Some places are hard to get to, but so worth the effort. A little town called Port Fairy, on the western end of Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, is one of those places.
Those who make the over 290 kilometres trek west of Melbourne, are rewarded with a quaint former fishing outpost, now gentrified into a charming country town.
Initially a bustling centre for whaling and seal hunting in the early 19th century, the seafaring industry collapsed in the 1840s, and the emerging sheep and cattle industry took over, enticed by the rich volcanic soils. But by the 1860s, with the demise of the major agricultural firm in the area, economic development moved to the nearby Warnambool. Thank goodness for what must have seemed like bad fortune at the time! Whilst Warnambool flourished from the industrial and residential developments of the 1960s and beyond, Port Fairy retained its historical charm of bluestone cottages, erected from the local volcanic rock; hobby fishing fleet; historic lighthouse; and oodles of quaint shops and eateries.
Those in the know have built contemporary holiday homes along the Moyne River and overlooking East Beach, and many inspired visitors now make the town their holiday getaway destination.
When we were in town in January, the annual Moyneyana Festival was setting the streets ablaze with vintage cars, bush bands, horse and cart rides, theatre and outdoor parties. Talking to the locals, it is no surprise that the town quietens down substantially out of season, as, facing the Southern Ocean, it is whipped with icy winds in the winter. But what better reason to hunker down at Conlan’s Wine Store for some share plates and wine tasting in their cosy surrounds, or in front of the open fire at Victoria’s oldest inn, the Merrijig Kitchen, which offers accommodation as well as hearty country fare. Or plan to visit in the warmer months, when the annual Port Fairy Folk Festival livens up the town in March. There is also a highly rated 18-hole golf course, one of the oldest public golf courses in Australia, with magnificent views over the coastline.
For such a tiny town, usual population of around 3,000, it boasts the two-chef hatted Fen Restaurant, which is an essential dining experience. Choose from a Tasting Menu, 5-course option or a-la-carte – all of which offer an innovative selection of fresh, local and native produce. Pippies, buttermilk and sea parsley tempt alongside Yumbah Abalone, smoked eel, shitake and roasted sea lettuce or Great Ocean Road duck, radicchio, sandalwood nuts and sunrise lime. For dessert, it is hard to choose between the burnt marshmallow, desert lime and Davidson plum or the paper bark, Daintree chocolate, native nuts and wattleseed caramel. The minimalist décor, housed in a heritage building, give it a unique yet unpretentious feel.
Stay at the boutique Drift House – an original bluestone residence complemented by a modern, innovative extension, featuring four private and unique suites. Alternatively, Oscars Boutique Waterfront Hotel offers bed and breakfast accommodation overlooking the Moyne River. If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, the homely and welcoming Douglas Riverside is a great bed and breakfast option, hugging the picturesque riverbank. Proprietors Jane and Rodney Robinson will make you feel so at home you will start to think you are family!
Walk to the Port Fairy Lighthouse on Griffiths Island, also home to a large colony of mutton birds, or just enjoy the serenity of sitting on the riverbank or the beach, grabbing some valuable reading time.
Port Fairy is such a delight that once you have visited you will feel like you have a stake in the ground and an unshakable need to return again and again!
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