Cruising down Australia’s Great Ocean Road, Matthew Dennison discovers a former whaling town properly value visiting.
The winds that whip the small former whaling station of Port Fairy, the place a ribbon of the Moyne River meets the coast of Victoria in south-east Australia, have a crisp, salt tang and, out of season, a determined gustiness.
Some 200 years in the past, fishermen plundered the Southern Ocean right here for seals and whales to the extent that each have been virtually worn out. For a lot of the 19th century, whale bones littered the lengthy seashores – pale because the surf that lotions the craggier reaches of shoreline or the whitewashed whalers’ cottages that recall a vanished world.
This is a town that may be a testomony to Nature’s energy. Its name derives from that of a cutter, Fairy, pushed right here by a storm in 1827. Its demise as a port was additionally Nature’s doing: the river silted up, the harbour closed to ships. Its wharf turned a mooring place for fishing boats and, at this time, smaller yachts. On more than one rock above the ocean, a plaque data the drowning of a surfer.
However, any variety of buildings survive from Port Fairy’s heyday, many constructed of bluestone, a very onerous basalt of blue-grey extensively quarried throughout Victoria. The result’s a townscape in miniature, of exceptional and pleasant visible coherence.
Despite robust beginnings, Port Fairy has a settled and charming gentleness. Its lure for guests – and tourism is vital to the town’s financial wellbeing – is a mixture of pure setting and the weird survival of so many colonial-period buildings.
Along the former wharf, a row of good-looking, principally interval homes is backed by towering Norfolk pines that scatter their darkish cones thickly; picket jetties and a walkway fringe the riverside gardens. There are boats right here yr spherical and the busyness that comes with boats and the percussive clink of serried masts.
The town’s most important streets march at proper angles to the river. Blocks of outlets and cafes recommend prettier variations of the streets in classic Westerns, a clutch of once-municipal buildings is distinctively mid Victorian and the homes stand again from the road behind neat lozenges of well-tended gardens, full of ordinary roses, agapanthus and shaggy hedges of rosemary. As in seaside cities all over the world, these embrace leases and second houses. Only a handful have the overtly sterile look of homes incomes their hold lovelessly.
Several bigger buildings trace at Australia’s hyperlinks with Britain, together with the Anglican Church, St John’s, sturdy in its workaday Gothic Revivalism and a lifeless ringer for church buildings of comparable date in cities throughout northern England.
At the mouth of the Moyne River, related to Port Fairy by a causeway, is Griffiths Island. Once the location of a whaling station, it’s been uninhabited since 1954, when the automation of the lighthouse prompted the departure of the island’s final keepers and, two years later, demolition of their cottages.
Now a nature reserve, it’s much less than a mile lengthy, with tough paths round its perimeter and a sequence of brief stretches of seashore, each sandy and pebbled. In Australia’s springtime, guests come to see the nesting colony of mutton birds or short-tailed shearwaters. Black-tailed wallabies, additionally referred to as swamp wallabies, graze the dense scrubland.
As the island’s solely constructing, the red-and-white lighthouse attracts guests. In fact, the coast of Griffiths Island is more beguiling – the lengthy views throughout an ocean that stretches with out interruption south and ever additional southwards.
White-sand East Beach shares these views, however right here – the house of Port Fairy Surf Lifesaving Club in unremarkable trendy headquarters – the environment is totally different. This is Port Fairy dressed up as a household vacation resort, the seashore a spot for play, crested by a row of boxy new vacation homes with huge, ugly home windows.
Melbourne households go to yearly, typically for Easter. Something of the town’s unruffled feeling comes from this sense of continuity: repeat visits from loyal cognoscenti create an environment comparable, in a approach, to Cornwall’s fishing villages.
This is one rationalization for Port Fairy’s surprisingly giant variety of eating places. In reality, consuming out in so many Australian cities is a revelation. In 2012, a survey named Port Fairy the world’s most habitable small group. Locals in eating places and cafes, conspicuously relaxed and pleasant in the direction of strangers, substantiate this declare.
We spent three days right here, breaking the journey from Adelaide to Melbourne. Invigorating sunshine, hearty breakfasts in our lodge – Oscars Waterfront – and tea on the verandah overlooking the marina, wallaby-spotting on Griffiths Island and lengthy walks alongside the town’s seashores proved splendidly restorative.
Australians rightly cherish Port Fairy for its survival: few British seaside cities have been so little spoilt. Its appeal is distinctive on this stretch of the Australian south. Even the name – apt to boost a smile amongst cynical British – is sensible on arrival.
While you’re there
- The author stayed at Oscars Waterfront Boutique Hotel, which presents conventional luxurious, Aussie-style. Funkier lodging, however farther from the river, is on the much-lauded Drift House.
- Be positive to guide: dinner at Merrijig Inn, previous, small, higgledy-piggledy, with a regionally sourced menu that modifications every day and a very good wine listing
- The town’s quirkiest vibe is discovered at Coffin Sally, a bar and pizza restaurant in a former coffinmakers’ workshop
Need to know
- Australians eat early, with final orders as early as 8pm
- Bank Street + Co provides Port Fairy’s best flat white – and far more
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