A Complete Guide to Warrnambool, VIC

By Bruce Elder

November 17, 2022

This popular seaside vacation destination is known for the outstanding Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum and the delightful Maremma Sheepdogs, trained to ward off predators from the little penguins that breed on nearby Middle Island.

Located at the western end of the famous Great Ocean Road, Warrnambool is a charming coastal town perched on Lady Bay between the Merri and Hopkins rivers.

It is known for its safe and sheltered beaches, temperate climate, parks and gardens, and Logans Beach, where southern right whales arrive each year between June and September to calve.

Surf, rock, sea and river fishing is popular, particularly at Levys and Killarney beaches and the Hopkins and Merri rivers.

Warrnambool coastline. Image credit: Shutterstock

The Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum and Village, with more than 40 historic buildings, is a unique opportunity to experience life in a 19th-century Victorian coastal village. It offers a unique insight into the state’s infamous Shipwreck Coast, with artifacts from over 200 wrecked ships along the coast stretching from here.

Although the town remains a major manufacturing center, in recent times it has become a popular resort town attracting whale watchers during the winter months and surfers and fishermen during the summer months.

It has a vibrant food and drink culture and an ever-growing display of street art.

Warrnambool CBD. Image credit: Shutterstock

Warrnambool’s industrial base includes milk processing and dairy production.

The famous Fletcher Jones company began when David Fletcher Jones purchased a clothing store in the city in 1924. The company’s factory opened in 1948 and closed in 2005.

Warrnambool has a large number of interesting historic buildings.

With its relatively modest population of around 35,000, it is rightly described as a happy cross between a large country town and a small town.

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum and Village

This popular attraction is a recreation of a late 19th century coastal port, complete with cobbled streets.

Each building represents an important aspect of port life in the Victorian era.

Image credit: Shutterstock

The hill was named in 1854 when a flagpole was placed there as an aid to navigation after an international code of flag signals was devised. The fortifications were completed in 1887 to defend against a possible Russian attack after rising Anglo-Russian tensions due to rivalry over Afghanistan.

The over 40 buildings, all recreated using authentic materials, include: St Nicholas Seamen’s Church, the Steampacket Inn, the Bank of Australasia, a brass foundry, a newspaper office, a ship chandler’s office, a slipway, a steam workshop, a shipping agent, Masonic lodge, prison, sail loft, cooper’s workshop, armory, officers’ huts, port medical office…

Cannon Hill Lookout

Along Artillery Crescent is Cannon Hill Lookout, which offers panoramic views of Lady Bay and Lake Pertobe.

It is named after a World War I howitzer and two World War II anti-aircraft guns. A marker commemorates what were probably the first Portuguese explorations.

On the hill leading to the lookout there is a war memorial officially opened in 1926 and, more recently (in 2010), a memorial to native soldiers.

Middle Island and the Maremma Sheepdogs

Middle Island, a short distance off Stingray Bay, is home to a colony of little penguins that has been reduced by wild predators from 800 in 1999 to less than 10 in 2005.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Maremmas, Italian sheepdogs bred as guardians, were brought in for protection and in 2016 there were around 180 penguins. Middle Island has been closed to the public since 2006 to protect penguin burrows.

The Maremmes now stay there during the penguin breeding season. At other times, they are lodged at the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village.

Logan Beach Whale Watching Platform

Southern right whales migrate from cooler Antarctic waters to Lady Bay to give birth between June and September.

Image credit: Shutterstock

The Logan Beach Whale Watching Platform, east of the Hopkins River, is an ideal vantage point.

Behaviors that can be observed from here include tail-slapping, spy-hopping, and the lucky wave. Whale sighting notifications are recorded at the Tourist Information Center.

Warrnambool Heritage Trail

This easy 3km walk around the center of Warrnambool passes 22 places of heritage and historical interest.

A brochure is available at the Tourist Information Centre.


The Dhauwurd Wurrung were the original inhabitants.

The first European at Lady Bay was French explorer Nicolas Baudin (right) in 1802.

Whalers and sealers have used the bay in the 1830s.

Lady Bay was surveyed and named by whalers in 1844.

European colonization began with early herders 1840s.

A survey of the city was carried out in 1846.

In 1847 the first land sales took place in Melbourne; it officially became a municipality in 1855 and a city of 1883.

By 1850 the town had a school, a community chapel, two hotels and a blacksmith.

The first pier was built in 1850 and Warrnambool became an important port for local wool, wheat, potatoes, onions and dairy products.

The design of Warrnambool Botanical Gardens was completed in 1879.

Gunslots were installed in the 1880s for fear of a Russian invasion.

The station was built in 1890 when the railway reached the town of Terang.

The town of Warrnambool was officially recognized in 1918.

The Fletcher Jones factory opened in 1948 to supply the retail trade, which began in 1924.

In 1975 Opening of the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum.

The Fletcher Jones plant closed in 2005.

Related: A Complete Guide to Australian Cities

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