Spotted by Locals
Dave Hughes, Warrnambool
Comedian, radio host, TV presenter
"Come down and relax. The traffic is never an issue," says Dave Hughes, of his home town, Warrnambool, on the Great Ocean Road. "It won't take you long to get anywhere once you're here. You have to wait for five seconds at the most to get through a roundabout," he says of the city's key Liebig Street.
Hughes returns to his home town as often as he can, and is keen to share his knowledge of local gems and hidden highlights.
Warrnambool's Logans Beach attracts crowds between June and September, who come to spot southern right whales. Year-round the city attracts families seeking a relaxing beach break, surfers, fishers, and legions of visitors who love the epic seascapes that unfold along the famous coastline.
Places to stay
Dave Hughes spent a recent weekend staying at Warrnambool's award-winning Flagstaff Hill Lighthouse Lodge, originally built for the city's harbour master. The renovated, three-bedroom lodge has period furnishings, leather sofas, polished timber floors, free wireless internet, a fully equipped kitchen, barbecue and fenced backyard. From the back fence, guests take in sweeping views of Lady Bay.
The Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village is next door and city restaurants are within walking distance. Warrnambool also has resort accommodation, boutique apartments and B&Bs, motel-style accommodation, camping and caravan sites.
Lake Pertobe is a 20-hectare adventure park with playgrounds, a maze, lake, islands and paddle boats. It's an area that Hughesy rates as "Australia's best free adventure playground". It's next to the beaches of Lady Bay but sheltered from coastal winds and has rolling grassy hills, barbecues, picnic areas and a kiosk. Affordable camp, caravan and cabin accommodation surrounds it. Warrnambool also turns it on for children with the annual Fun4Kids festival every winter. The one-week events starts on June 30.
"I got pecked on the nose by an emu here when I was a child," says Dave Hughes of the region's Tower Hill, a nature reserve about 14 kilometres from Warrnambool where the big birds wander free. Koalas and sugar gliders are also on show. The terrain, with a lake and wetlands, was formed by a volcanic eruption about 30,000 years ago.
Thunder Point, a rocky coastal reserve just minutes from town, is close to Hughes' heart because it's where he spent a lot of his childhood snorkelling and spear fishing. He points out tiny Middle Island (no people allowed) where a fairy penguin colony is guarded from foxes by dogs. Also nearby, at the sandy mouth of the Merri River, is where Hughes experienced some tough love. "My dad chucked me off the bridge to teach me how to swim. It worked."
Food and wine
Ask a few of the locals for their opinion about the best restaurant in town and they're likely to tell you The Pickled Pig. The best coffee in town is a dead heat between the Fishtales Cafe in Liebig Street and the Pavilion Cafe and Bar on the foreshore. The "must see" attraction, according to the locals polled, is Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village.
Cosy Italian restaurant Nona Casalinga, also on Liebig Street, serves impressive dishes of veal scaloppine and pork belly. Nearby is the Italian-influenced Piccolo Restaurant. Liebig Street is also the place to go for pizza, Mexican, noodles... and fish and chips wafting from up the road.
But don't overlook the nearby town of Port Fairy for its food offerings. The latest edition of The Age Good Food Guide has favourable things to say about key restaurants The Stag and Merrijig Kitchen.
"Port Fairy is the little sister of Warrnambool and is a beautiful maritime village," says Dave Hughes. "It hosts a folk festival each March which is huge, and has boutique accommodation and shopping."
This article first appeared in The Age and is reprinted courtesy of Fairfax Media.