Max Williams on searching for dinosaurs and shipwrecks

It’s low tide and I’m searching for the dinosaur footprint at Flat Rocks in the Bunurong Marine Park near Inverloch, about 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne on Victoria’s southeast coast. No luck there, but there’s some excitement later, when I walk along the beach towards the Inverloch Surf Lifesaving Club and find remains of the shipwreck Amazon.

About 115 million years ago, small three-toed carnivorous theropods wandered along the coastal river floodplains. These lizard-like creatures were estimated to be about 1.5m tall at the hip and 3m in length. Since 1903, the area has been prolific in the history of dinosaur fossil discovery, with more than 15,000 bones found.

In 2006, a dinosaur footprint was discovered. This is the one I was looking for. Its exact location isn’t public, but visitors are encouraged to try their luck finding it over the approximately 2500 square metres of the Flat Rock area. Happy footprint hunting!  

The shipwreck
The Amazon, a square-rigged three-masted 362-ton barque, set sail from Melbourne in 1863 for Mauritius with a cargo of salted meat. There was a violent storm and the Amazon foundered. It was washed up on the beach and has been buried under 3m of sand for more than 155 years, but severe erosion in 2015 exposed parts of the wreck. The ship, built in Jersey in 1855, is a rare example of a mid-19th century wooden international cargo carrier. It is the only wooden wreck of its type in Victoria.

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During Victoria’s COVID lockdowns (when we were allowed to travel from Melbourne to regional areas in November 2020), we managed to get a three-night booking at RACV Inverloch Resort cabins. With our member’s discount, the midweek nightly rate was $165 and shot up to $282 for the Friday night. Most of the cabins consist of two bedrooms (the second bedroom, which has bunks, was locked).

The cabins are modern, spacious and are fully fitted out to cater for all your needs. These cabins would be ideal for families. They were not serviced during our stay.

If you want a more relaxed stay, the ocean view serviced rooms might be more suitable, particularly for couples – look for promotional deals on their website. There are also powered caravan sites at the resort, some with ensuites.

We were here with four other couples in nearby cabins. Our standard format with this group at the end of each day is pre-dinner drinks and nibbles followed by a barbecue (we hired a portable Weber at the resort). The decks are large enough for all to congregate for this common practice.

There is a barbecue area, but it was closed due to the pandemic, as was the resort’s Radius restaurant. The large indoor swimming pool was open (with social distancing restrictions), but the gym, spa and sauna were closed. There are tennis courts and a playground area for kids but be prepared to share your space with the local kangaroos in the late afternoon.

If you want to get away from the kids or your partner for a while – just sayin’ – I recommend the short nature loop walk in the wetlands area within the grounds, but watch out for snakes during the summer season. The resort is 5km west of Inverloch.

The nearby beach (about 400m) is not an ideal place to swim. Take a short drive or beach walk to the lifesaving club and swim between the flags.

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In the cabins, it’s bring your own food. But if you prefer to eat out in town, the Esplanade Hotel is a standout. The dining area is large and serves great pub food with a wide variety of tap beers and other beverages. There are other restaurants, cafes and a bakery in town, but maybe you’re okay with a parcel of fish and chips to eat on the beach. The Beach Box Café is my pick for morning coffee and a slice, but the Local Inverloch, right opposite the Esplanade pub, is just as good.

What’s there to do?
On top of the list is a drive along the 14km winding Bunurong Coastal Road between Cape Patterson and Inverloch – a spectacular stretch of Bass Strait’s rugged coastline. You’ll need a few hours to explore this area. Make sure it’s at low tide to allow access to Flat Rocks (find the dinosaur footprint) and the nearby caves (great for kids to explore but be careful – the rocks can be slippery).

There are other points of interest along this stretch of coastline including Eagles Nest (rock pools for the kids and amazing sandstone formations) and Shack Bay (a small, secluded bay that’s good for swimming). There are lots of steps to access these places, but well worth the effort. At the end of the drive at Cape Patterson, cool off in the man-made rock pool on the main beach.

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There’s a not-to-be-missed short 30-minute walk for all the family next to the foreshore caravan park – The Screw Creek Townsend Bluff Estuary Walk. Drive through the foreshore camping strip and park at the end. Alternatively, you can walk from town along the beach to the carpark. Cross the bridge and take the track to the right where it splits. There are a couple of fishing platforms to the left if that’s your preference. You will enjoy this easy, shaded walk with a nice view over Andersons Inlet from the bluff lookout. Dogs are okay here but must be on-leash.

Inverloch is a great destination. The township is small and inviting; it has plenty to keep everyone, young and old, engaged and entertained. Search for dinosaur footprints, explore caves and rocky structures, check out the shipwreck, soak up the flora and fauna in the area, or just relax on the beach. Whatever you do, this wonderful location will not fail to impress.

Have you found the dinosaur footprint at Flat Rocks? Have you been to Inverloch? Let us know in the comments section below.

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