The Shipwreck Coast is aptly named, with more than 200 wrecks along its length. Many occurred in the goldrush years of the mid-19th century, as sailing ships bringing hopeful immigrants foundered on the rocky cliffs and reefs of the southern coast.

Inaccurate navigation, uncharted reefs, and difficult sailing conditions in strong winds and storms all contributed to the disaster toll. As sea traffic increased between Melbourne and towns such as Warrnambool and Port Fairy on the coast, so too did the list of strandings and wrecks.

Sometimes passengers and crew were lucky, with their ship simply running aground on the shore, allowing them to be taken off safely. Often, however, the results were grim, such as the wreck of the Loch Ard -- 52 lives lost, leaving only two survivors.

Relics from various wrecks can be seen at several points along the coast, and the sites of some disasters can be visited and explored, including dives to some wreck sites (permission must be obtained in some cases - check with local dive shops or tourist information centres).

The stories of these wrecks, and of the days of sail, whaling and sealing, can be discovered in museums and history centres along the Coast, including Flagstaff Hill in Warrnambool, Glenample Homestead near Port Campbell, and Port Fairy's History House.

The location -- indeed, the existence -- of one wreck remains a mystery, despite repeated searches. Does the fabled Mahogany Ship lie buried in the coastline near Koroit? If found, will it re-write Australian history, by proving that Portuguese sailors were the first Europeans to discover the continent?