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Escape To Charming Port Fairy

Travel

At the end of The Great Ocean Road, Port Fairy is a stunning heritage township, fishing village and summer hot-spot.

It’s also the hometown of Gorman textiles, accessories and homewares designer Kayla Cassar! Ahead of the much-loved Port Fairy Folk Festival this long weekend, the local gal gives us her guide to what to do and see.

5th March, 2019

‘It’s an alluring seaside setting with myriad natural attractions,’ says Kayla Cassar of her hometown Port Fairy. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The charming fishing village. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Boats docked at The Wharf. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Kayla Cassar
Tuesday 5th March 2019

I was born in Port Fairy and lived there until I was 17, when I moved to the big smoke to study graphic design at RMIT. I try to get home every couple of months to see my family, have some room to relax and breathe fresh air.

It’s such a pretty, dreamy little place… a first-class coastal hometown. In fact, in 2012, Port Fairy was voted the world’s (yes, the world’s) most liveable community (of towns with a population of under 20,000,) and everyone from Port Fairy stands proud behind the little sign advertising this at the beginning of the golf course road.

There is also a great ‘ye old’ vibe, as it has Victoria’s largest number of listed heritage buildings outside Melbourne. There are so many different things to do, depending on your mood – great walks, beaches, wildlife, swimming, delish food and local produce, history, lively pubs… There are four pubs in town. Which is actually pretty absurd, for a town of only 3,000 people. But each one has something different going for it, you kind of have to visit them all.

Port Fairy has such a lovely community feel, everyone has time to stop and chat. Norfolk pine trees line the road into town and many other streets, which make it feel a bit magical and fairy-tale like.

It’s not really a ‘day trip’ from Melbourne (it’s a three-and-a-half-hour drive), which is good, because you’ll want to spend a weekend here and make the most of it. I highly encourage anyone doing a Great Ocean Road trip to drive just that little bit further and end up in Port Fairy.

A black wallaby spotted on the Griffiths Island Walk. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The Wes Anderson-esque lighthouse! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Kayla strolling the one-hour-return loop. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Activity – Griffiths Island Walk

At the mouth of the Moyne River, Griffiths Island Walk is one of the nicest walks to do in town, and it is an easy nature adventure – with its wildflowers, jagged black volcanic rocks, and the reward at the end is a great whitewashed lighthouse.

There is so much cute wildlife to witness on this one-hour loop: black wallabies, sometimes seals and echidnas, if you are lucky. The landscape is also special due to the mutton bird colony that resides on Griffitts Island towards the end of September each year until April, on their annual migration from the northern hemisphere. It’s one of Port Fairy’s most spectacular summer sights to watch the birds dive into their burrows at dusk.

Ocean Drive, Port Fairy VIC 3284

If you’re looking for another activity during the summertime, be sure to check out the well-curated program of films put on by The Port Fairy Film Society at the Reardon Theatre. During the year they show one film a month, often of the art house variety.

The cinema itself was opened in 1954 (and I think it still has the original seats) and until recently they still projected 35mm film. I remember going to watch Coyote Ugly here with my Mum and Dad and brother for my 13th birthday (it was what was playing that day) highly inappropriate!

35 Bank Street, Port Fairy VIC 3284

Viewing the latest exhibition at Wishart Gallery. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Artwork by Simon Buttonshaw. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The gallery is run by local Gareth Collition. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Botanical artworks and abstract landscapes on exhibit. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Store – Wishart Gallery

Located in the old bank building, Wishart Gallery is a very inviting gallery, but I also love how unassuming it is. The co-owner, Gareth Colliton, has a wealth of knowledge and is so passionate about all the artists and artwork he has curated. You could easily spend hours here, downstairs is a cosy bar and dining area, and outside is the Captain Henry Wishart Bar; stone-fired pizzas are a house specialty, and al fresco dining is available in the lush garden, check out their schedule as they often have live music and events in the backyard.

When I visited, the current exhibition by Simon Buttonshaw (who among other things produced the first Rip Curl logo) was showing. Each artwork is based on a particular weather forecast from a day passed, which he recorded in his weather journal and painted from memory. It’s pretty spectacular.

I was also drawn to a large print by Jeff Raglus from Aireys Inlet – he’s a super talented all-rounder and was a Mambo artist. It’s a birds-eye view of the town of Port Fairy with all the local haunts included. He also did the artwork for this year’s Port Fairy Folk Festival – check him out! And… I love the giant squid sculpture/seat outside the gallery, made by local sculpture artist, and my old neighbour Don Stewart.

Don’t miss a chance to see the abundance of great original artwork and prints curated from local and Australian artists, and to chat to Gareth.

19 Sackville Street, Port Fairy VIC 3284

Coffin Sally’s ‘The Buffalo Sally’ is Kayla’s go-to, with its delish Shaw River buffalo mozzarella. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Kayla is a Coffin Sally regular when she’s home! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Eat – Coffin Sally

Coffin Sally ticks all the boxes: delicious pizzas, good wines, local produce, rad staff and gooood vibes!

The Buffalo Sally is my go-to. It has Shaw River buffalo mozzarella, which is a local farm only a 15-minute drive from town. I also recommend you order a whiskey from Timboon Distillery, another local producer, made just an hour from Port Fairy.

33 Sackville Street, Port Fairy VIC 3284

If Coffin Sally is too busy, you can’t go past a sunset sit on Shelley Beach with a bundle of hot fish and chips from the East Beach Fish And Chip Shop. There is nothing more quintessentially local than doing this on a summers night.

146 Griffiths Street, Port Fairy VIC 3284

Sweet snack stop! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Poco is famous among locals and tourists alike for it’s homemade, fresh and natural ingredient flavours. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Snack – Poco Artisan Ice Cream

Poco is housed in the cutest little cottage, off the main street. This was formerly The Kite House, run by Port Fairy great ‘Ted, The Kite Man’. It holds a lot of memories for me… and I also love the transformation it has made into a booming local favourite. It also has a sister ice cream store in Pascoe Vale South: Miinot, which I hit up on the regular with my brother and his babies. So Poco is a little treat when I’m missing my creature comforts from Melbourne.

They’re famous for fresh and natural ingredients, and a carefully considered selection of flavours, as well as the fact that it’s all homemade. Poco is perfect for balmy summer nights. it’s not unusual for there to be a queue at opening time and that only grows long into the night over summertime!

27 Cox Street, Port Fairy VIC 3284

Pea Soup beach views. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Relax – Pea Soup

This beach is an inviting soup-bowl full of crystal clear water and an abundance of oddly dropped basalt rocks! It’s a lovely little sheltered beach, and is often quieter than the East Beach. There is also ‘a locals only’ vibe (after the summer); sometimes you can be the only person on the beach.

As I was lucky enough to grow up only minutes walk from here, I spent most of my childhood frolicking in rock pools, hunting for crabs, collecting shells, swimming to the tiny ‘island’ and walking the family dog. It is a great still beach with zero waves and a sandbank so its perfect families and a relaxing float.

Ocean Drive, Port Fairy VIC 3284

The charming Merrijig Inn and Kitchen sits opposite the local wharf. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

‘We’ve got the oldest inn (The Merrijig) and also licensed premises (The Stump) in Victoria!’ tells Kayla. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Dine – Merrijig Inn

The Merrijig is the oldest Inn in Victoria. It is totally charming and sits opposite the local wharf. There is a sun-soaked garden bar off to one side that you can sit in the summer and have a nice cocktail (like a coriander margarita) or wine and hang with the cute chickens and check out the in-house veggie patch.

In the winter they always have the fire roaring inside so it’s super cosy. Aside from my Mum’s lasagne, the Merrijig has the best food in town. There is a daily written menu highlighting local and regional artisan producers and farmers. It evolves throughout the season, inspired by ‘what’s good’ on the day.

1 Campbell Street, Port Fairy VIC 3284

Inside Drift House. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The boutique accommodation combines a grand bluestone building, Edwardian villa, and architectural modern buildings. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Luxurious interiors inside one of the six suites. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

With all the modern comforts, Drift House is also conscientiously sustainable. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Each of the suites are uniquely styled. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The award-winning accommodation is close to beaches and restaurants. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Stay – Drift House

Everyone says good things about Drift House. TDF ran an architecture story on the accommodation, which has a long history – it’s been home to an undertaker, stonemason, architect, publican, doctor, timber merchant, auctioneer, saddler, accordion player and the Captain of The Militia! Current owners artist Colleen Guiney and John Watkinson wanted ‘to build the best accommodation in regional Victoria’.

Working with architecture and design studio Multiplicity they transformed their grand old two-storey bluestone building, and earned back-to-back best luxury accommodation in the Qantas Australian Tourism Awards. ‘To some people, Drift House is a boutique hotel, to others a B&B and some a retreat,’ tells Colleen. ‘The label doesn’t really matter. Put simply it is a place to stay, relax, celebrate, unwind, love, laugh, drift and help you find your luxury.’

Six private suites, each with an individual design, are available, across the original double story house, neighbouring single-story Edwardian villa, modern extensions, and new free-standing buildings. Aside from it’s rich history and beautiful modern interiors, Drift House is conveniently close to the beach and restaurants too.

98 Gipps Street, Port Fairy VIC 3284

Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Kayla wears items from Gorman’s new 10 Years Of Collaborations collection. Shiva Loka Jeans coming soon! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

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