Port Fairy… when you read the name on a direction sign, don’t you just have to take that turn and check it out? I certainly felt the urge to explore when I first heard about this place with its magical name. You can imagine my excitement when I found it included in our Great Ocean Road itinerary anyway.
Port Fairy is a tiny town on Victoria’s Shipwreck Coast. Historic and picturesque, it consists of a small river port, a nature reserve island that is connected via a causeway with the mainland and a grid-like city centre lined with old cottages with gardens and a historic main street. It’s an attractive little place, one you cannot miss when you are in the area. Idyllic, quiet, pretty. Shaded by huge Norfolk pines, you feel sheltered when walking along the wide open roads. And there are many things you can do here.
Whalers and Sealers: The Colourful History of Port Fairy
Port Fairy is a historic place. Traditionally, it has always been a busy port. Whalers stationed themselves here, and so did seal hunters. Walk along the wharf and you can still see the fishermen bring in their catch, mostly crayfish and abalone these days. A lot of it will end up on the plates of the gourmet restaurants in the area. More than 50 buildings have been heritage listed in this little town. A walk around the city centre can be very rewarding, and the Port Fairy Maritime and Shipwreck Heritage Walk will give you great insights.
Art lovers will also love to explore the galleries of Port Fairy. The great beauty and lifestyle in the area must attract quite a few artists. Port Fairy Glass Blowing is one of the stops you should plan for when visiting – perfect also if you are looking for a nice souvenir or Christmas present to take home. If you want to visit more galleries, just pick up the curated Art Map from the Visitor Centre which helps you find your way around town, leading you from venue to venue on foot.
Water Based Activities for the Whole Family
In summer, the waters around town invite to many water-based activities for the whole family. You can go out on a boat to catch tuna or explore the coast or learn how to surf – even snorkel on a guided tour.
But it is not summer yet, and I prefer to stay dry even though the sun is out and the wind is not too cold. With the kids entertained on the playground with their dad at Matins Point Reserve right between the river port and Griffiths Island, I set out to explore the area by foot. Equipped with a camera I am hoping for stunning vistas and maybe some wildlife if I am lucky.
Griffiths Island is the perfect destination for an easy, level walk. As I follow the pedestrian causeway to the island I am awed by the beautiful colours that are presented in front of me. The shallow water lets the soft sand shine through in a multitude of shades. Blues and greens, the palette is almost tropical in the shallow water. So inviting to just jump in for a refreshing dip!
Exploring Griffith Island
Separated from the mainland by this shallow water and free from motorised traffic, Griffiths Island is a bird paradise. Protected as a nature reserve, the island is proclaimed a shearwaters breeding ground. There are signs everywhere, but I cannot spot any of these elusive birds.
Following the gentle curve of the causeway, I finally make it to the island. Griffiths Island is covered in thick grasses and low shrubs. Butterflies are dancing around my feet as I walk on, echoing the airborne games of the birds in the far distance.
I meet many families along the way. I am not surprised: the walk is easy to master even for toddlers, and even though there may not be an ice-cream shop or a playground at the end of the walk, the historic Griffiths Island lighthouse is still a worthwhile destination. When I finally arrive there, I find many families and other visitors in its vicinity.
It’s a pretty sight, this old traditional lighthouse at the end of a concrete walkway. Its door is painted red and there are two remains of a white picket fence framing the picture. I take a hint from the other visitors and sit for a while, watching the little kids collect pieces of driftwood and empty shells on the short stretch of sandy beach.
A raw gem on the Great Ocean Road
When I return to the car I ask to make one final stop along Ocean Drive to take in the marvellous views. The coast is less sheltered here, the waves rolling in with a big thunder, their crests sprinkled with snow-white foam.
We return in the evening for a family-friendly dinner. Coffin Sally on the main street offers exactly what we need: refreshing cocktails and delicious wood-fired pizzas, all served in a – let’s call it creatively decorated – annexe behind the historic front building.
It’s a perfect day in Port Fairy.
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