I’m itching to travel and decide to have a 3 day minibreak in Port Fairy. It’s all spur of the moment and I feel that buzz of excitement of new adventures at last. The cat looks perplexed as I make bookings and then the black overnight bag is hauled out of the closet. She knows this means trouble. Whenever this bag appears Gracie cat hurls herself under the bed to sulk. The neighbours are on feed cat duty, a stone cottage is booked in Port Fairy and I hurl my bags into the car with that wilful, wild look in my eyes that usually find me at Heathrow airport… ah well on a Covid travel scale- 3 and a bit hours from Melbourne is the wildest I’ll get.
There’s that sense of freedom and adventure. I last went to Port Fairy 10 plus years ago. I remember stone cottages, dairy cow country and wild beaches.. and the cheese factory at the nearby town of Warrnambool..that’s it. I know the area has become hugely popular for tree and sea changers and property prices have exploded. It’s an area 3 hours plus from Melbourne where Irish migrants settled and place names like Killarney are found. I love driving and the miles roll by until I decide to stop in a little country town for morning tea. There are 2 cafes. One a chip shop smelling of fried food so I head to other with lace curtains and tables all set for the throng of customers that never come.
I order my skinny, double shot flat white but I’m stopped at the first post.
” Skinny Milk? ” she says. ” Love this is dairy country. Don’t you want the real stuff. It tastes so much better.” So I back down on this one but there’ll be war if she tries to talk me out of the double shot. The rest is smooth sailing. I browse the cakes which look like a shop window from a 1950’s bakery…but very fresh and wholesome. I choose the fruit cake. ” Good choice love, best fruit cake for miles. I don’t go in for all this gluten free carrot cake stuff.” We share a laugh and I smile as I leave her shop from a different age clutching my coffee and cake. I remember when a chat and a laugh were all part of the daily life of shopping..not just order, swipe, have a nice day!
On to Port Fairy. It’s grown so much since I was here last. A very trendy main street with its lovely old stone cottages, the wharf area, the old warehouses now converted into accommodation, the cafes, bookstore, trendy clothes shops and galleries. Port Fairy is the town hosting the famous Port fairy Folk Festival when hundreds of musicians descend on the area for a long weekend in March. I booked in 2020..Big Mistake…It was cancelled due to Covid.
I do a quick walk around town and head to the cottage where I’ll be staying for 2 nights. SO pretty. Tucked away at the edge of town in a small parcel of land with an old barn and 2 stone cottages. I’m here by myself for the 2 nights and the owner shows me around the lovely garden and orchard. ” pick anything you like..persimmons, lemons, kale, herbs and please take home as many Granny Smith apples as you can!” She drives away as I settle in and a cat wanders by to check me out followed closely by a couple of hens who peck away at the garden beds. It’s quiet. So quiet.
I decide to do some walking and find the beach. It’s raining slightly. That gentle whispy rain I remember in Ireland so all rugged up I venture down to the wharf and discover a walking track I have never explored. People wander past with their dogs and say ” G’day.” the track runs the length of the coastline for miles. The wind is shrill as the path opens on to a massive vista of thrashing waves, wild seas and the odd rainbow when the sun peeps momentarily on the horizon. This is magnificent. It’s called the Shipwreck Coast and I see why. It reminds me of the wild coastline in Tasmania that I love so much, around Stanley. As I walk a transformation takes me. My face tingles with rain and wind and somehow there’s a letting go… a cleansing of my body and brain and its anxiety about Covid numbers, lockdowns, kitchen renos, budgets, family…it all drifts away. There’s just me, the wind, an endless sky and a wild ocean roaring to its own rhythm.
As evening falls I head back to the cottage, light the fire and settle into a cosy evening. I’ve bought some soup, bread and baked treats from Rebecca’s in the main street and its delicious. Sitting in the firelight I remember why I love travel so much.
Next day I do my Nora thing…Ok THIS is the place I’ll move too next…Green lush farm land, rugged coastline, not too far from Melbourne– well maybe a little far …….but great music, foodie culture and the stone cottages !!! I’ll buy two and rent one out or the kids can stay..it’s all possible!!! I head to Warnambool a city of 35,000 people some 25 kms away. The scenery is stunning and I stop at Killarney beach for a morning walk. Another person walks his dog on this white sandy beach and we stop for a chat. He moved here 3 years ago and is renovating a cottage and building a barn. He plays guitar in the pub in Port Fairy on a Saturday night. That’s it! More evidence that I should move here as soon as possible. I find great guitar playing men on the beach!
My first stop in Warrnambool is a search for coffee. I find the Art gallery where a crew is painting a mural on the white gallery wall. It’s very pretty here and as I round the corner a young guy says good morning..I stumble fumble a response.. that’s weird people talk to each other here…a street of cafe’s restaurants and food stores is brimming with people having catch ups and meetings. It’s very alive and my coffee order raises no eyebrows among the orders for double- shot cafe macchaiato , almond milk and gluten free kelp biscuits! This is my kind of scene. I keep walking and tick off all the homewares chains and fashion shops that I love. They’re all here. Further evidence I need to move here..soon! People pass and everyone says hello as I walk along the beach front and its gardens. This is lovely.
Then I spot a row of townhouses that would not look out of place in Brighton in the UK. Three-storey townhouses with balcony and a big roof terrace at the back. My kind of place and right on the beach front. This is the final confirmation I need that I have at last found my rightful place in this world. I explore the laneways of Warrnambool and take in the city views. It’s lovely. The outlaying suburbs are dull but the central city is wonderful.
Back in Port Fairy by my cosy fire I scour the real estate pages and my new life in Warrnambool gently seeps into a grey mush. Stone cottages, if they come on the market are in the million dollar price range. My chosen townhouse in Warrnambool rents at $800 a week and costs well over a million. Hmm…… Then I look at train travel from Warnambool to Melbourne. I could come in once a week to see the kids and stay at their place overnight.. what fun… 4 plus hours each way and $90 return..Hmmm
It’s my last day and as I walk the coastline I get that deflated feel when as I child, I hoped for a barbie doll for christmas and got a book which would improve my IQ instead. This is perfect, farming country and wild coastline. There’s so much to like about this place. Then my mindful self kicks in..but I’m here now and this is magnificent and I can come here whenever I like. Notice the sky. Listen to the crashing waves and breathe deep. You’re in a good place.
I’ve enjoyed my little trip to Port Fairy and Warrnambool so much, thanks Nora. A lovely neck of the woods, indeed. I have dreams of moving too, and one final renovation, it’s the wanderlust in you.
I just saw a slightly run down cottage in the Main Street of Eulo (3 days driving west) for $35k and was tempted for about 5 seconds. It would make a great winter getaway 😜
… $35K..OOoh that’s tempting… Yes it’s always….. Ok just one more renovation….. I’m into barns, churches and stone cottages currently… perhaps too many Restoration TV programs!!? Keep on Renovating Adrrienne..You’re so good at it!
I just loved this Nora, you write so beautifully.
We always look in real estate windows when we are travelling, it’s a fun pursuit but these days its as far as we get, thankfully. No more renovations for me, I prefer to watch the tribulations of others on TV shoes 😉
Thanks Jan…coming from you so much appreciated. Unfortunately reno shows just seem to ignite my need to keep renovating!!
A COVID escape – how I long for such a three day trip. One day I will write my story about renovating a 100 year old island home which had a long history as a fisherman’s cottage before urban folks like me took it on. You are a great story teller Nora – love you Inge
PLEASE write your story about that amazing house and send tons of photos… make it one day soon before you can travel again!!! Much love Sis..happy summertime to you there in Canada! xx