent headlands along the Victorian coastline, with a major open-ocean lighthouse to be erected at Cape Bridgewater.

Portland Harbour master James Fawthrop submitted a report in 1856, asserting that ” a light exhibited on Cape Nelson would be preferable”. His compelling arguments won the day and Cape Nelson became the preferred site .

Governments of the day always seemed to have more pressing priorities. However maritime disasters and near misses ensured that the need for a lighthouse remained pressing.

The eventual construction of the lighthouse appears to have come about as a political favour!  Local parliamentarian William Tyherleigh is said to have supported Peter Lalor, the hero of Eureka and later an influential politician, at a critical time. Lalor held several ministries and became the speaker of the Legislative Assembly in 1880. He is believed to have returned Tytherleigh’s favor by throwing his considerable influence and prestige behind the push to have a lighthouse constructed on Cape Nelson. The  site was surveyed in 1879 and tenders let in 1882 for the construction of the lighthouse and two cottages. A memorial stone was laid on Cape Nelson on Thursday 19th April by the mayor of the Borough of Portland, James Trangmar.

Despite various problems, work proceeded at a satisfactory rate and the light was officially lit on July 7th 1884 30 years after the idea of a light to the west of Portland had first been advocated. Mayor P.W. Shevill lit the white light whilst former mayor W.T.Pile lit the red light. In 1884 a telephone line was installed between the lighthouse and government offices in Portland. The telegraph system meant that messages or warnings  from the lighthouse could then be rapidly transmitted to the colonial capitol of Melbourne. In 1901, The Australian colonies federated to form the Commonwealth of Australia. Cape Nelson Lighthouse became a key part of a network of lighthouses guiding shipping around the continent.

The lighthouse’s powerful telescope and telephone enabled it to play a strategic role during World War 1, although no German raiders were sighted. Cape Nelson Lighthouse also played a part in World War 11 , when a radar station and support camp was established there to provide early warning of Japanese war ships and ship launched air craft. The installation included lookouts, an air raid shelter, quarters and a gun emplacement. The radar station was apparently linked to the Air Force base at Mount Gambier, which operated between 1941 and 1946. The radar station also protected Portland’s Port. Redevelopment of Portland’s port in the 1950’s and 1960’s underlined the importance of the Cape Nelson Lighthouse in protecting shipping throughout the region.

The 1980’s saw the development of the Great South West Walk, linking Cape Nelson Lighthouse to Cape Bridgewater and Portland via scenic coastal and inland walks.

In 1987 the light was connected to main power and in the 1990’s the lighthouse was “de-manned” or automated, ending an era of lighthouse keepers dating back to 1884.

Be that as it may the Cape Nelson Lighthouse continues its vital role in keeping our regional seas safe. Operated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, its white group light, flashing four times every twenty seconds can be seen some 21 nautical miles out to sea.