Warrnambool is anything but tired but you may be after a fun-packed weekend here.
By Glenn Marshall
Gazing at a map of Victoria, my eyes locked on a place where I recalled as a kid watching
whales cavort in the safe waters of the bay, exploring an old maritime village that took me
back in time, and enjoyed a waterfall created by an erupting volcano at the beginning of history.
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I am talking about the coastal town of Warrnambool – a town that combines the best of coastal and historic getaways into one of the best RV-friendly destinations in Victoria.
Located on the western end of the Great Ocean Road, legend has it that a 16th-century mahogany ship lies beneath the dunes. Based on the unverified reports of local whalers, no physical evidence has been discovered to suggest that it ever existed.The coastline near Warrnambool and across to Cape Otway is known as the Shipwreck Coast, due to the large number of boats that ran aground in the 1800s and early 1900s caused by ferocious weather conditions and the rugged coastline.
My wife Roxy and I knocked off work early one Friday and headed directly to the Hopkins River Holiday Park to set up before dark. The Hopkins River Caravan Park is an ideal base from which to explore the region. Just 10 minutes from town, it is a peaceful place to stay and one of the cheapest. With its beautiful grassed sites, clean ablution blocks, dump point, heated swimming pool and spa, gym, games room, camp kitchen, mini golf, tennis courts, jumping pillow and kids’ playground we rated this as one of the best caravan parks we have stayed in. Being pet friendly also helped.
Chatting with the managers, they told us that as their eighth park, it was their favourite; and being out of town, it removed the ‘party’ factors and brought in more grey nomads and young families to enjoy a peaceful environment. Being right on the Hopkins River with a boat ramp and jetty meant throwing a line in was very simple.
Warrnambool’s rich maritime history can be explored at Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village.
The coastal village is a recreated 19th-century sea port with interactive displays and buildings constructed from authentic materials set on 10 acres. Go back in time as you experience first-hand the dangers of early sea travel. Explore the Gravesend Theatre with its audio-visual presentations, interactive displays, relics and treasures recovered from various shipwrecks (in the Great Circle Gallery).
Taking pride of place is the life-sized porcelain Loch Ard Peacock, the most valuable shipwreck relic in Australia (at $4m). In 1878, the peacock was being shipped to Melbourne aboard the Loch Ard for the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880. Unfortunately, bad weather caused the ship to collide with Mutton Bird Island. All hands perished bar Tom Pearce and a passenger Eva Carmichael.
Flagstaff Hill is also home to the heritage-listed Lady Bay Lighthouses that have been guiding vessels in the port of Warrnambool since 1859 and are still in operation. Both lighthouses were relocated stone by stone from Middle Island, near the outlet of the Merri Creek, to their present position in 1871, along with the Keeper’s Cottage, Chart Room and Privy. You are able to climb the Upper Lighthouse for uninterrupted sweeping views of Lady Bay.
The Warrnambool Garrison was built during 1887 to help protect the town against the perceived threat of Russian invasion, with its intact battery and two 80-pound cannons. These cannons are on display, having been fully restored, and are fired occasionally on major event days. The charge in the first-ever firing of the cannon was so large that it shattered all the windows in the lighthouses.
If you love cheese, head to Allansford where you will find Cheese World – owned and operated by the Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory, which has been manufacturing award-winning products from milk since 1888. These days you can enjoy a free tasting of the award-winning Warrnambool Cheddars. Cheese tastings are conducted hourly on the half hour, between 9.30am and 4.30pm.
A museum displays the history of the local dairy industry and farming life from the early 20th century. Have a go at churning a butter maker, or turn the blades of an old Southern Cross windmill. You will certainly work up a hunger. We enjoyed an amazing Ploughman’s Lunch and the famous milkshakes in the restaurant.
A short drive along some beautiful old dairy roads from Allansford is Hopkins Falls; an ideal place for a picnic with gas barbecues and toilets available. Hopkins Falls is one of Australia’s widest waterfalls at 90-metres wide (and 11-metres high). It is an easy walk down to the base of the falls for the perfect photo opportunity. We loved the fotopol to which I screwed my camera and took the perfect selfie with the falls in the background. You may be able to spot a platypus at the base searching for shrimps, worms, yabbies, small frogs and fish eggs; and for a few days in the early summer each year, baby eels migrate upstream over the falls.
When the sun goes down, it is time to return to Flagstaff Hill to enjoy the unforgettable Shipwrecked Sound and Light Show. Bookings are essential, and you can enjoy a dinner and show package as there are two shows each night. We enjoyed walking along the cobblestones with hand-held lanterns lighting our way.
The sound and laser light show takes you on a magical journey back in time as you relive the tragic journey of the merchant trading ship Loch Ard from Gravesend, England to Melbourne. You will be amazed by what you see and will be blown away by the tragic circumstances in which the Loch Ard Gorge gained its name.
Logans Beach is a short drive from the city centre and home to the specially constructed whale viewing platform. In most years, between June and September, female southern right whales return to the waters off Logans Beach to calve. The whales often stay in the nursery for many weeks, allowing the calves to feed and gain enough strength to return to sub-Antarctic waters. Check with the visitors information centre to see whether whales are in the area during your visit.
Tower Hill Nature Reserve is 15 kilometres west of Warrnambool and is situated inside a dormant volcano. It was also Victoria’s first national park. Home to the Peek Whurrong people, the visitors centre is central to displaying the cultural significance of Tower Hill. Enjoy a picnic with the roaming emus before taking in the sights on one of five self-guided walks.
While the peak climb is only a 30-minute return walk, it is steep. The so-called Journey to the Last Volcano is a one-hour moderate walk, but one you will thoroughly enjoy as the story boards explain the geology of the reserve. Less strenuous walks are: Lava Tongue Boardwalk, an easy 30 minutes highlighting the wetlands; Hat Island Habitat Track at 45 minutes; and the Whurrong Walk taking 60 minutes. You can also participate in a personalised bush and nature walk, or a walk with wildlife under the stars, for a fee.
When you get to Warrnambool, you’ll wish you could allow yourself a week to discover everything it offers. Whether it be summer or winter, autumn or spring you will enjoy your time in such a magnificent town. At any time, expect a well-packed weekend.
Region: South west Victoria.
Getting there: From Melbourne it’s 263 kilometres via the Princes Highway, 260 kilometres via the Hamilton and Hopkins Highways or 353 kilometres via the Great Ocean Road. From Adelaide it’s 655 kilometres via the Princes Highway.
Best time to travel: Any time is a good time with long hot summer days and cosy winter nights.
Seasonal highlights: Southern right whale watching between late May and early October.
Accommodation: Big4 Hopkins River Holiday Park
38° 22’ 60” S 142° 28’ 55” E – Warrnambool
38° 23’ 22” S 142° 29’ 07” E – Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum
38° 23’ 59” S 142° 34’ 10” E – Big4 Hopkins River Holiday Park
38° 19’ 58” S 142° 37’ 09” E – Hopkins Falls
38° 24’ 13” S 142° 31’ 17” E – Logan Beach Whale Watching Platform
38° 19’ 06” S 142° 21’ 39” E – Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve