Warrnambool is at the western end of Victoria’s famous Great Ocean Road and on the infamous Shipwreck Coast. Here are some of the area’s highlights, as recommended by Warrnambool-born Judy Williams. Judy has worked with RACV for 28 years. She is the RACV Shop manager in Warrnambool, a position she has held for 10 years.
Warrnambool overlooks Lady Bay, and The Pavilion cafe has magnificent sea views and food to match. You might even see trainers exercising race horses in the ocean.
Step back in time
Stroll past Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village to see what life was like in the 1870s. Climb the lighthouse’s stairs for a view over Warrnambool. There’s a display of shipwreck artefacts, including the Minton Loch Ard peacock. The life-sized porcelain peacock – Australia’s most valuable shipwreck artefact – was on the Loch Ard when it ran aground in 1878. Entry is $16 for adults and $6.50 for children; tickets are valid for two days.
Walk around town to see the murals created by talented local artists on laneway walls. The most impressive are on the South West Institute of TAFE. Check out the Warrnambool Art Gallery, too; the collection includes colonial landscapes and works by contemporary Australian artists. Check out RoyalAuto for more on regional art galleries.
For lunch with a side serve of fun, try the quirky Fishtales Cafe. For something more refined, try Wyton Eating House and Cafe; it’s opposite Day Kitty, which makes seriously good milkshakes.
Visit Port Fairy
A 30-minute drive west leads to the seaside town of Port Fairy. It hosts the Port Fairy Folk Festival in March but is worth visiting for its great clothing, homewares shops and galleries. Try the homemade ice-cream at Rebecca’s Cafe or Poco Artisan Ice Cream. They’re both yummy – try a scoop from each place.
Go wild at Tower Hill
About halfway along the road back to Warrnambool, take a detour to Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve. The extinct volcano crater is home to koalas, kangaroos and native birds. Admission is free, or book in for a guided night walk ($70 per person) to see nocturnal wildlife. From Tower Hill, it’s a five-minute drive to the town of Koroit, where you can wander past well-preserved buildings from the 1800s.
There are loads of options for dinner in Warrnambool, from authentic Thai to pub grub. Or you could return to Port Fairy to the award-winning Merrijig Inn, or enjoy contemporary Australian food at The Stag.
Wreck your night
Head back to Flagstaff Hill for its sound and light show, Shipwrecked!, which tells the dramatic story of the Loch Ard’s last voyage and its only two survivors.
Enjoy a peaceful pre-breakfast amble on the boardwalk along the foreshore. Then choose either Simon’s Waterfront or Pippies by the Bay for breakfast with a stunning sea view.
An hour’s drive past picturesque pastoral areas and along the Great Ocean Road will take you to the 12 Apostles. Drive inland to Timboon. There’s a cheesery, an ice creamery, a pick-your-own-strawberry farm and a whisky distillery that are all stops on the 12 Apostles Gourmet Food and Wine Trail. On the way back to Warrnambool, stop at Cheese World in Allansford to stock up on more delicious cheeses and condiments.
Now that you’ve got a carload of fine food, have a picnic lunch at Cannon Hill, Lake Pertobe, or the Warrnambool Botanic Gardens. Cannon Hill has great views over Lake Pertobe, which has giant slides, a maze, boat rides and barbecues, making it a top choice for families. The Botanic Gardens, designed in 1879 by William Guilfoyle (who also designed Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens), has lovely picnic spots surrounded by elegant flower beds.
Give your wallet a workout at the heritage-listed former Fletcher Jones factory. It’s now home to the Fletcher Jones Market, where an eclectic mix of stalls sell collectables, antiques and retro clothing.
For the other kind of workout, go canoeing or trout fishing in the Merri River; cycle the Rail Trail to Koroit or Port Fairy; ride a horse on the beach; or surf (including lessons). If all that’s exhausted you, Deep Water Spa and Baths offers therapeutic massages that’ll put the spring back in your step.
Built in 1885, the heritage-listed Proudfoot’s Boathouse overlooks Hopkins River. Peruse the old photos and accompanying information displayed throughout the building before digging in to some delicious seafood.
Toast the coast
End your trip with a visit to the Warrnambool Hotel. It’s on the site of the Hotel Mansions, which burned down in 1929. It was rebuilt to create the relaxed, atmospheric watering hole you see today. It’s a good place to meet locals, who are justifiably proud of their town. Cheers, Warrnambool.
Whale of a time
Every year from about late May to early October, southern right whales head to Logan’s Beach to give birth and raise their calves; see if you can spot them from the beach’s viewing platform. It might take several visits before you see the whales; be patient.
On Middle Island, south of Warrnambool, maremma dogs guard a colony of Little Penguins from foxes and humans. The 2015 movie Oddball has made this world-first conservation project famous; outside of guided tours, access to the island is prohibited, though it can be seen from the mainland. With binoculars, you might just see the dogs at work.