It’s the stuff of legend. Some call it Australia’s Loch Ness. It’s the Mahogany Ship, the mystery vessel, maybe a Portuguese caravel or even a Chinese junk, claimed to lie buried beneath the dunes between Warrnambool and Port Fairy on Victoria’s notorious Shipwreck Coast.
Historians predict that if found it could rewrite the history of Australia’s discovery.
You might not find it, but walking the sands and following the clues is heaps of fun.
From Melbourne there are two choices, with either Warrnambool or Port Fairy, a little beyond, as your base.
The inland route to Warrnambool, 269km or a 3.5-hour drive along the Princes Highway through Geelong, Colac and Camperdown, is the quickest, while your return can be via the spectacular Great Ocean Road, through Lorne and Apollo Bay, which takes a couple of hours longer.
Follow the clues
To get your bearings on the Mahogany Ship jigsaw, first visit Warrnambool’s Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum to soak up the atmosphere.
Then head west from Warrnambool toward historic Port Fairy. A popular spot to investigate is Gormans Road, on the left just beyond the Tower Hill State Game Reserve (also worth a visit). Follow the road toward the coast and wander east among the dunes where many believes the ship lies.
Or, to take it all in, follow the 23km Mahogany Ship Walking Track between Port Fairy and Warrnambool. It passes all of the main sites where searches have been undertaken since the dark-timbered wreck supposedly disappeared beneath the shifting sands more than 150 years ago.
I did my sleuthing in a lightning two days but ideally four or five would be the go, particularly if you like to take all those side roads.
There’s plentiful motel accommodation (booking is advisable) in Warrnambool, although a local pub or a B&B in Warrnambool or Port Fairy can be more down-home-ish.
Who knows, you might solve the mystery. If not, you’ll enjoy one of Australia’s most fascinating pieces of coastline.
For a modern-day adventure it’s 8 out of 10 – plus there’s the lure of local wineries, world heritage sites and beaches.