The City of Roundabouts Melbourne is the city of food and fashion, Adelaide is the city of churches, and along the coast between the two is Warrnambool, the city of roundabouts. Yes, tourists flock to the seaside destination for its many stunning attractions and amusing activities, but the one thing every local will associate with Warrnambool (also known as The Bool or Warrnie) is its circular intersections. There are dozens, including a peanut-shaped roundabout (the peanut), built some years ago amid a flurry of controversy over its unfamiliar and irregular form.
The roundabouts make Warrnambool a hassle-free place to negotiate. Visitors can make their way to Liebig St (go up the street) and easily drive up and down (cut a lap) to scope out the shops and cafes on each side. From the top-most roundabout at Cannon Hill, which features the city's war memorial (The Dirty Angel), visitors can also head across to Pertobe Road, and familiarise themselves with the location of Flagstaff Hill, the Main Beach, Lake Pertobe Adventure Playground and The Breakwater (hang a beachie).
There's no doubt that a drive-by perusal of all these sites will spark the urge to explore further, but a bit of local insight can go a long way in making a stay more enjoyable. Read on to find out about the places the locals love, plus top tips on doing the Bool the Warrnie way.
From June until October, one of the things the citizens of Warrnambool like to do is to talk a lot about going to see the Southern Right Whales, which come to the area over those months each year to calve. There is a sense of excitement in the city at this time, with up-to-the-minute information about sightings reported online, but often, the locals don't manage to transform this excitement into an actual visit to the viewing platform. It's part of the phenomenon that sees Melbournians staring in awe at the Opera House while Sydney-siders pass without a glance, and everyone except the Parisians climbing the Eiffel Tower. Luckily, visitors to Warrnambool are more likely to have the free time and immediate enthusiasm to carry through the impulse, which is a good thing, since whale watching in Warrnambool is an amazing experience (probably).
Resident seal at Warrnambool Breakwater
In the warmer months, the beach area is thriving with tourists and locals alike, doing everything from swimming, sailing, surfing and fishing to illegally jumping off the Breakwater (just about every local has done this, but it's not advisable given the dangers to safety and hip-pocket). The promenade provides a great walking path along the foreshore, with the added bonus of Simon's and The Pavilion at the end, where one can replace burnt calories with cake and wine. On the other side of Pertobe Road, the enormous Lake Pertobe Adventure Playground attracts kids and picnickers, twitchers, BBQ party cricketers and those who fancy taking a pleasantly naff turn on the paddle-boats.
Lake Pertobe Adventure Playground
Away from the foreshore, Warrnamboolians are drawn throughout the year to the Botanic Gardens to be chased by ducks, to the city's art galleries for a dose of culture and, perhaps most frequently, to Kermond's Hamburgers to experience bliss. The famous aroma of deliciousness that emanates from Kermond's is very hard to resist, and has been luring locals for more than sixty years. Meanwhile, go one roundabout across and two roundabouts down and you'll be metres from Fishtales (Fishies), a cheery, beachy café with a huge menu, an even bigger courtyard, and lots of local artwork decorating the whole venue. Fishies also runs Sri Lankan Curry nights on some Mondays, which are excellent value.
Ducks at the Warrnambool Botanic Gardens
When Sunday arvo rolls around, a great number of Warrnambool residents can be found at one of three locations. The first is Club Warrnambool with its old-world glory, incredible cakes and regular pianist. The second is the Seanchai (the Shan), the city's Irish pub, which holds traditional Irish music sessions every week. Patrons can even bring along their own fiddles and join in. Really. The third hotspot is the Hotel Warrnambool (the Warrnie) where live bands, quirky décor and a well-designed courtyard combine to create a rather delightful atmosphere. All three venues have fireplaces lit when it's cold, making them as popular in winter as they are in summer.
When the sun goes down in Warrnie-town, anything could happen. But don't worry, it usually doesn't. While the city has its fair share of pubs and bars, it boasts just two nightclubs: Eden (upstairs at The Whaler's Hotel) and The Gallery (known as The Gal, though it was once marketed as The G-Spot). The level of local custom at either of these establishments seems to be dependent on which of them last had a lick of paint and a re-jig of furniture, so if you're looking to dance up a storm to top twenty tunes in a throng of youth, your best bet is to find out which venue has undergone the most recent renos.
If you're seeking something a bit more refined, The Last Coach is a great little venue for lounging about while chatting to friends. If it's indie music you want then head to The Loft, Warrnambool's dingy hipster bar, which hosts some fantastic local and touring bands. Other genres of performance art are also on offer in Warrnambool, since the city upped the ante with a renewed focus on what is now known as the Lighthouse Theatre (visitors may hear it referred to as the PAC, though it's been ten years since that name for the entertainment centre was officially discarded).
The Lighthouse Theatre
A great dinner is also on the menu in Warrnambool. Long-standing Italian restaurant, Bojangles, is always incredibly busy but worth the wait (their Grant Special is a must). More recent additions to the culinary scene include Nonna Casalinga and Pickled Pig, which are popular with locals as well, while Logan's is a solid, mainstream restaurant. Dragon Inn, Brown Grain and Cattleya Thai are the best for Asian cuisine, while the newish kids at Kebabs on Kepler are doing good things with meat on a spit.
Branching Out of the Bool
A visit to Warrnambool isn't complete without venturing out and exploring the sights within an hour's radius of the city. To the west is the well-known township of Port Fairy, worth visiting for the boutique shops, excellent eateries and the beach, which includes Griffiths Island and its bluestone lighthouse. Between Port Fairy and Warrnambool is Tower Hill, a reserve built around an extinct volcano, where you can't miss spotting wildlife even if you try.
The lighthouse at Port Fairy
To the east of Warrnambool you'll find the Hopkins Falls, a picturesque waterfall that hasn't had the full tourist treatment yet despite the beauty of the landmark. Likewise the Childers Cove area, which has a lot in common with The Twelve Apostles – except for the constant busloads of tourists which pervade the latter. The inland region of Corangamite shouldn't be missed either, for its eerier, less conventional splendour.
Once you've seen and done all of this, there are just two things left to do: become an advocate of the phrase 'nibble pie' and engage in heated debate over right of way at roundabouts. Then you won't have just experienced Warrnambool like a local – you'll have become one.
Great article - I've been there and it's a fantastic city for a family holiday. Heaps of action for the kids and adults alike. I thoroughly recommend a trip down to Warrnambool for anyone who hasn't been there yet.