Port Fairy has been on my ‘want to visit’ list for a while now, owing to its close proximity to Budj Bim National Park – one of only two UNESCO Heritage Sites in Victoria. My obsession with UNESCO sites is well documented as for me, they are the most impressive destinations in the world. On this occasion however, UNESCO let me down, but this didn’t detract from the delightful little town of Port Fairy.
Port Fairy proved to be a fantastic weekend trip and we enjoyed spending time in the town and local area. There and lots of things to do in and around Port Fairy, from wonderful nature reserves and stretching beaches to great restaurants and even a nearby GIANT SLIDE. Yep, truly something for everyone!
So without further ado, let’s explore the best things to do in Port Fairy (and the local area).
Budj Bim National Park
Ok, let’s come out from the bell swinging.
This was our main reason for coming to Port Fairy. I wanted to get out to the UNESCO Heritage Site at Budj Bim.
All sounded great it principle.
Unfortunately our experience of Budj Bim wasn’t quite what I’d hoped.
The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape is on the UNESCO Heritage listing because of its unique system of eel traps, weirs and dams built amongst old lava flows by the Gunditjmara around 32,000 years ago. This kind of stuff might not excite everyone, but it’s definitely my thing.
Unfortunately, these proved very difficult to find. We went to the three spots and had a fantastic hike and saw some incredible old lava channels, but not the eel trapping systems and cutouts to the landscape I was expecting. The hike and the National Park was stunning, it was just missing the adding extras we’d come all this way for. There were no signs telling us where we should go, the visitor’s centre was being refurbished, some of the trails were closed – as was the local Aboriginal Mission.
Maybe it’s because Budj Bim was only added to the register in 2019 and access is still being developed, but it certainly wasn’t the place we expected.
My advice, book a tour with BudjBimTours.com who seem to be able to get to the right areas. Unfortunately with our 14-month-old baby this just wasn’t practical this time. This is still a very special place and one that will soon become an even bigger attraction for tourists in Victoria, it will just take some time to make it a bit easier to navigate.
We’ll be back Budj Bim and next time we will be more prepared!
Hopkins Falls is around 30 minutes from Port Fairy and is perfect to visit when combined with a day out to Tower Hill and Warrnambool.
The Falls are some of the widest in Australia at just under 100m, and are called Thankang-poonart in the native Kirrae whurung language meaning ‘eels bite the stones’.
Signs suggest you may even be able to see platypus in the pools at the base of the Falls, but luck wasn’t on our side when we visited.
No big walks here, just park up and a short wander down some steps to get to the viewing area.
Head to the Beach
I don’t remember seeing much written about Port Fairy’s East Beach before we came here, but what a beautiful stretch of sand it is. I know beaches like this are all over the place in Australia, but being a Brit, anytime I see one like this it makes me reflect on how lucky I am to be here.
This 5.8km long arc of fine sand is a stunning sight and great place to relax for the day.
It is patrolled at weekends, but only in the summer months. Avoid the Northern end of the beach at rips can be pretty strong.
Recommended Reading: The Best Beaches in Victoria (As Voted for by Travel Writers). Port Fairy Beach made this list.
Tower Hill Nature Reserve (See Koalas)
Tower Hill Nature Reserve is under 20km from Port Fairy, a place you probably saw on your drive in from Melbourne.
A huge natural landmark just off the main road, it is formed from the eruptions of a volcano some 30,000 years ago.
Officially declared a National Park in 1892, it wasn’t well managed and ended up being used for grazing. Since the mid 1950s though local volunteers have planted over 300,000 trees here to restore the area to its former natural glory.
There are a number of trails here all of which loop back to the main car park, the longest of which is just under 2km. Whilst they are short, they are also very steep so be prepared.
Our main reason for visiting was the promise of koalas and we were not disappointed. We got some of the best views of koala in the wild we’ve seen since being in Australia. We saw around 10 all of which were on the ‘Lava-Tongue Boardwalk’ trail, many of which were low down in the trees (see the photo above for just how low!)
We also saw emu here and a good variety of more flappy birdlife!
Yambuk Giant Slide
I said there would be something for everything on this list so, ladies and gentlemen I present to you, the Yambuk Giant Slide.
Rated number 1 of 3 things to do in Yambuk by Tripadvisor (a seriously big deal), this 33m slide from the top of the sand dunes was a clever ploy by the locals to bring in some tourists.
Whilst the slide was fairly slow, it was good fun and the walk to the top of the dunes is worth the trip alone, with great views over to Lady Julia Percy Island
Merrijig Inn lays claim to being one of the oldest surviving Hotels in Victoria, having been in this location opposite the original jetty since the 1840s.
Now it’s very much been brought into the 21st Century, with an Italian-style garden filled with fresh herbs and plants for use in the kitchen, the best-rated restaurant in the town and an outside bar serving seasonal cocktails and homemade snacks.
We sat out in the warmth of the February sun, sipping away at elderflower cocktails and local beer while sending for repeated little delights from the bar menu – olives, crisps baked on-site and freshly seasoned and (our personal favourite) a crumbly local buffalo cheese with tangy chutney and crackers.
If you want to sit down for a full meal, make sure you call in advance as they can get booked out pretty quickly. All details are on the Merrijig Inn website.
Despite sounding more than a little like a Roald Dahl story, The Crags is actually a viewpoint around 12km up the coast from Port Fairy with a (very small) hint of the 12 Apostles about it.
A small pathway from the car park leads to a viewing platform with views over these odd rock formations. If you think they look a little like tree roots you’d be right, 120,000 year-old tree roots, hollowed out and reinforced with calcium carbonate to be exact.
Logan’s Beach Whale Watching Platform
Just the other side of Warrnambool you’ll find Logan’s Beach, with its wooden platform specially designed to be a lookout to watch the migrating Southern Right Whales that amble along Australia’s shoreline.
To see the whales you’ll need to be visit winter (between May and October) but its also worth coming here in summer for the sweeping beach below which is accessed via a very steep old wooden staircase.
FUN (BUT NOT IF YOU’RE A WHALE) FACT: Southern Right Whales were named by fishermen as they were the ‘right’ whale to hunt; slow and with lots of blubber, they floated to the surface when killed. Aren’t we such a wonderful species? We managed to wipe out about 75% of the population between 1835 and 1845. There are now around 12,000 on the planet, there were thought to be more than 100,000 before commercial whaling began.
Griffiths Island was originally three islands, they were brought together as one to protect the mouth go the Moyne River.
Originally a whaling station, it was abandoned in 1843 when the local whale population was all but wiped out (go humans!).
It is now famous for its classic lighthouse (can you get any more lighthousy than white with a red door?), 100,000 burrows made by Short-tailed Shearwaters (or Mutton-Birds) and a population of Black Wallabies.
Once you get on the Island, head left for a 25 minutes walk straight to the lighthouse, or right for an hour-long loop around the coast, along the beaches and back to the (you guessed it) lighthouse.
If you’re a photographer, this is the perfect place to head down for sunrise as the sun comes up almost right behind the lighthouse (I decided to go for the evening sky on a cloudy day instead, clever planning!).
I love pizza.
I mean seriously love it.
My personal record was three in one day on a trip to Pisa.
It’s rare though to come across new flavour combinations, but Alexo Pizza and Bistro nailed it. They are a fusion Italian/Asian restaurant so are not afraid to try something new.
You can check out their menu here but we went for the Greek Lamb and Chicken Camembert but were torn between those or a Beef Rendang and Sumatran Tiger.
Despite the unusual combinations they were DELICICIOUS.
Any chance you’ll do takeaway to Melbourne at any point in the future Alex? I’ll pay the delivery fee!
Battery Hill and Point Point
On the opposite side of the Moyne River to Griffiths Island you’ll find Battery Hill and Point.
On Battery Hill you’ll find old fortifications which have been in place since the early 1800s to prevent an invasion. There are six cannons dotted around, none of which have ever been fired in anger.
If you are in Port Fairy in January though keep your ears open, as they get fired every Sunday morning. What a wake-up call!
Walk Along the Moyne River
Starting up near the Griffiths Island car park there is a scenic riverside walk alongside the Moyne River. Take the wooden boardwalk by the marina and head up until you find a little footbridge. Here you can either take a left into town or head over the river to Battery Hill or East Beach.
Petrobe Park Warrnambool
Ok, so I know this is Warrnambool again, but we took our toddler to Petrobe Park and she had a wail of a time!
There are numerous play parks here, a big lake (you can hire boats on a good day) and it is also only a short walk from the beach. If you’re looking for something kid-friendly to do whilst visiting Port Fairy then this is worth a shot.
Port Fairy Historical Walk
There are heaps of beautiful old buildings in Port Fairy including the old flour mill above.
You’ll see many of them by just keeping your eyes peeled, but if you want a comprehensive guide then there is a free PDF of the Historic Buildings in Port Fairy available here. Look out for the two cottages that share one chimney, a very unusual thing to see.
Bonus Places (Ones We Didn’t Get To Visit)
Below is a list of additional things to do in Port Fairy. We didn’t get to visit these personally, so can’t vouch for them, but as a detailed planner of trips, they were on the list before we went.
Unfortunately, time (and a 14-month-old daughter) meant we couldn’t quite get everywhere, but next time Port Fairy, next time….
Port Fairy Surf School
Port Fairy is a great place to learn to surf if you’re interested. Port Fairy Surf School have two-hour beginner lessons available online visit PortFairySurfSchool.com.au for more information.
Port Fairy Folk Festival
Port Fairy Folk Festival runs in early March each year and is more than just a few locals playing guitars. Some favourites of mine such as Tim Finn and Colin Hay have played in previous events as well as famous names Eddi Reader and Sinead O’Connor.
Visit PortFairyFolkFestival.com for more information.
Port Fairy Day Spa
Port Fairy has a highly rated day spa if you’re looking to escape and unwind for a few hours.
Visit PortFairyDaySpa.com.au for more information.
Lady Julia Percy Island
Lady Julia Percy Island, or Deer Maar in the Indigenous Gunditjmara language is a small island about 22km southwest of Port Fairy. It is home to the biggest fur seal colony in Australia as well as 2,000 breeding pairs of Little Penguins. This is the only place it’s possible to see Australia’s native penguins locally.
Lady Julia Percy Island can be visited on a sightseeing boat tour that takes four hours and departs from Port Fairy.