First timers’ guide to Warrnambool, VIC
VIC’s Great Ocean Road region requires no introduction, consistently earning the eyes of the world for its breathtaking coastline and other natural wonders.
Yet tucked away at its western end is a city avoiding much of that gaze. And it’s a regrettable oversight.
Simply, Warrnambool is a thriving destination replete with first-class attractions. It not only punches above its weight but offers more variety than a week of Melbourne weather.
Where: 260km southwest of Melbourne.
Population: 34,000 (2015)
Nickname: The ‘Bool.
From June to September it’s whale-watching season in Warrnambool. Southern right whales can be spotted from an expansive designated viewing platform at Logans Beach, which is just a stone’s throw from the car park. Better yet, these giants often swim within just 100m of the shore. At worst you can soak up excellent views of the powerful coastline.
Logans Beach is also renowned for surfing, while protected Lady Bay suits swimming and other water leisure and is patrolled during summer.
Walking trails in Warrnambool offer countless rewards for varying tastes. Try this trio:
• Warrnambool Foreshore Promenade: Hive of activity, particularly during summer, with its 5km-plus path that suits walking, cycling, or skating.
• Warrnambool to Port Fairy Rail Trail: Smooth, mostly flat 37km long path that links these two locations. Ample highlights along the way; favoured by both cyclists and walkers.
• Warrnambool Heritage Trail: Traces the city’s oldest structures over 3km. Maps are available from the Warrnambool Visitor Information Centre on Merri St.
Take the 15min drive from the city centre to Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve. It’s home to a massive volcanic crater and bursts with funky geological features, a lake, wetlands, and indigenous heritage. Wildlife abounds and includes kangaroos, emus, and koalas, and various native bird species. View it all on a series of walking trails of varying difficulty and length.
A few key spots include:
Stingray Bay: Sheltered cove with gin-clear rock pools and endless angles for framing photos.
Bluehole: Also known as the mouth of Hopkins River. Features craggy cliffs, fabulous formations, and rock pools.
Heritage buildings: Grand old structures scattered throughout Warrnambool warrant time in front of the lens. The striking T&G building is a landmark.
You can’t miss one of Warrnambool’s best attractions, Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum and Village.
Inside, explore the area’s rich maritime past and retrace the compelling stories of the many ships that came to grief in these treacherous waters. Visually, the standout exhibit is the famous Loch Ard Peacock statue. Valued at $4 million-plus, it’s seriously impressive to gaze at, complete with a fascinating backstory.
Outside, wander through the maritime village and imagine life as it once was through a cluster of colourful old buildings. Then in the evening, a dramatic sound and light show recounts the past in stunning fashion.
If burning energy is required, head straight to Lake Pertobe Playground. Its wide assortment of amusements appeals to children of all ages and is backed by a relaxing lakeside setting and undercover barbecue area. Also within this precinct is a mini-golf course.
On a pleasant day, the Warrnambool Botanic Gardens are ideal for a relaxing stroll or a picnic. These tranquil surrounds have several notable features, including a Dutch elm, a Wollemi pine, lake, and rotunda.
Approaching the city from the east, you might notice a large silver sphere protruding from the skyline and balanced atop an orange ‘tripod’. Apparently, it’s an old water storage bowl, which is part of the iconic and colourful Fletcher Jones Gardens.
And a quick history lesson: the gardens are on the site of the Fletcher Jones & Staff trouser factory, which was once a major employer in Warrnambool but is now closed. The gardens remain open to the public, though, and are well worth a look.
Four coffees from individual cafés were sampled in the making of this article, and all were up to a Melbourne-drinker’s standard. Topping the rankings was Hoppy’s Café (spacious; interesting artwork) just ahead of Bohemia (great ambience), and Coffee Treat.
But for excellent brews combined with sparkling views, you can’t beat Pavilion. Its spacious deck overlooks the water and attracts a busy brunch crowd, and in the arvo you can swap cappuccinos for cocktails. From this point there’s the easiest of access to the Warrnambool Foreshore Promenade.
Options abound but special mention goes to Hotel Warrnambool for its cosy, rustic, and spacious surrounds and extensive menu and tap range. The Victoria Hotel has excellent food and super friendly staff in an old-school setting.
Elsewhere, Warrnambool teems with a vast array of cuisine. The precinct at the southern end of Liebig Street buzzes on weekends.
The historical Warrnambool Art Gallery has a central position and showcases thought-provoking permanent and touring exhibitions. Year-round highlights include various Aboriginal artefacts as well as artworks depicting Tower Hill game reserve. A portrait of Warrnambool icon, David Fletcher Jones, is prominent.
The essential time to visit is for the annual Warrnambool May Racing Carnival held at the start of the month. Dubbed ‘schoolies for adults’, the world-famous event boasts a 160-year history and features three consecutive days of thrilling action on and off the track. Top tip: Book your accommodation early.
BIG4 has two great parks in Warrnambool. BIG4 Warrnambool Figtree enjoys a central location within easy walking distance of the CBD. Meanwhile, BIG4 NRMA Warrnambool Riverside lives up to its name, occupying a prime riverside location that’s just a 5min drive from the city centre.
Isn’t it time you enjoyed a break? Book your next BIG4 escape now.