Three hours’ drive from Melbourne along what’s known as the Shipwreck Coast, this pretty seaside village has a rich maritime history and a laid-back whimsical vibe. In 2012 Port Fairy was voted the world’s most liveable community, and there’s a rhythm to life here that rolls with the ocean swells. The shady tree-lined streets are lined with over fifty buildings classified by the National Trust. Wander past white-washed cottages built by colonial whalers and seamen, including the oldest house in Victoria (which dates back to 1843).
There are endless things to do here: be inspired by local artisans, chill on a headland and watch whales pass by, get lost at Tower Hill State Game Reserve – the state’s first national park and the crater of an extinct volcano, be captivated by the goings-on at the muttonbird rookery, and the list goes on.
Here are seven great reasons to visit Port Fairy.
1. You can step back in time
Grab a walking tour map from the Visitor Information Centre and make your way around this fascinating slice of fishing and whaling history on foot. In 1850, the wharf area was a major departure point in Victoria for wool, gold and wheat exports bound for Britain. Victoria’s largest fishing fleet, originally started by Irish immigrants, still moors at the docks here. In 1887 Battery Hill was established to protect the town from foreign warships. Historical high court re-enactments often take place in the town’s old courtrooms at the Port Fairy Historical Society.
2. You can view incredible bird and marine life
Griffiths Island at the mouth of the Moyne River is the summer home to a protected colony of muttonbirds (short-tailed shearwaters). Hang around at dusk to watch the spectacular sight of thousands of these feathered friends making their way back to their burrows after a big day of fishing and feeding at sea. It’s best viewed from October to April, before the birds depart on their Pacific migration. Take the scenic 30-minute walk around the island to the historic 11-metre high lighthouse. Here you’re likely to spot the resident wallabies, or pods of dolphins surfing breaks just off-shore.
3. You can cycle the Rail Trail
This 37km trail utilises a disused railway line from Port Fairy to Warrnambool, which passes through picturesque dairy farming country and the Merri River wetlands. As you skim along the northern side of the 25,000-year-old extinct volcano at the Tower Hill Reserve, keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife – including emus, koalas and kangaroos.
4. You can enjoy numerous festivals
Port Fairy’s residents call their Moyneyana Festival in January ‘70 summers of fun’. From Christmas Eve through to Australia Day, free entertainment is provided for the whole family, including street parades and giant slides, barbecues and fireworks displays. In March, the streets of Port Fairy come alive with the annual Folk Festival – one of Australia’s largest music celebrations. The Winter Weekends festival during June and July features comedy, art, food and wine. Cap off the year with the Spring Music Festival in October and the Shipwreck Coast Golf Tournament in November.
5. You can spend lots of time in the water
If you’re a holidaymaker that loves being on the water, in it, or under it, Port Fairy has plenty to keep you occupied. Port Fairy Surf School can help you learn how to tame the waves, or take you kayaking around protected inlets to spot sea life and yet more land dwelling furry and feathered locals. There’s also the chance to snorkel, stand-up paddleboard or head out on a fishing charter to hook your own lunch. However, if all that sounds a little too active, there’s always a spot on the beach with your name on it.
6. You can enjoy fine food and wine
Brunch, lunch or dinner, it’s easy to find a quaint or quirky eatery to suit your tastes and budget. Casual cafes are great for a late breakfast. Try the Merrijig Kitchen, where a seasonal menu makes the most of the region’s top produce. Later in the day, order seafood that’s come straight off the trawler at Blakes Restaurant. Save room for dessert at Audley & Hall Artisan Chocolate.
7. You can shop for local arts and handcrafted wares
One of the great joys of travelling to Port Fairy is tapping into the local creative vibe. Pick up a Port Fairy Art Walk Map to discover artisans at work in eleven different galleries and studios. Buy local creations direct from the maker at Eclectic Designs – a small glass-blowing studio in the heart of town, or view the textiles, ink-work, paintings, handmade jewellery and photography on display at the Whale Bone Gallery.
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About the writer
Susan Hinchey is a Sydney-based freelance travel writer who, even as a teenager growing up in country NSW, knew she wanted to see the world. A couple of years out of high school Susan embarked on an 8-week Grand European Contiki tour. Since then she has visited Alaska, Canada, Thailand, Vanuatu, Fiji, Greece, parts of North America, and Britain several times. Her go-to get-away is a camping trip anywhere along the Australian coast.