Jawbone Marine Sanctuary: The Best Place to Visit in Williamstown?
If I had to name my favourite place to visit in Williamstown, it would be the Jawbone Marine Sanctuary (and the attached Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve) on the south western shore of the town.
This is quite a claim given our beautiful Botanical Gardens, the impressive HMAS Castlemaine at Gem Pier and unique Timeball Tower, but Jawbone is a place I come back to time and time again.
Whether it be for photography, jogging, nature-watching or just a relaxing sunset walk I simply love this place and feel so lucky to have it in our town.
In this post I am going to touch on the history of the Jawbone Reserve, give you some reasons to come and visit and share some of the photos I’ve taken over the hundreds of times I’ve visited.
Getting to Jawbone Marine Sanctuary
If you’re coming from Melbourne by car then take the Williamstown exit and head towards the town until you get to the roundabout at Ferguson Street and take a right. Head over the railway and take a left when you get to Rifle Range Drive.
There is no official parking for Jawbone Sanctuary, so try and get a spot on one of the residential streets, such as Sandpiper Place or Mullins Court.
There is a large car park just off the Esplanade near Williamstown Beach, but this will require a bit more of a walk to get to the best views of the Sanctuary.
Map of Jawbone Marine Sanctuary
Jawbone Marine Sanctuary takes up most of the south western shoreline of Williamstown, Stretching from just east of the beach, across to the western border with Altona.
Where to Walk at the Flora and Fauna Reserve
A full end to walk ot the Jawbone Reserve is around 2.5km which should take around 30 minutes. This is without heading off to see the beautiful boardwalk section of visiting the Paisley Challis Birdhide at the western end.
If you take my advice of where to park in the ‘Getting to’ section though, I would suggest doing the below route which is around 2.2km, so double (ish, there is a shortcut) for the return.
I have switched to satellite view because Google does not recognise Jawbone’s beautiful boardwalk as an official path so won’t let me map it in. The light blue line to the very bottom shows you where the boardwalk ends, if you look just to the right of that line you can see the faint path where you would actually walk.
This walk will take you to the boardwalk, then along the seafront past many of the stunning pools, reedbeds and inlets of Jawbone where you’ll see everything from Black Swans to Pelicans. There are lots of little wooden bridges to cross with great view with the turnaround point of the all being on a bridge that looks along a creek (photo of this above).
On the return leg you can always cut through the Rifle Range estate to save some time but with views this beautiful I’m not sure why you would!
Jawbone Marine Sanctuary Boardwalk
So, where is my favourite part of my favourite place in Williamstown?
It’s the Boardwalk!
On the southern tip of Jawbone there is a short boardwalk through a restored area of native plants and mangroves.
It is a simply stunning place, where the saltwater plants such as Samphire and Glasswort grow, which change colour with the seasons, turning a beautiful red colour in Autumn.
The end of the boardwalk is a fantastic place to watch the sunset too. The header image of this post was taken from that exact spot, with the sun setting behind purple clouds and the red colours of the saltwater plants visible in the foreground.
If you’re coming to the Jawbone Reserve you simply have to take the short detour to the boardwalk, I promise you’ll love it!
Where You Can Take a Dog at the Sanctuary
Dogs are not permitted in the Marine Reserve or on the boardwalk, but you are ok to bring your dogs along the rest of the walk.
If you refer to my maps above, essentially the only parts a dog will not be allowed is on the strand out to the boardwalk, the rest of the paths are absolutely find.
There is also a large dog-off-lead area to the very east of Jawbone Reserve which is called the Gloucester Reserve.
Jawbone Sanctuary History
The Jawbone Reserve was once a rifle range, established back in 1877, but it was eventually sold to be used for housing (what is now, unimaginatively called ‘The Rifle Range’ estate).
Rather more imaginatively, the Jawbone Reserve is named after the shape of the coastline, which looks like the side profile of a human jawbone.
The Rifle Club
The Rifle Club in Williamstown was first established in 1862 with them orginially using the beach for practice, but this was not all that safe giving the growing local population, so a dedicated rifle range was established in 1878.
The name was changed to the Merrett Rifle Range, being named after Major C.E. Merrett, a member of the Australian shooting team and a key member of the Victorian Rifle Association.
A Big Claim to Fame
The range was used by the army during the World Wars but its big claim to fame came in 1956 when it was used as the rifle shooting venue for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
Closure of Rifle Range
The range was finally closed in 1990, as the area around was developed for housing, with over 1,000 houses built by completion.
Establishing the Reserve
A positive side-effect of the rifle range was that it had left a large section of the Port Phillip Bay coastline completely untouched by development and free from people for over 100 years.
In this area was prime saltmarsh and intertidal mudflats that were perfect for migratory birds and local wildlife.
It was decided the area should be set aside for conservation and Friends of Williamstown Rifle Range Conservation Areas (later to become the Friends of Williamstown Wetlands) was set up. They worked tirelessly (and still do!) to ensure they area was well protected, with some big achievements over the years, such as succesfully campaigning to stop the construction of a marina in the mudflats, getting funding to build the amazing boardwalk in 1992 and establishing an arboretum full of local plants in 2007 for visitors to enjoy.
Jawbone Flora & Fauna
More than 160 species of birds have been recorded at the Reserve, with many migratory birds stopping to feed on the mud flats here.
I’ve seen oystercatchers, slilts and pelicans amongst other water birds, along with birds of prey such as Black-Shouldered Kite. I also love the huge Purple Swamp Hens, which in my mind aren’t too many steps removed from dinosaurs with there craggy bills and the way they stalk through the grass.
My favourite birds here though are the Superb Fairy Wrens, which are tiny little robin-like (ok, technically wren-like!) birds. The males have an almost luminescent blue head, which looks so out of place in amongst the dark green and brown of the bushes they flit between. I see these little guys almost every time I come for a run through the Reserve and they always make me feel so lucky to live here.
If you’re interested then BirdLide Melbourne have a complete list of birds that can be found at Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve.
Paisley Challis Wetlands & Birdhide
There are two birdhides on this part of the coastline but my favourite is on the western end at The Paisley Challie Wetlands.
This hide looks out over a tidal mudflat and always has a vast range of water birds nearby. It’s often where you’ll find the flock of pelicans that live in the area hanging out.
As with all grassy areas along the coast, snakes do naturally occur in this area, which is called out on numerous signs beside the pathways.
Both the White-Lipped Snake and the Tiger Snake can be found here.
The White-Lipped snake is tiny and hunts the numerous species of skink that live here.
The significantly bigger and more potent Tiger Snake is also found in the area. The Tiger Snake is on the top 10 list of most venomous snakes on Earth, though with modern anti-venom readily available, deadly bites are incredibly rare. Australia has around four to six deaths a year from snake bites, which is very low when compared to somewhere like India which has 50,000.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SNAKES OF MELBOURNE IN MY APPROPRIATELY NAMED POST: Are There Snakes in Melbourne?
There is a variety of marine life in the Jawbone Marine Sanctuary, protected from fishing by the local laws.
Pipefish will be seen here all the time, along with shrimp, sea-stars and various crabs.
If you’re lucky there is also the chance to view seahorse, octopus, rays and even small sharks here.
The entry point for scuba diving is on the beach beside the entrance to the boardwalk.
One of the most distinguishing features of the Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve is the coastal saltmarsh, which is an area where salt tolerant plants live in the tidal range of the sea.
When the tips of the plants turn red this generally means they are processing salt.
The site supports some very unique habitat which include rocky basalt reef, seagrass beds, intertidal flats, saltmarsh and the largest occurrence of mangroves in Port Phillip Bay.
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