Around Australia Week 42 – Port Fairy and Tower Hill

Port Fairy looked like such a lovely place when we called in oh-so-briefly on our trip east along the Great Ocean Road that we decided to go back there for a week or so before we headed for Mildura. On the recommendation of another caravanner, we stayed at Southcombe Caravan park, next to the leisure centre (with lap swimming available at the pool, if you felt so inclined) and an easy stroll from the town.

There’s a lot to see around Port Fairy. We started by going for a walk along the track to the lighthouse. We’re seeing what seems like trillions of lighthouses along the coast, which is to be expected, but one thing’s for sure: pretty well all of them make for a good photo opportunity! Rob went back to the same spot one evening right on dusk to watch the mutton birds come in to roost. He took a camera along, but it was too dark to capture anything. (He said they were a bit like stealth bombers: You could see them in the air, but once they got near the ground they disappeared into the gloom… and they were silent: you could just hear the occasional ‘whoosh’ of air if they came in close to your head!)

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A big attraction at Port Fairy was the caravel Notorious, which had come in just a few weeks before. Actually, it’s a recreation of a 15th Century Portugese or Spanish Caravel, and it’s hard to believe that it’s the work of an amateur boat builder (Graeme Wylie). Graeme has been working on it since April 2002, when the keel was laid. It was finally launched on February 7th this year.

Graeme did all the research and design on the vessel, and constructed it entirely from reclaimed timber, mainly Monterey Cypress. He got the timber from parks, farms and homesteads in the Yambuk, Childers Cove, Cannon Hill and Mortlake areas. The timbers for the keel and rudder were reclaimed from the Warrnambool breakwater. It’s not surprising that Notorious is a huge drawcard for visitors to Port Fairy, where it will be berthed for a year before her maiden voyage in 2012.

Port Fairy is a good place to wander about ducking in and out of shops, too. I mooched about for a couple of hours and bought a little ‘fun’ watch made from wood (with movable wooden hands) to go with the jumper I was knitting for my granddaughter, and a few gift cards just to keep in the drawer. I bought the watch at “Too Cute Creations” (isn’t that a great name for a business?) and the gift cards from Ruth’s Fine Scarves & Handmade Goods.

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We didn’t stop there, either. Our youngest son is a musician, who has a granny flat that has been turned into a recording studio at the end of his backyard. As you can imagine, he’s interested in all sorts of musical equipment and effects, so when we spotted Sou’West Collectables & Music we had a feeling we might find the ideal birthday present in there. And we did… we bought him a bodhran, an Irish frame drum, and posted it off. (For the musicians out there, he reports that it has a really nice sound and he’ll be using it on music tracks.)

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We also spent a day in Warrnambool, shopping and looking around. This is a nice big centre where you can stock up, if you want, at the usual chain stores. Rob headed off to hunt for a new TV cable (result: couldn’t get a cable, but was able to find a 5-amp 240 volt fuse, which did the job – he fixed the old cable and saved some money) while I, of course, went to Spotlight and Lincraft to stock up on yarn and patterns. It’s amazing how much knitting you can get done while travelling from one place to another… and at night watching TV. I’m knitting jumpers for Cedar (2½ ) and Josie (15 months) – I’ll post the results in a later blog.

While Rob was driving around Port Fairy (this time on a hunt for mesh to affix to the car, in anticipation of the locusts he expects to swarm around Mildura) he encountered a couple of caravanners from another caravan park: Heather and Noel Bell – so we made a coffee date to swap caravanning tales at The Hub, right in the centre of town.

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Back at Southcombe Caravan Park, we met Wendy & Noel Van Poppel and Julie & Mick Brogan. A social hour at the camp kitchen sounded like a terrific idea at the end of the day, so we all gathered there, and were joined by Hovi and Graham as well. Let me tell you: Julie tells a great story! She had us all laughing, so I made her stop while I took a photo to record the occasion. I’m sure we’ll all meet up again one day… with even more stories to tell.

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If history is your thing, you’ll be able to find a good many 19th Century buildings in Port Fairy. The architectural style varies: some designs are modest and others, build for families of means, are much more elaborate. You won’t be able to go into all of them, since a good many (actually, most of them) are now private homes. The Visitor Information Centre will provide you with a booklet about the historic buildings of Port Fairy, as well as an Historic Walks map and a National Trust Listing.

We were in Port Fairy at the wrong time for the famous Port Fairy Folk Festival, which sees the town swell by 40,000 people. As you can imagine, you need to book a site (and tickets for events) well ahead for this, since musicians come from all over the world to preform over the four days of the festival – folk, blues, jazz, bluegrass, country, acoustic rock and world roots music. It’s a pretty big deal: so far the Folk Festival has won three Australian Tourism awards.

What else did we do around Port Fairy? Well, we drove to Koroit (a historic township between Port Fairy and Warrnambool) and also visited nearby Tower Hill Reserve. This was Victoria’s first national park, and is – amazingly – tucked away inside a volcanic crater. (I have to admit that it is like no volcanic crater than I ever imagined… I thought they were all quite barren!) This is a lovely spot to visit for a picnic and a stroll. There are four self-guided walks, ranging from 30 minutes to one hour (two of the shorter walks are easy) and it’s really interesting to see how Tower Hill Reserve came back from years of neglect to be restored, thanks to the efforts of volunteers – many of them schoolchildren.

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Should you put Port Fairy on your itinerary? I’d say yes. In fact, an enthusiastic thumbs up!


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