Sitting on Victoria’s world-famous Great Ocean Road, the small town of Port Fairy obviously has a lot going for it … but its stunning coastal location is just the start.
Back in the early 19th century it was the whales and seals in the surrounding waters that drew Europeans to the area. Today, it’s the beauty, the history, and the festivals that lure visitors.
A whaling station was established here in 1835, a store opened in 1839, and the town became an important transport hub as the area’s agricultural importance grew. The railway eventually arrived in 1890.
These days, Port Fairy – located about 30 kilometres west of Warrnambool at the point where the Moyne River enters the Southern Ocean – has a population of 3,500 or so and it’s the home port for one of Victoria’s largest fishing fleets.
A stroll down to the busy wharf area to watch the fishermen unload their catch is an absolute must. There are walkways to follow along the Moyne River and some great eateries.
This attractive community boasts wide streets lined with towering Norfolk Pines which and well-preserved examples of 1800s architecture, and there are more than 50 buildings classified by the National Trust. A number of different historic walking trails take visitors past white-washed whalers’ cottages and grad public buildings, including the former court house, the Merrijing Inn, Moyne Mill, and the Seacombe House hotel, built in 1847 by Captain John Sanders.
The old stone courthouse now houses the Port Fairy Museum which has some superb exhibitions telling the history of the area including its whaling days and the stories behind the many shipwrecks.
The town hosts several attractive parks and gardens, and is also blessed with an incredible array of boutiques, antique stores, and art and craft shops scattered throughout the town. And, of course, every March the Port Fairy Folk Festival attracts an impressive line-up of top musicians … and plenty of travellers.
Other festivals which take place in Port Fairy include the Jazz Festival in February, the Moyneyanna Festival in January and the Irish Festival in April.
The town also has some great markets and lovey beaches and it’s well worth a walk around the Battery Hill fortifications which were established in the late 1800s when there were fears of a Russian invasion. There are some great views over the Moyne River and to the ocean from here, as well.
And then there’s the Griffiths Island, which is located at the mouth of the Moyne River, and is a haven for animals and nature. There is a pedestrian causeway to get to the island and a circular walking track goes around it. The famous Port Fairy Lighthouse was constructed here in 1859.
As a major tourist town, Port Fairy boasts a great range of shops and services and several well-regarded caravan parks, including the beautiful Gardens Caravan Park.
From June to September the waters just off of Port Fairy act as a nursery for female calving Southern Right Whales and they can be spotted from the shore, or there are charters available. Another popular tour for visitors is to take a boat out to Lady Julia Percy Island, which is home to the largest colony of Australian Fur Seals in the Southern Hemisphere.
A little out of town there are plenty of other attractions, too.
About 20 kilometres to the east is the Tower Hill Nature Reverse which is located on the site of a dormant volcano. And 60 kilometres north is Budj Bim National Park, previously known as Mount Eccles, which is home to a tranquil crater lake, lava canals and caves. And then 10 kilometres to the west is the clifftop reserve at the Crags which offers panoramic views along the rocky coast, and across to Lady Julia Percy Island.