As you sit looking out over the darkened harbour, lights flicker and mist swirls on the water. Anticipation builds as you hear a storm approaching. Then thunder roars, lightning strikes and a huge sailing ship looms up, wallowing and foundering in the waves. Suddenly, you are swept up in a gripping re-enactment of the 1878 sinking of the Loch Ard. The lighting and visual effects blend so well with the real harbour, it’s as if you are on board with the crew as they cry out in terror and struggle to save their sinking ship.
HIGH COST FOR BOTH VILLAGE AND SHOW, ENTRY VALID FOR TWO DAYS
■ The intact battery and guns installed in the 1880s when the colony of Victoria feared a Russian invasion.
■ The child-friendly guided tours that operate twice daily and are led by costumed volunteers.
■ The interpretive centre, which shows the hardships and bravery of people who came out to Australia on sailing ships in the 19th century.
■ The shipwreck display in the Great Circle Gallery. More than 180 ships have been wrecked along the ‘Shipwreck Coast’. Many artefacts and stories of these tragedies are on display. Look for the treasure that was concealed in a communion goblet from the wreck of the Schomberg. You’ll have to make up a story about why it was hidden!
■ The climb to the top of the lighthouse.
■ The tall ship for kids to play on.
Loaded on board the Loch Ard was a magnificent Minton porcelain peacock, headed for the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880. Amazingly, the packaging around this fragile artwork kept it from being smashed during the storm which sank the Loch Ard and it was washed ashore. It now has pride of place among the shipwreck artefacts on display and is valued at millions of dollars. The Flagstaff Hill curators recently discovered the bird’s head had been broken off and invisibly glued back on.
■ In the daytime, Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village offers an immersive experience in an old port village created around an original 1859 lighthouse and fortifications. There are people in costume, and appropriate activities such as a blacksmith at work.
■ Entry is cheaper if you just visit during the day and miss the evening Shipwrecked Sound and Laser Show.
■ Most kids find the evening show fascinating and exciting, but it is an emotionally powerful re- enactment of a shipwreck and some might get distressed.
■ Whether you are visiting daytime or evening, this is an outdoor experience, so dress appropriately (and if you sit in the front during the show, you might get splashed!).
■ The show runs at dusk, so commencement time depends on the season. It is advisable to book ahead.
■ There are two ways to reach the evening performance area: walking through the village by lantern light with a guide, or travelling by horseless carriage. There is no price difference.
■ When you enter the village, make sure your kids pick up a Sea Chest Challenge Trail which takes them on a quest to search for clues and collect stamps. If you select ‘Education Resources’ on the website you’ll find more fun activity sheets for kids.
■ Kids also get a bag of food for the farm animals, which include chickens, ducks and piglets.
■ There is a tearoom on site but it is has limited opening hours.
■ There is also a restaurant, Pippies by the Bay (closed Mondays in winter). You can purchase a package which includes dinner at Pippies and the Sound and Laser show.
■ Accommodation is available in a lighthouse keeper’s lodge.