Just 50 metres from the mainland at Loch Ard Gorge on the Great Ocean Road is Mutton Bird Island, a huge chunk of sandstone that’s the breeding ground for thousands of Short-tailed Shearwaters, AKA Mutton Birds.

Finding The Mutton Bird Island Viewing Area

Mutton Bird Island is in the incredible Port Campbell National Park. Drive west (away from Melbourne) from the 12 Apostles for about 5kms and take the small road leading into the Loch Ard Gorge car park. From here, it doesn’t matter a great deal where you park.

To find the official Mutton Bird Island carpark, once you’ve pulled off the Great Ocean Road, turn right at the end of the short road, then take the first left and drive as far as you can go (100 metres). There are three walking tracks leaving this car park, choose the one that has the small timber sign at knee height saying ‘Mutton Bird Island’.

For a different view of Mutton Bird Island, as you turn off the Great Ocean Road, turn left instead of right at the end of the small road and head into the Loch Ard Gorge carpark. In between the stairs going down into the gorge and The Razorback Walk (furthest track east, back towards the Apostles) is the Shipwreck Walk. If you head out to the end of this walk, which is only about 250 metres, you’ll then be able to see Mutton Bird Island from another angle, about 200 metres west from where you’ll be standing.

Mutton Bird Island, Great Ocean Road view from Shipwreck Walk

History Of Mutton Bird Island

Formally Known As "The Sow"

As the ships use to sail past this part of coastline near the end of there long voyage from Europe of China, this unique part of the coast was a landmark that they were getting close to Melbourne and should arrive within a day or so.

As they passed, they’d originally refer to the area as the “Sow and Piglets” the ‘Sow’/mother Pig being Mutton Bird Island and the Apostles were the ‘Piglets’, which start just hundreds of metres to the east of Mutton Bird Island and are dotted along the coast for about five kilometres.

“The Sow & Piglets” name was originally created by George Bass in 1798, as the first colonial explorer of the area. To increase interest from tourists and attract them to the area, in the 1920s they changed the name from ‘the Sow & Piglets’ to Mutton Bird Island and the Apostles, a few more years later, the Apostles has the ’12’ naturally fall in front of the name.

The Tragedy of 1878

Mutton Bird Island is off the notorious Shipwreck Coast in the Southern Ocean, which is known as one of the most treacherous oceans on the planet. In 1878, tragedy struck when a clipper sailing ship’s mast crashed into the 40 metre cliff, snapping off and killing those standing below. 15 minutes later, the entire ship sunk and only two people survived. You can read the full story about the Loch Ard shipwreck here.

Mutton Bird Island

How Mutton Bird Island Was Formed

Mutton Bird Island is one huge piece of Sandstone and Limestone standing 40 metres tall.

This part of coastline use to be deep under water. The stone formed about 200 million years ago from ocean debris, such as plant and fish matter that floated to the bottom of the really deep ocean.

Eventually, the large cave that you can see in the image above of Mutton Bird Island will erode much further into the stone. After many more years, possibly centuries, the island will become one or several large archways. With a bit more time, the middle of the arch will collapse, leaving two large stacks, just like the 12 Apostles.

When The Short-tailed Sheerwater Migrate From Alaska & Russia To Australia

Every year, huge volumes of Short-tailed Sheerwaters head to the southern Australian coastline to breed. These birds are also known as Mutton Birds and about twelve thousand of them head to Mutton Bird Island on the Great Ocean Road to breed, this is just one of many breeding sites.

The birds arrive in late September. Both parents takes turns to sit on egg and the newborns hatch in the third week of January.

Once breeding is finished, the birds head on a huge thirty thousand kilometre journey, leaving Mutton Bird Island, flying along the coastline up to the north of Asia then through the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia. They take some time-off in Russian and then circle back to southern Australia.

It’s an incredible sight to see them on Mutton Bird Island. Also keep a look out for the tiny and adorable Fairy Penguins as there are thousands of them around the area too!

Photos of the Short-tailed Shearwaters nesting on Mutton Birds Island?

We haven’t been lucky enough to be here with our cameras when the Mutton Birds are nesting on the island.

We’ll go here again when we can and hopefully one day, get some photos of the impressive number of birds on Mutton Bird Island. Be sure to set a calendar reminder to come back some September when the birds should be around.