The quaint village of Port Fairy remains a charming stop at the end of the line.
Far from the madding crowd is a little fishing village at the end of the Great Ocean Road. It is the end of the road or the beginning, depending on which way you look at it. We drove into the area from Bendigo on our road trip, passing through towns along the way including Ballarat, Mortlake, Warrnambool and Killany. Many a traveller comes from Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road finishing in Port Fairy.
It is thought that Port Fairy was named by Captain Wishart around 1828 when his cutter “Fairy” became caught in a storm. He took shelter for the night and at daybreak named the bay “Port Fairy”, in honour of his tiny ship. In 1843 James Atkinson and William Rutledge each purchased 5120 acres from the Crown at the cost of £1 per acre (yes, if only…) as long as they established a town. Atkinson renamed it “Belfast” after his birthplace. Irish immigrants were encouraged to settle and you can see their influence in the architecture and culture. In 1887 the residents petitioned the government to rename the town Port Fairy.
Unlike Captain Wishart, we arrived by land through green and lush dairy country. The hills were dotted with black and white (Holstein) cows which Victoria has more of than any other state. Good to know!
Arriving in Port Fairy we drove down the wide streets lined with sandstone mansions, Georgian-style merchants’ homes, little stone cottages and mighty Norfolk pines gracing the banks of the Moyne River. We walked into the main street, checked out the heritage buildings and learnt about the local maritime history on the Port Fairy Maritime and Shipwreck Heritage Walk (a detailed map is available from the Visitors’ Centre).
The next day we drove to Warrnambool where there is plenty to do including a tour of the Cheese and Butter Factory and a visit to the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village where Australia’s richest shipwreck collection is contained in an 1870s village.
A trip to Portland and Port Campbell are well worth the drive and we also visited Heywood as one of us went to primary school there (not me). We collected a pine cone fallen from a tree that was grown from a pine cone brought back from Gallipoli.
One of the most captivating sights was the wind farms that looked like something from War of the Worlds. We drove along with no-one else around except these futuristic monsters on the hills.
Lighthouse lovers will delight in the Port Fairy lighthouse and the Cape Nelson lighthouse just ten minutes drive from the centre of Portland. On the day we visited it was chilly, bleak and stunning. Isabella’s Cafe was perched nearby, named after the barque ship “Isabella” that ran aground on the south-west coast.
It is an easy drive to Great Ocean Road to visit the Port Campbell National Park where you can best see the Twelve Apostles.
If you are yearning for a small European getaway but haven’t got the time or funds to head overseas, this should fill the desire within.