Things to see and do: Warrnambool to Portland, Victoria
No visit to Warrnambool
would be complete without experiencing the magnificent beauty of the town’s most famous visitor, the Southern right whale. Every year, usually in late May, a pod of around a dozen Southern right whales arrives on the south Victorian coast to give birth and raise their young. More often than not they choose Logan's Beach
just to the east of the town, making this one of the best places to see these awesome creatures without having to head miles out to sea. Before you leave town, head to the whale-watching platforms at Logan’s Beach, located right next to the most popular area for the whales to nurse and teach their young or, for a better chance of a sighting, take to the skies on a whale-spotting helicopter ride from Warrnambool Airport.
Next, make the 15km journey northwest to Tower Hill
, a huge volcanic crater which is now home to a state game reserve where you’ll find koalas, emus, kangaroos and wallabies in numbers large enough that sightings are fairly easy. The visitor centre here is run by the local Worn Gundidj Aboriginal Cooperative, an Aboriginal community that has bonds with this land that stretch back generations. The centre houses Aboriginal cultural displays which afford a fascinating insight into the culture of the native people of this area and there are also a range of authentic Aboriginal products for sale including textiles decorated with patterns based on ancient Western District Aboriginal art.
Having lived on this land for centuries the local Aboriginal community have a deep understanding of the wildlife and can take visitors straight to where the animals are at any time of day.
Take a guided interactive walk with an experienced guide for an in-depth and highly educational encounter with native animals including emus and koalas, or set off on one of the four self-guided walks for the chance to encounter the wildlife one-on-one.
Just west of here is the quaint crayfishing town of Port Fairy
, an early port and whaling centre which makes a great place to spend the night. Wander around the historic streets with their numerous listed buildings then at dusk, take a walk over the footbridge and onto Griffiths Island
to watch the muttonbirds roosting, before heading back into the village-like centre for dinner in one of the many pubs – the Victoria Hotel is highly recommended.
There are plenty of places to stay in town. Groups and families of all shapes and sizes will find the perfect fit at the Big Four vacation park, where cabins and vacation units sleep from two to six people and the secluded powered sites take both tents and motorised vehicles.
Couples will love Oscars, a French provincial-style boutique hotel in an enviable waterfront location which offers large, comfortable rooms, each with stunning views, and a grand drawing room with open fires in winter.
Before leaving Port Fairy, consider taking a boat trip out to Lady Julia Percy Island
, Australia’s only offshore volcano and the largest colony of Australian fur seals in the southern hemisphere. Curious as puppies, the seals often swim out around the boat, poking their heads up to investigate and you may also see dolphins and whales as you make your way across the water.
Return to Port Fairy for lunch before making the journey along the coast to Portland
, the last sizeable community before South Australia. The town is a large fishing port and jumping-off point for tours to see the most spectacular visitor to this coastline, the blue whale. Blue whales can grow up to 30 metres long (larger than the biggest dinosaurs) and come to this coast to feed on the krill brought by the cold currents from November to May.
The best way to see these awe-inspiring creatures is from above as they never breach (jump up out of the water), rarely approach boats and tend to swim very fast. Take a whale-watching flight with Heli-Explore and you’ll take off from Portland Airport, fly over the coast and head out to the continental shelf in search of these breathtaking beasts. As the whales tend to stay in this area to feed and the guides have extensive local knowledge, your chances of seeing a blue whale on this tour are in excess of 95% so sit back, look out of your “bubble” window and enjoy the show – it’s the perfect way to end your Great Ocean Road trip.
Find out more about Great Ocean Road routes
Responsible Travel would like to thank Tourism Victoria for their sponsorship of this guide