Port Fairy is a beautiful coastal retreat on Victoria’s acclaimed, spectacular Great Ocean Road.
The historic seaside town is a popular tourist destination, voted Victoria's Number 1 Tourist Destination and Australia's Fourth Most Popular by recognised industry magazine Australian Traveller in its 100 Best Towns In Australia edition, published in March 2009.
Port Fairy offers incredible ocean views, river views, award-winning restaurants, a range of accommodation, Links golf course, boutique shopping, delightful beaches and picturesque natural attractions, together with the internationally recognised Port Fairy Folk Festival each March.
Whether you are looking for a romantic getaway, family-friendly or pet-friendly break, beach holiday or just a peaceful and relaxing beach holiday, Port Fairy is the ideal holiday destination.
Travel & Transport
Alcohol Free Zones
Port Fairy Lighthouse
The Houses and Buildings
Things to see and do
3100 - peak periods > 10,000 - Folk Festival > 40,000
Moderate climate with average temperatures: Summer 22°C Winter 14°C. Average yearly rainfall is 700mm. Even on the hottest day, due to our position on the coast, cool sea breezes generally arrive each afternoon.
It’s easy to get to Port Fairy with public transport. Trains run daily from Melbourne to Warrnambool with connecting
coach services to Port Fairy. Just ring V/Line from anywhere in Victoria for an up to date timetable. There are also
coach connections to and from Hamilton, Ballarat, Apollo Bay, Mount Gambier, Halls Gap and Ararat.
V/Line 13 61 96
Warrnambool Bus Lines 03 5562 5748
Port Fairy Bus Depot 03 5568 1355 10-3pm Mon-Fri
Port Fairy Taxi 0419 764 983
The area bounded by Regent, Gipps, Campbell and William Streets is an alcohol-free zone. Police ensure that this
local law is observed.
Some Port Fairy beaches DO NOT allow dogs between 9am and 6pm daily for the period 1st December until Easter Monday. Please check the Visitor Information Centre for details. Dogs are never allowed onto Griffiths Island. Owners must keep their dogs on a lead in the area bounded by Campbell, James, Regent & William Streets, King George Square & Martins Point. It is an offence not to carry a bag or clean up after your dog.
A message from Andrea, our chief tourism officer...
Port Fairy is many different things to many people but to those of us who live here it is a ‘magical’ place.
Our little village is bordered on two sides by the sea, so the ocean is an integral part of our being. It has long sustained us by providing its bounty to our earliest inhabitants and continues to provide for those who fish its waters today.
The balmy breezes from the sea cool us after the hottest day and the safe waters of the bay are a delight for young and old, whatever the time of year.
The built heritage of our town will surprise and delight you. The wide tree-lined streets feature many historic buildings which firmly anchor us to the past. Many have been converted to B&Bs or restaurants and others remain as prized family homes.
As in many country towns there seems to be an old pub on every corner, still offering true country hospitality to visitors who drop
in for refreshment. Our restaurants and cafés will entice with innovative menus, fine local produce, tempting cakes and great coffee.
We are sure you will love our town and our region, which also contains some of Australia’s wildest coastline and best National and State Parks.
The historic seaside village of Port Fairy is a unique example of a perfectly preserved 19th century shipping port. The little township has retained its old world character and there is an extraordinarily rich variety of architecture.
The first regular European visitors were Bass Strait sealers on seasonal hunting expeditions from Tasmania. These were tough hard working men who had little time to leave written records so the exact dates are uncertain. It was probably around 1828 that Captain James Wishart, on a sealing expedition in his cutter “Fairy”, became caught in a dreadful storm.
Luckily he found shelter for the night in a little bay and to his delight, at daybreak, he found that he was at the mouth of an excellent river. He named the bay ‘Port Fairy’, in honour of his tiny ship.
Later, a bay whaling station was established on the island at the river mouth. Whales were harpooned in the bay and dragged up on to the island for processing. So many whales were taken that the supply was exhausted by the 1840s and the station closed.
By the 1830s some of these early seamen crossed the river and began to clear and cultivate the rich volcanic soils. They brought sheep and cattle across from Tasmania and established a permanent settlement.
In 1843 James Atkinson and William Rutledge each purchased 5120 acres from the Crown. Atkinson laid out his township and named it “Belfast”. Irish immigrants were encouraged to settle here. This strong Celtic influence is still evident in the area in the place names, architecture and culture.
The population increased rapidly and by 1857, 2190 people lived in the municipality of Belfast, one of the most flourishing towns in the new colony of Victoria.
In 1862 the disastrous collapse of the local firm, William Rutledge & Co. dealt the town a paralysing blow from which it took years to recover. In 1887 the town was renamed Port Fairy and it continued to grow and prosper, into the beautiful town we know today.
MAKE SURE YOU TAKE A LOOK AT.....
THE HISTORIC WORKING PORT
The trade of the port reached its peak during the 1850’s and in 1853 it was recorded that 19 foreign ships and 56 coastal vessels entered the port. Exports in that year included 4,159 bales of wool, 1,773 ounces of gold and 24,340 bushels of wheat.
In 1854-56 imports were valued at 263,127 pounds and exports 334,416 pounds. A writer of the day described these figures as enormous. Today the harbour is home to an active fishing fleet whose main catch is crayfish, shark and abalone, whilst a small fleet of pleasure craft has found a safe anchorage.
In the very early days the river was very shallow and goods were transported from wharf to ship by lighters (a type of barge). In the 1870’s the river was extensively dredged and was navigable by quite large ships until the 1930’s. The swinging basin where the ships turned is now the yacht marina.
Several interesting buildings front the river, note the old fisherman’s warehouse with its curved iron roof and the lifeboat shed on the east bank of the river. The “S.S. Casino” memorial at King George Square commemorates the loss of the “S.S. Casino” in 1932.
This steamer is said to have made at least 2500 voyages between Melbourne and Port Fairy and was wrecked while trying to berth during a storm at Apollo Bay. Ten lives were lost.
John Griffiths established Port Fairy’s whaling industry on the island in the 1830’s. No trace of this activity can be found today. The lighthouse - c.1859 and built of local bluestone - stands sentinel on the eastern tip of the island and still sends its light out to sea.
These days it’s a solar powered light with a wind assisted generator. The lighthouse keepers’ cottages were demolished in the 1950s; however, their gardens live on with many hardy plants flowering in the appropriate season.
Griffiths Island is also home to a large colony of muttonbirds. These little birds arrive here late September from the Aleutian Islands near Alaska. Following the laying and incubating of their egg in January, the birds leave again for the northern hemisphere in April.
Lat. 38 23’33” South
Lon. 142 15’28” East
The Port Fairy Lighthouse was built in 1859 on what was then Rabbit Island. This later became part of Griffith Island. The light is 41 feet above high watermark and its visibility to seaward is 12 miles.
The original working drawings provided for six stone steps from the natural basalt base rock to the entrance door level. Because of the south-westerly gales which send huge seas crashing onto the area, the causeway and wall were built to provide safer access.
Sailing directions, Victoria-Bass Strait, the official data book of coastal navigation facilities, lists the light as a “fourth order dioptric double flashing white light every 10 seconds”.
This means that a central cylindric lens transmits the rays horizontally from the lamp by means of refractions. The light which would normally be wasted above and below the burner is also transmitted horizontally by reflection in a series of rings or prisms. The idea was first used by a French Scientist, M. Fresnel, in 1788. The extra light thus obtained is called catadioptric light.
The original light source was an oil lamp and the whole optical system rotated in order to flash the identification code. This is, flash for one second, eclipsed for two seconds, flash for one second then eclipsed for six seconds. This 10 second cycle is repeated continuously.
Progress in the science made it possible for the light to become fully automatic. Oil gave way to a gas jet which was pulsed to flash the identification code. Solar power took over in 1987 with a wind generator backup being added in June 1996. The coded flash system is activated automatically.
The cast brass plate on the lamp installation bears the following words: “Fourth Order Catadioptric fixed and flashing light with short eclipses. Manufactured by Chance Brothers & Co. Glass Works, near Birmingham 1858”.
The construction of the tower is worthy of note. With each course of blocks in the wall, a long slab was inserted to protrude towards the centre of the tower. Thus it is that the stairway is in fact part of the wall. Note the magnificent spiral sweep on the underside of the stairway.
The Keepers’ houses were demolished in the 1950s.
WARNING: snakes are most active during the shearwater nesting season in January.
Port Fairy has many 19th Century buildings, built in a variety of architectural styles and from many different materials. Some of these homes are quite grand and were built for men of means while others are very modest.
Take note of the decorative features of the buildings, decorative fanlights over doorways, ornate barge board and cast iron lacework. Please bear in mind that most of these buildings are private homes. An Historic Walks Map, National Trust Listings and booklet “Historic Buildings of Port Fairy”, which contains a wealth of information on our early buildings, are all available from the Visitor Information Centre.
Port Fairy lies at the mouth of the Moyne River. Within the town area are a number of wetlands and just offshore is Griffiths Island, a noted Shearwater colony. The coastline has basalt reefs and is mainly rocky around the island and along the coast to the immediate west of the township.
Wetland areas can be viewed from roads. Griffiths Island is accessible by walking tracks and causeways. Access to coast west of township is through private property.
Pictured is the Nankeen Night Heron, photo by Rob Tarrant
Birds found in and around Port Fairy include:
|Common Sandpiper||Common Starling||Curlew Sandpiper||Crested Tern||Crimson Chat|
|Dusky Moorhen||European Goldfinch||European Greenfinch||Fluttering Shearwater||Forest Raven|
|Fork-tailed Swift||Galah||Great Cormorant||Great Egret||Grey Phalarope|
|Great Skua||Grey Fantail||Grey Teal||Hoary-headed Grebe||Hooded Plover|
|Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo||House Sparrow||Kelp Gull||Latham’s Snipe||Little Black Cormorant|
|Little Eagle||Little Grassbird||Little Penguin||Little Pied Cormorant||Little Raven|
|Long-billed Corella||Magpie-lark||Mallard||Marsh Sandpiper||Masked Lapwing|
|Nankeen Kestrel||Nankeen Night Heron||New Holland Honeyeater||Orange Chat||Pacific Black Duck|
|Pacific Golden Plover||Pacific Gull||Pied Cormorant||Pied Oystercatcher||Red-capped Plover|
|Red-kneed Dotterel||Red-necked Stint||Red Wattlebird||Richard’s Pipit||Royal Spoonbill|
|Ruddy Turnstone||Sacred Kingfisher||Sharp-tailed Sandpiper||Short-tailed Shearwater||Shining Bronze Cuckoo|
|Shy Albatross||Silvereye||Silver Gull||Singing Honeyeater||Skylark|
|Sooty Oystercatcher||Southern Fulmar||Southern Giant Petrel||Spotted Harrier||Spotted Pardalote|
|Straw-necked Ibis||Swamp Harrier||Yellow-faced Honeyeater||Yellow-nosed Albatross||Welcome Swallow|
|White-faced Heron||White-fronted Chat||White-naped Honeyeater||Willie Wagtail|
WATCHLIST : Vulnerable- Southern Giant Petrel, Black-faced Cormorant, Great Egret, Nankeen Night Heron, Hooded Plover, Caspian Tern
NOT SEEN IN 10 YEARS: Crimson Chat, Shining Bronze Cuckoo, Grey Phalarope, Great Skua
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