Life in a tourist town means that most of our customers are the visitors who are all about having a happy holiday, and they’ve come to the right place to do so. The articles written in the glossies about Port Fairy, voted The World’s Most Liveable Small Town, will have directed them to Coffin Sally (a little taste of Fitzroy in the country), the Farmer’s Wife café (laneway cred), and Poco’s Artisan Ice-creamery (fig and burnt caramel, anyone?). The glossies will have definitely suggested a little drive out to Basalt Wines, some lux accomodation at Drift House, and the fine dining at the sensational Merrijig Inn.
These are all worthy destinations, but I can’t help lamenting the fact that these are only a teensy bit of what’s great about this town and this area, and it gets tedious reading articles written by journos whose 'research' has obviously extended only to previous articles about Port Fairy - research that didn't involve their own explorations of our little town, that didn't turn up any previously undiscovered jewels.
For such a small town, we are truly spoilt for choice. In the articles about Port Fairy, the galleries and bookshops often get lumped together into 'boutique shopping', but that doesn’t do them justice. They are each so different in style. We have Wishart Gallery with its wonderful range of prints, original artworks and antiques; the fabulously diverse local artist-run co-operative Whalebone Gallery; the beautiful Risk Gallery with their combined talents of photography and jewellery; Limestone Gallery with a focus on sculpture and functions, and our very own art space which is devoted to book-related art. There are also a host of smaller art spaces and studios that are definitely worth taking the time to see.
Iconic East Beach is a drawcard for Port Fairy, which leaves the other beaches mostly to the locals. Peasoup is a definite favourite for parents with young children - it’s shallow and sheltered. Nun's Beach is a favourite bathing hole for those in the know. Killarney beach, a short drive out of Port Fairy, is also a good beach to seek out if you want something that has some of the southwest coast’s ruggedness but is also fairly well sheltered. There are so many others, but you’ll have to find them yourself…
Hands down, our favourite place in this area is – surprisingly, not actually any of the beaches, but Tower Hill State Game Reserve. This is a place where, without any exaggeration, every visit has turned up some wonderful surprise – there are always the kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and emus on show, but to find the more hidden surprises is the key to the whole place. We’ve found incredible mushrooms, a turtle on a hillside, blue-tongue lizards, an echidna burrowing between the wildflowers, a variety of snakes in all sorts of interesting locations (including dangling from the rushes), once a baby snake we nearly stepped on, and once a path that was literally covered in the teeniest baby frogs.
The views at Tower Hill also change on every visit. We go in all weather, and enjoy watching the seasons change. The kids look out for the 'Truffula Trees' (the winter wattles) every year. We’ve seen it so foggy you can barely see in front of you, and other days it’s so bright and colourful with blue skies, wildflowers and superb blue wrens that you'd be blinded without your sunglasses. It really does feel like sacred ground. (See Shane Howard and Darlow performing Goanna's 'Solid Rock' on the top of Tower Hill here.)
What I’m trying to say is don’t just follow the glossies. Use them as a starting point and then step off that well-beaten track and do some of your own exploring. Turn down random streets, venture around the corner, step off the footpath (we are still asking Council for a footpath), and you’ll find treasures that are well worth the effort, we promise.
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