Between May and September, when winter reaches Victoria, our shores are graced by the presence of giants of the deep, whales. One of the best regions to witness their stunning beauty is the stretch of coast between Warrnambool and Portland. With several fantastic vantage points, you can spot southern right whales, humpback whales, blue whales and the occasional orca.
The southern right whale was named by whalers because they were slow moving and floated when they were killed. Being full of blubber also made them a productive whale to hunt. Numbers have been slow in regenerating, unlike the Humpbacks which have almost returned to what is thought to be the numbers prior to the 1800s.
In Warrnambool, the best place to watch the whales is at Logans Beach Whale Nursery where a dedicated whale watching platform has been built. The conditions just off Logans Beach are perfect for mothers and their calves to feed and gain strength before they head south to Antarctic waters during summer. Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village is a great way to learn more about the trials and tribulations of whaling with the historical village based on what life was like in the 1800s.
Only 29km west is Port Fairy, a town that time forgot. Once a thriving whaling village, it went broke in the early 1900s, meaning developers stayed away and old buildings were restored instead of being demolished.
It’s a beautiful town and during winter there are several Winter Weekend Events, including a guided historic town walk, a ghost tour in the cemetery, an Old Street, New Light: An Illumination night walk along Wishart Street. Originally named Belfast (the Irish population in the region was high), the town was renamed Port Fairy in 1887.
Griffiths Island is a great place to look out for whales, especially up by the lighthouse. The island is also home to a shearwater (mutton bird) colony so stick to the track and tread carefully. Take a stroll along the Port Fairy docks and check out the fishing boats or join a cruise to possibly get up close to some whales.
There are two food experiences I recommend you try. First is the seafood platter at The Wharf Restaurant, you won’t find any greasy deep-fried items, just beautifully cooked fresh produce. The other is experiencing High Tea at Time and Tide Tearooms.
The views of the ocean as you enjoy savouries such as finger sandwiches and homemade sausage rolls before hitting the sweet stuff with mini cupcakes, mousse, macarons and scones. A glass of sparkling rose on arrival and a pot of tea selected by you from an extensive list of T2 teas.
On your way from Port Fairy to Portland there are a couple of interesting spots. The first is the number of wind farms that dot the landscape, in fact, the turbines between Codrington and Portland produce enough electricity to power Geelong.
The second is Bay of Wales Gallery where artist Brett Jarrett produces stunning realism nature works including whales, koalas, kelpies and seals. You can also enjoy a hot coffee and vanilla slice while you chat with Brett.
Portland is the oldest settlement in Victoria and was once earmarked to become the capital of the state. When settler Edward Henty ploughed his first field in December 1834, it was the first time a European had done so in Victoria. The whaling industry also began in the early 1830s with migrating whales and local seals popular with the hunters. By the 1860s the whale and seal populations had been almost wiped out and hunting stopped.
The Maritime Museum and Information Centre is the go-to place for learning about whales, in fact, there is a sperm whale skeleton in the entrance. The staff also raise a flag when whales have been spotted, alerting the town. Whales often visit the port and breakwater area, offering the best close up vision of whales on the trail.
While at the Info Centre, see if Mike is available to lead you the secret gannet colony as it is something you won’t have seen before. In fact, the colony on the tip of the headland is the only mainland colony in Australia.
Another great experience is the Cable Tram tour that runs for 7.4km departing from the depot, past the Botanic Gardens, along the foreshore and up to the War Memorial Water Tower Museum, with several stops along the way. There’s also a whale viewing platform with binoculars here.
If a great breakfast is what you’re after, check out Port of Call Café, their bacon and eggs are top notch or for a speedy lunch, Macs Hotel is the place to go. Originally constructed in 1853 and beautifully restored in 1996, the stunning three storey pub overlooks the port and is still very popular with sailors.
Bridgewater Bay is the best place to see seals. Drop in at the Bridgewater Bay Café first and enjoy the hospitality as well as awesome meals and beverages. Owners Scott or Debbie are happy to tell you where the seals are hanging out. Mostly they love the small jetty by the boat shed.
A fifteen-minute walk from the car park, you will be entertained by the inquisitive little creatures as they play in the water and jump on the rocks to say “hi”.
A little further on is the Petrified Forest, believed to have been formed when a forest of Moonah trees was engulfed by a large sand dune before water seeped through, covering the trunks in sandstone. The Blowholes can be found 100m from the carpark, but conditions need to be just right to see plumes sprout from the rocks.
At nearby Cape Nelson, you can explore the grounds of the heritage listed lighthouse or pay to join a tour of the lighthouse itself. Built in 1884 using local stone, the 360-degree views of the from the top are spectacular. This is also one of the best whale watching locations.
So, for a whale of a time, why not go and experience the Winter Whale Trail for yourself. Even if you don’t spot a whale, the adventure is well worth it.
Best place to stay
The camp kitchen is well set up and there’s a jumping pillow, playground, tennis court, indoor heated swimming pool with waterslide and pedal carts to keep the kids occupied. There’s also a giant chess set to keep the mind working.
The gardens are well established, and you can even get close to the neighbouring cows who love munching on the grass clippings. Dogs are welcome, with an onsite dog wash available for you to use too.
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