Griffiths Island is a sanctuary for plants, birds and animals, of winding pathways and the spectacular lighthouse at the eastern tip, is a great place to explore.
A dune habitat comprising 37 hectares of remnant coastal scrub and grassland, this crown land parcel was first reserved as a public park in 1902.
The original three islands (Goat, Rabbit and Griffith) were joined by siltation and deposition of sand after the river training walls were constructed from the 1870s. The first documented European to visit Port Fairy was Captain Wishart who took shelter during a storm while looking for sealing grounds in 1828.
In 1833 John Griffiths set up a whaling station on the island and had a large timber house built there in 1837.
Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage
By the early 1840’s so many whales had been killed that the supply was almost exhausted and the whaling station closed.
The lighthouse and a lighthouse keeper’s cottage were built around 1859 with stone sourced directly from the island. Originally painted red, it was changed to white in the 1930’s.
The lighthouse is still fully operational and over the years the light’s power has changed from vegetable oil, kerosene, gas and wind to solar power.
Port Fairy Lighthouse
The lighthouse - c.1859 and built of local bluestone - stands sentinel on the eastern tip of the island and still sends its light out to sea.
These days it's a solar powered light with a wind assisted generator.
The lighthouse keepers' cottages were demolished in the 1950s; however, their gardens live on with many hardy plants flowering in the appropriate season.
The Short Tailed Shearwater
The Short-tailed Shearwater (Ardenna tenuirostris) or “Mutton Bird” nests in large numbers on Griffiths Island. The name “Mutton Bird” was given to it by early settlers who used its fatty flesh for food and as an oil source.
Each year the breeding birds return to the nesting grounds within three days of the 22nd of September. Individuals return to the same nest burrow they occupied the previous year and generally mate with the same partner throughout their breeding life. Mating occurs early in November and after returning from a two week period at sea the female lays one white oval egg about the size of a hen’s egg.
The Short Tailed Shearwater Breeding
The egg hatches around mid-January with both parents sharing the incubation duties in that time.
Both parents feed at sea during the day, returning at dusk to feed the chick by regurgitating food from their stomach. In mid-April the adult birds commence their northern migration leaving the young behind.
Hunger brings chicks from the nest some weeks later and soon after they set off after the adults at sea.
Walking the Island
There are no toilets or shelter on the island, the nearest being at Martin’s Point. It takes approximately 25 minutes to walk to the lighthouse via the walk along the formed river bank and a limestone track.
A complete circuit of the island takes about 60 minutes on foot. There is limited disability access, with none beyond the lighthouse as the track is rough, over sand and rocks in some places and walking along the southern beach sections depends upon the height of the incoming tide.
Other fauna found on the island
Over 80 bird species have been recorded on the island, predominantly sea birds and waders. Among the birds likely to be seen are sandpipers, pied oystercatchers, terns and gulls. There is a resident group of Black Wallabies which can regularly be seen feeding quietly as you walk the island. Short Beaked Echidnas, Blue Tongue Lizards, Brown Snakes and Copperhead Snakes may also occasionally be seen.
Griffiths Island has suffered considerably from man’s intervention yet nature has recovered to once again make it a largely natural environment.
Two of the earliest shipwrecks in Victoria happened on the south coast of the island. In November 1842 the Dusty Miller was caught in a gale.
Thankfully all but one person survived; and in May 1846 the Squatter came to grief on a reef after being battered by heavy weather. Fortunately no lives were lost in this incident. Around 1850, a Mrs Dunlop maintained a kind of mission on the island for the education of Aborigines. She was apparently a colourful character, using a whaleboat crewed by six Aborigines in red shirts and white trousers for trips to the mainland. The mission was apparently unsuccessful closing in 1853.
Walk to Griffiths Island
Start your walk at the Port Fairy & Region Visitor Information Centre and follow the trail alongside the Moyne River and Historic Wharf through the eyes of Victoria Walks: