Port Fairy

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There was no motel breakfast this morning so we checked out as soon as we were ready for the day. At 8:00 am the temperature was already 30° C and, despite being overcast and windy, promising to go higher.

Majella drove the short distance to town where we found breakfast at Cafe 153. She had fruit toast and I had a bagel with cream cheese. Naturally we ate those with coffees.

We were on the road by 8:30 am, heading out past Marengo and into the tall eucalyptus forest of the Great Otway National Park. As we drove through we noticed a series of changes in the tree species. Some areas were filled with smooth barked trees while others had rough bark but all along the main road were straight and tall. We could see the treetops waving in the strong wind and the road was littered with leaves and twigs.

With only about 190 km to drive to Port Fairy, our destination for tonight, there was no need to rush. We took the side road through the park toward Cape Otway Lighthouse. As we drove toward the coast the trees were shorter and the road wandered between national park and farmland. There were some areas where anything that rose above the undergrowth was dead and white. We could not tell what had killed the trees but it had been thorough.

Fortuitously we arrived at the lighthouse almost exactly at 9:00 am as it opened. The tourist concession is set up for a full day visit with guided tours and other activities through the day, which would suit those who stay onsite in the old cottages or in the nearby camping ground. We did not have a day available but spent about an hour there. We spent some time in the old telegraph station before moving on to the lighthouse. 

The telegraph station was established to link the first undersea cable to Tasmania via an overland link to Melbourne but the cable failed soon after it was laid. The station continued to function well into last century, mostly for advising Melbourne when ships coming from the west into Bass Strait arrived. The building provided accommodation for the operator and an assistant who sometimes also worked on the lighthouse. Given that some of the families had up to 10 children it must have been crowded in the 3 bedroom house which also had to offer school to the children.

The lighthouse was built in the late 1840s and was the second on mainland Australia. The first light used multiple lamps burning whale oil and, with the aid of lenses to focus, could be seen from more than 40 km to sea. Over time the lamp was upgraded to kerosene and then to electric before it was replaced by a much smaller solar powered beacon. Because the lighthouse no longer operates we were able to climb to the top to appreciate the view. By that time the wind had intensified and we had to hold on tight as we walked around the outside platform at the top.

Majella declined coffee at the lighthouse cafe so we left around 10:00 am expecting to find coffee at our next stop. Lavers Hill had been announced on signs at Apollo Bay and several times since as the next available fuel. We saw that so often that we almost felt obliged to buy fuel there but we did not yet need it. There were several places offering coffee but Majella drove by, expecting to find another soon.

No coffee stop appeared and we began to regret not stopping at Lavers Hill. We pulled into Princetown, 30 km further on, and found nothing open. We drove on the 7 km to the Twelve Apostles Visitors Centre with a short stop at Gibson Steps to admire the view over the cliffs. The stairs to the beach were closed due to erosion and weather conditions but the view was clear up and down the coast.

The Twelve Apostles Visitor Centre had coffee but only in disposable cups – an odd choice for a parks centre encouraging visitors to care for the environment and take their rubbish home. We shared a glass bottled soft drink instead and then took the path under the highway to enjoy the iconic view. Despite the overcast weather and gale the view delivered on its reputation. We walked to all the viewing points, jostling with what seemed to be hundreds of other visitors from around the globe.

Just 4 km further along the road we came to Loch Ard Gorge, named for the sailing vessel that was wrecked in the vicinity. Rather than the open coastline with detached blocks that we saw at the Twelve Apostles, this area was a series of deep and relatively narrow inlets into the coastal cliffs. There were detached blocks in the gorges and the near end of the main gorge had an arc of sandy beach that could be reached by a staircase. There were intrepid adventurers on the beach and swimming was possible but we stayed on top of the cliffs, exploring the paths and admiring the views.

Eventually we drove on to Port Campbell where we ate lunch in a coffee bar. By then it was 1:00 pm and we had been wanting coffee for 3 hours. We were pleased to get it at last. Majella ate smoked salmon bruschetta and I had pork bites with crispy noodles and bean sprouts. 

By then the 30°C of this morning had become 16°C with a wind chill effect making it seem much cooler. We had put on our jackets when we got out for lunch and needed them for the rest of the afternoon.

Refreshed by lunch, we drove on, pausing just out of Port Campbell to access the lookout with a view over the town. Between there and where the road left the coast just beyond Peterborough there were other views to appreciate.

First of those was The Arch. As the name suggests, it has an impressive span of stone over a hole carved by wind and waves. London Bridge had been an impressive arch over which people could walk until, like its namesake in the children’s verse, it fell down leaving a separated block with its own archway. By the time we reached there there were droplets of moisture on the strong wind. We were not sure if they were rain or ocean spray carried up the cliff. At one point a small trickle of waterfall was trying to fall but the water was being blown back up over the cliff to try again.

Our last stop before Peterborough was The Grotto where, after almost being blown back up the track, we walked down stairs into a sunken space from which the sea was visible through an arch. It was an interesting place of calm despite the wind raging around. On the stairs we met a young woman in a lightweight dress working with a camera on a tripod. When I commented that she must be cold she told us that her boss wanted a photo of the dress. Apparently it was a fashion shoot and not a job we would want.

Beyond Peterborough we stopped at the Bay of Martyrs and the Bay of Islands. Both had several separated blocks of rock in interesting formations. Majella suggested that the martyrs, which were lower and flatter than the apostles, must have been named because they appeared dead.

Soon beyond the Bay of Islands the road moved away from the coast and then joined the Princes Highway. Majella commented that there had been no signage to indicate the end of the Great Ocean Road – strange given the arch we saw yesterday at the other end.

On the way into Warrnambool we paused at a cheese factory but then lost interest in cheese and bought some popcorn instead. This would be our last night on the road, we might not eat all the cheese, and had no way to keep it cool for transport tomorrow.

Between Warrnambool and Port Fairy we drove through the Tower Hill reserve. I recalled visiting Tower Hill on our 1979 trip but Majella had no recollection of the extinct volcano or our visit. I’ll have to look for the photo when we get home.

We found our accommodation at Cherry Plum Cottages in Port Fairy without difficulty. I had a text from Dianne, our host, while we were having lunch. She had to be out for the afternoon but had left a key where we could find it and let ourselves in. We did that, dropped our bags, and headed off to look around town.

Majella found the tourist information office and collected information about historic buildings in town. There are many old buildings listed and we walked some streets to look at some. By the time we got to the river and the wharf, Majella had spent enough time in the biting wind, so we walked back to the car and drove around to the ocean foreshore where we enjoyed a view over the narrow strip of sand that passed for a beach among the rocks.

Although Majella wanted to see the lighthouse she was not prepared to walk the 1.25 km in each direction to really see it nor to take a shorter walk across the river in the hope of seeing it. The cold was too much.

Instead we headed into town and found the Star of the West Hotel where we had drinks and dinner. Majella had a warming Baileys (over ice) while I enjoyed a Shiraz. She had the roast beef while I had pasta with chorizo, olives and chilli except that the olives had been substituted by asparagus but the result was still delicious.

Back at Cherry Plum Cottages we enjoyed ciders with evening television before moving on to the supplied port and chocolates……