Victoria’s Great Ocean Road ends just east of this charming coastal city, allowing you to take a short trip to natural wonders such as the Twelve Apostles and Martyrs’ Bay.
The rugged chimneys, arches and caves here are carved out of colorful limestone by the turbulent Southern Ocean.
It’s a coastline with a harrowing past that has claimed more than 600 ships over the centuries, and the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village will give you the backdrop for these disasters.
In winter, Logan Beach in Warrnambool is a calving ground for southern right whales, which you can witness from the panoramic lookout.
1. Great Ocean Road
Warrnambool is at the western end of a National Heritage-listed road that runs 243km east around Cape Otway to Torquay.
This awesome achievement took place after World War I and was built by some 3,000 returning veterans in memory of their lost compatriots.
The best part about coming to Warrnambool is that you’ll be close to many of the Great Ocean Road’s most treasured landscapes.
Sights like the Bay of Islands and the Twelve Apostles are a breeze from the city itself, on a journey as inspiring as the destination.
2. Bay of Islands
There are jaw-dropping sea views within 32km between Warrnambool and Peterborough.
You can reach several beaches along the coast, but the real fun of the Bay of Islands is its towering limestone cliffs and massive chimneys, slammed by the Southern Ocean.
The coastline features Victoria’s only nesting ground for marine cormorants, as well as rare plants such as fragrant spider orchids and sun orchids.
Your first priority must be the cliffs and gnarled stacks of Martyr’s Bay, which can be admired on the four-kilometer walking trail.
Massacre Point has fantastic views and wetland reserves, while in Peterborough all the coves are named after another wreck, and you can enjoy incredible panoramic views from the golf course.
3. Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village
You can bet that the area known as the Shipwreck Coast has some exciting stories to tell, and this heritage-listed site and stretch from the cliffs to Lady Bay is the place to hear those stories.
Flagstaff Hill, home to Warrnambool’s original lighthouse and its garrison, is designed to resemble an 1870s sea village, blending historic buildings with newer ones.
Over 10 hectares of land with over 40 buildings and boats to explore.
Here you’ll find Victoria’s largest collection of shipwreck artifacts, the most stunning of which is the Loch Ard Peacock.
Produced at Minton Potteries, Staffordshire, in 1873, this earthenware peacock was designed by French sculptor Paul Comolera.
Remember to stay after dark to watch the story of the Shipwrecked Coast’s sound and light show, showcasing the coast’s Aboriginal culture, the history of whaling and the disaster that terrified sailors so much.
4. Port Campbell National Park
Continuing from the Bay of Islands, you will reach Port Campbell National Park, which stretches east from Peterborough to Princetown.
The majestic limestone piles towering into the sea within the national park are some of the stars of the Great Ocean Road.
The most photographed is the Twelve Apostles, seven human-shaped boulders as high as 50 meters.
But some other headliners were London Arch, a natural arch that ran aground after the bridge collapsed in 1990, and Loch Ard Gorge, a clear blue inlet surrounded by yellow cliffs covered in lush vegetation.
It is named after the Loch Ard clipper that was wrecked here in 1878 with a luxury cargo. The easternmost point of the park is the cliffs of the Gibson Steps, with a winding staircase leading to the beach, where you can see the huge stack from below.
Finally, The Grotto is a mix of natural arches, caves and blowholes, best visited in the early evening, when you can see the sunset through the mouth of the cave.
5. Logan Beach
Almost every year between June and September, southern right whales migrate to this beach in Warrnambool to calve.
It is worth noting that these behemoths will come hundreds of meters from the land, close to the details that can be seen by the naked eye.
A long, multi-level, fully accessible platform has been established high up on the dunes and traces along the beach with a perfect view of the waves.
Southern right whales spend most of the year deep in the Antarctic and travel to warmer waters during the winter.
The species was indiscriminately hunted in the 19th century, but recovered after whaling was banned in 1938.
6. Tashan Wildlife Sanctuary
About 10 minutes northwest of Warrnambool, this wildlife sanctuary is within a huge extinct volcanic crater.
Rising from the otherwise flat landscape is a cluster of volcanic cones that sit above lakes and wetlands.
The reserve is home to a wealth of native wildlife, including koalas, kangaroos and emus, as well as birds such as blue wrens, ducks and swans.
The site also has fascinating ancient human history in the form of Aboriginal kitchens and excavated artefacts that prove people were here before a massive eruption 34,000 years ago.
You can stroll along the boardwalk, take a more strenuous hike around the volcanic cone, or arrange a hike to learn about the site’s Aboriginal heritage.
7. Warrnambool Botanic Gardens
William Guilfoyle (1840-1912), the man behind the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, laid out Warrnambool’s own botanical garden, which opened in 1879. Guilfoyle’s original design remains intact, consisting of open lawns and wide, winding paths.
As you explore, you’ll see mature trees, an elegant rotunda, ferns, a lily/duck pond and gorgeous formal beds.
About 1 in 10 plants here are tagged, about 70 percent of the garden is exotic, and there is an important bamboo collection.
If you come across a tree you want to identify, a full garden tree map is posted on the website.
8. Cheese World
Dairy farming has been the backbone of Warrnambool’s economy since the 19th century.
Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory (WCB) was established in 1888 and has a wine cellar for sales and tasting.
There, you can sample award-winning varieties such as Heritage Cheddar, Coon, Mil Lel and Cracker Barrel, all across from where they were produced and matured.
Factory tours are not currently offered, but the staff will provide clues and will give you many insights into how the cheese is made.
There is also an on-site café serving delicious farmer’s lunches and cheese platters, or refreshing SunGold milkshakes in summer.
Warrnambool was awarded for its seaside circuit, which runs 5.7km east from the breakwater to Cape Ridge at the mouth of the Hopkins River.
In addition to the beautiful sand, flume, and Logans Beach, there are plenty of recreational facilities along the way, especially if you cut into Lake Pertobay.
You’ll come to lookouts, open lawns, tennis courts, lakeside walks, boat rental stations, picnic areas, memorials, skate parks, mini golf, lifeguard clubs, barbecues and many more places where you can get a seat, in the sun Relax.
10. Potobe Lake Adventure Park
One of the great assets of the Marina Reserve is a giant playground that any urban park would be the envy of.
Right in the shallows of the lake, this is a year-round free attraction that covers eight hectares and attracts everyone from toddlers to teenagers.
To list some equipment, there are mazes, giant slides, flying foxes, trampolines, sandboxes, swings and various wooden climbing obstacles laid out in the sand.
You can also play mini golf nearby or rent a paddle boat, surrounded by grass to play cricket or football.
11. Thunder Point
Of all the spectacular ocean views around Warrnambool, Thunder Point, just west of Foreshore, is arguably the best place to watch the sunset.
Next to the car park there is a wooden platform that extends to the edge of the cliff, where you can gaze out at the sea and the tormented cliffs and outcrops that greet it.
If it’s too cold in winter, you can still get a stunning view from the car park.
If walking is your thing, there is a trail leading to Shelly Beach and Levis Beach, which are full of outcrops, rock pools and stunning sand.
12. Childers Bay
About halfway up the Bay of Islands, it’s a coastal landscape that’s not getting as much publicity as it deserves.
Childers Cove is a pair of entrances cut 200m, both surrounded by three sides of a tall cliff of a mix of limestone and sandstone.
Outcrops and accumulations of different shades are scattered across the bay, battered by rough waves.
Aside from being overshadowed by its more famous neighbours, one reason Childers Cove is off the beaten track is that passageways are discreetly marked, so when you come, you’ll likely have your own beach.
13. Warrnambool Art Gallery (WAG)
The institution is managed by the City Council and has a history of more than 130 years.
Since 1886, the Warrnambool Art Gallery has brought together thousands of works of various origins.
There are 1800s Salon and colonial landscapes, Aboriginal artefacts, contemporary Australian prints and avant-garde modernism like Angry Penguins.
You can view selected works in this inventory, as well as important national and international traveling exhibitions, and works by artists from the Warrnambool area.
14. Hopkins Falls
One of the widest falls in the state spans over 90 metres and is just a 15-minute drive from Warrnambool.
The Hopkins River drops 12 meters on angular basalt, and there are many viewing platforms and photo spots.
You can view the falls from two lookouts at the top and one lookout below.
After the rainy season in winter, there are naturally larger emissions.
At this time of year, you can also see juvenile short-fin eels sliding down waterfalls at the start of their epic migration, taking them to the Coral Sea in southeastern New Guinea.
15. Griffith Island
Beyond the Great Ocean Road, a short drive west of the southern end of Fairy Bay, there is much more to offer.
Now uninhabited, low-lying Griffith Island is connected to the mainland by a walkable causeway and was home to a whaling station in the 1830s and 1840s.
A lighthouse was erected on the tip of the island in 1859, and 160 years later it is still in operation with a range of 14 nautical miles.
Today, Griffith Island is famous for its birds, with as many as 90 species recorded here.
The most numerous are the short-tailed shearwaters (mutton birds), which breed here in the tens of thousands between September and April.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Warrnambool, Australia
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