GREATEST DRIVING TOURS AND HERITAGE TOWNS
WHY GO: A town with history located on the scenic edge of volcanic lakes and craters country.
DISTANCE FROM MELBOURNE: Colac is 150km south-west of Melbourne on the Princes Highway. Alternate return journey adds 35km to this distance.
TIME: 4½ hours round trip to Colac, but if detouring via Cressy add 30min plus sightseeing stops.
ROUTE: take Princes Hwy through Geelong and Winchelsea to Colac. The recommended alternative route from here is due north through Irrewarra and Beeac to Cressy and back to Geelong on the Hamilton Hwy.
ON THE WAY: Geelong Road is possibly one of the State’s most boring drives so hit the cruise control, some good music and relax. Winchelsea is a good place to stop for morning tea and a browse for antiques and craft.
WHAT TO DO: Colac walking guides are available at the info centre, cnr Murray and Queen Streets, and these give energetic walkers a general idea of the town sights. Otherwise, turn right at Gellibrand Street, and you’ll soon find Lake Colac’s shores and the Botanic Gardens. After being dry for a time during the recent drought in Victoria, the lake is once again full.
The town's gardens were established in 1868 to a design by Daniel Bunce of Geelong. In 1910 they were revamped when William Guilfoyle - associated with Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens - criticised their stiff and formal layout. The result, including today’s heritage listing, is quite exceptional for a country town and all the more pleasurable when you take a break at the caretaker’s cottage – now tearooms. If you’ve brought a picnic (and fine weather) you could do worse than spread the rug on grassy slopes overlooking the lake.
The Colac walk covers a six kilometre circuitous route including the sculpture path along Barongarook Creek to the lake and gardens, bird sanctuary, historic homes such as Balnagowan and The Elms. A walk by the lake is probably enough for most, so drive the rest.
The bluestone used for building St Andrew’s Church is believed to have been imported as ballast for sailing ships from New Zealand in Victoria’s Gold Rush years. Market Square, often called Memorial Square, has an imposing war memorial set amongst shady, peaceful gardens although for kids there's a playground. An inscription in stone records Federal Opposition leader Andrew Fisher’s “last man and last shilling” speech delivered in Colac in July, 1914.
If taking the alternative route to hamlets Irrewarra and Beeac, take some time to climb Red Rock, the youngest volcano in Victoria. It has views over Lake Corangamite, Australia’s largest permanent inland salt lake and an important wetland for 75 bird species. Lake Beeac is hyper-saline yet brine shrimps live in its waters, providing a food source for the banded stilt and red-necked avocet.
EATING AND DRINKING: the best place for light meals at the Botanic Gardens tearooms, a lovely old timber cottage with a covered balcony for warmer days. Another good place is Duffs Café in Gellibrand Street. There’s the usual gamut of bakeries and take-aways in the main thoroughfare, or take a picnic to the shores of Lake Colac where the kids can play. Red Rock Winery is located at Barongarook 9km south of Colac; on the alternative route home, try historic Irrewarra Homestead’s locally famous ice-cream.
©PETER ROBINSON 2011
see my images at www.australianplaces.net
For the past
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being home, is his first love. As an experienced travel writer
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