Aireys Inlet is often overshadowed by its larger neighbours on the Great Ocean Road: with Torquay, Anglesea, and Lorne all within a half-hour drive, many visitors overlook the charms of this lovely little coastal town.
All I can say is, don’t be tempted to make the same mistake. Whether you’re just driving through enroute to the 12 Apostles or looking for somewhere to spend a night or two, Aireys Inlet has an awful lot to offer, without the crowds or commercialisation of more well-known spots.
From stunning clifftop walkways to famous landmarks, craft breweries and distilleries to beautiful beaches, mini golf to bunyip-spotting, there’s plenty keep both kids and adults entertained. Throw in some great places to eat and drink, and you’ve got the makings of a perfect holiday spot.
Here’s what’s you need to know.
Surf or Stroll at Fairhaven Beach
Fairhaven Beach is the longest stretch of sand along the entire Great Ocean Road, and you’ll find it just west of Aireys Inlet. Dangerous rips and currents mean its only suited to experienced swimmers, but its very popular with surfers, with waves averaging around 1.5m.
There’s a surf lifesaving club at the eastern end of the beach, which is manned throughout the summer holidays and at weekends until Easter. That’s a good place to leave the car, since there isn’t much in the way of roadside parking along much of the rest of the beach.
Even if you’re not surfing, it’s a lovely spot to just go for a wander, with or without a canine companion: it’s dog-friendly, and you’ll often see locals being taken for a walk along the sand by their very good boys and girls.
It’s an easy stroll there from town, about 2km from Split Point lighthouse (below) to the lifesaving club, where you can choose to turn around or keep going as far as you like. Food, toilets, and outdoor showers are available there, but nowhere else along the beach.
Or Chill Out on Sunnymead
If you’re after a beach that’s a bit more family friendly, you’ve got plenty of options there as well. There are several lovely stretches of sand right alongside each other just east of town, but my pick would be Sunnymead.
The easternmost of Aireys Inlet’s beaches, it’s comparatively quiet even in summer, and the perfect place to while away a few hours in the sun. Park at the end of Boundary Road and walk 150m or so down some stairs and a dirt path to the beach: there’s a good chance you’ll have a big patch of sand all to yourself.
The eroding sandstone cliffs behind the beach are particularly attractive in the morning light, glowing orange as the light hits them and then changing colour throughout the day. Once the kids tire of working on their tans and splashing around in the waves, there’s a small cave to explore at the eastern end of the beach, along with several rock pools to keep them occupied at low tide.
Take In the Views From Urquhart Bluff
Urquhart Bluff sticks out prominently at end of Guvvos Beach, a long stretch of sand that ultimately ends up on the outskirts of Anglesea. It’s a ruggedly beautiful piece of the coastline, and the best way to take it all in is to stop at the lookout on the cliff above the western end of the beach.
The beach itself is also known as Urquhart Bluff at this point, and you’ll see signs for the carpark for it if you’re coming from the east. Keep going just a bit further, slow down, and keep your eyes peeled for a small carpark on the left: that’s the lookout.
You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the impressive stone sign shown above, complete with a raised 3D map and plenty of information about nearby geographical features and the construction of the Great Ocean Road itself. Take a couple of minutes to read it all: it’s worth the effort!
Once you’re done with that, wander a few metres further and admire the extensive views out to the west. I’ve seen lifesavers training in the breakers at the foot of the cliff there in the past, but much of the time, it’s just empty sand and raging surf as far as the eye can see.
Stretch Your Legs on the Surf Coast Walk
The Surf Coast Walk is a stunning 44km path that runs from Fairhaven, just west of Aireys Inlet, to Point Impossible, a few kilometres east of Torquay. It’s possible to walk the whole thing in a day if you’re a lunatic, but you’ll have a lot more fun if you split it up and spend the night in Anglesea along the way.
The trail runs directly along the coast in Aireys Inlet, straight past the lighthouse and Eagle Rock: you’ll see signs for it at various points, but if you’re on a trail beside the ocean anywhere around there, it’s highly likely that you’re on the Surf Coast Walk.
If you don’t have the time or motivation to tackle the whole thing, there are several lovely individual sections as well. There aren’t really any loop options, so at least for the longer walks, you may want to get someone to drop you off or pick you up at either end. If not, just start in Aireys Inlet and walk until you feel like turning around, wherever that happens to be!
Below I’ve listed a few of my favourite sections that start or finish in Aireys Inlet, with links to the AllTrails maps for easier navigation. One of them is an out-and-back route, the other two are one-way.
- Sunnymead to Split Point Lighthouse, 2.7km, easy
- Aireys Inlet Cliff and Beach Walk, 10.9km return, moderate
- Anglesea River to Split Point Lighthouse, 13.5km, moderate
You can make up your own sections as well, letting you choose the length that works best for you. This map covers the entire 44km route of the Surf Coast Walk: just download it to your phone before you set out.
Tour the Famous Split Point Lighthouse
If you know nothing else about Aireys Inlet, chances are you’ve seen the lighthouse. Maybe not in person, unless you’ve taken the short detour off the main road, but probably on a TV show some time in the last thirty years or so.
The Aussie kids TV show “Round the Twist” is what first made it famous, airing all around the world throughout the nineties. The lighthouse was supposedly the home of the Twist family, and has been instantly recognisible to anyone of a certain age who grew up watching the show. Yes, that includes Lauren, who wouldn’t stop singing the theme tune the entire time we visited.
In more recent times, the 34-metre structure has made an appearance in the quickly-forgotten 2003 movie Darkness Falls, an episode of Masterchef Australia, and various travel shows. That’s before you consider the endless array of postcards, coasters, and other souvenirs proudly featuring the famous building.
You’ll find it at Split Point, which is well-signposted and only a couple of minutes’ drive away from the Great Ocean Road. Follow Inlet Crescent and the aptly-named Lighthouse Road until you get to the end, then turn left into the carpark. The road becomes Federal Street and continues a little further towards the lighthouse, but you can’t park along it.
Sitting right at the end of the point, the lighthouse itself is easy visible from a long way off. Which I guess is pretty much the point. It was built in 1891 and has stayed in operation to this day, a succession of lighthouse keepers based there before it switched to automatic operation in 1919.
There’s no charge to enter the grounds, but if you’d like to go inside and check out the view from the top, it’s $10 per person. The lighthouse is open every day, but hours vary depending on the time of year. Late morning through early afternoon is a pretty safe bet, but check the website for details.
If you’re hungry when you’re done, stop in at the Lighthouse Tea Rooms on the way back to the car. The buildings used to be the lighthouse stables, and now serves up great toasted sandwiches and baked goods. The coffee wasn’t great on my last visit, though, so I’d probably skip that.
Get a Photo Under the Famous Memorial Arch
Did you know that the Great Ocean Road is the world’s largest war memorial? It was built by thousands of returned soldiers over a thirteen-year period from 1919, just after the end of World War One, and dedicated to who died in that devastating global conflict.
With little in the way of modern machinery, creating the road was a massive project. In 1939 a memorial arch was built at Eastern View, just west of Airey’s Inlet, to commemorate the sacrifice made by the soldiers both during the war and the construction of the road.
The timber and stone arch stretches from one side of the road to the other, and still stands to this day. Kind of. The one that you see now is actually the third on this site: the original was showing its age after a few decades and was rebuilt in 1973, and then the Ash Wednesday fires claimed the replacement ten years later.
The current version still looks much the same as the original, however, and remains a popular spot to stop and take a photo. There’s a small carpark on the left as you approach from the east, with sculptures and information boards that explain the history of the arch and the building of the road.
I took the above photo looking back in the direction of Aireys Inlet: you can see the carpark on the right in the background. If you’re quick enough and there isn’t much traffic, you can likely nip out and get a similar shot. Just be careful when you do–it’s a highway (and a war memorial) after all!
Go Snorkeling or Rock Pooling at Eagle Rock
At the base of the Split Point lighthouse and extending 300m out to sea, Eagle Rock Marine Sanctuary is home to around 25 species of fish. Closer to shore, keep your eyes peeled near the sprawling rock pools, and you’ll see everything from tiny fish to crabs and octopuses.
When the waves are small and there’s minimal wind, it’s possible to snorkel here, with a lot to see in a pretty small area. Just go in off the nearby beach and paddle around near the reef and rock shelf.
Unfortunately this area, like a good chunk of this area, gets a lot of wind. When that happens, the waves get big and powerful (it’s called the Surf Coast for a reason!), and it’s no longer safe or comfortable to snorkel around near the rocks.
If that’s the case when you’re there, just leave the mask and flippers in the car, and stick to the shoreline instead. The rockpools are still accessible at low tide unless the wind and waves are particularly high, and there are several different platforms near the lighthouse that give a great view over the surrounding rocks and beaches.
Try Some Quality Craft Gin and Boutique Beers
For a town as small as Aireys Inlet to have two craft booze outlets is nothing short of impressive, especially when they’re as good as these ones are. First up is the Great Ocean Road Gin Tasting Room and Garden, where you can enjoy the company’s small-batch gins made just up the road in Torquay.
Whether you’re enough of a connoisseur to go for the tasting flight, or prefer cocktails or traditional gin and tonic options, they’ve got you covered. I must admit that I am very partial to a well-crafted gin, and that’s definitely what’s on offer here.
The tasting room is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, and open in the afternoons and/or evenings the rest of the week. Check the website for the current times. Alongside, the Gin Kitchen restaurant is run by the same people. The restaurant has a Southeast Asian-themed menu, with plenty of gin-based drinks options to go with it. Again, check the website for current opening hours.
If beer is more your style, head along to Salt Brewing Company, alongside the Aireys Pub. The brewery is a recent addition, but the pub has been there serving up drinks to thirsty punters since 1904. Saved from the hands of developers a decade or so ago, it remains a local institution.
Salt Brewing Co typically has about half a dozen beers on offer, ranging from hoppy IPAs to easy-drinking draught, pale lagers and ales, and sturdy stouts for when the weather turns cooler. You’ll find them all at the pub, which is open Thursday through Monday, from lunchtime til late.
Catch Your Dinner in Painkalac Creek
If you fancy catching your dinner, or at least spending a good few hours trying, head along to Painkalac Creek. The estuary and mouth is where locals in the know go fishing for salmon and mullet. You’ll often catch bream there too, although its not unusual to find them further upriver as well.
It’s not exactly hard to find the creek: it winds right through the middle of town, and the Great Ocean Road goes straight over top of it. A bunch of viewing platforms dot the trail around the river mouth, which also make for a great spot to set up and wait for the fish to start biting.
Note that the size and shape of the creek changes dramatically depending on how much rain there’s been lately. It can start to resemble a lake when the shifting sand blocks the exit to the sea for a while, as often happens. Likewise, in times of drought, there may be little to no water that makes it to the ocean at all.
Don’t forget that with few exceptions, people between the ages of 18 and 70 need a license to fish in Victoria. They’re not hard to get buy online, at least, and you can get one that lasts anywhere from three days to three years. Fisheries officers have been known to check!
Shoot a Hole in One at Great Ocean Road Mini Golf
Looking for something to do with the kids? Great Ocean Road Mini Golf, on your right as you come into town from the east, is the ideal spot for them to work off a bit of steam and for you to try to get that hole in one that’s been eluding you for years.
Open from 10am to 5pm on weekends, public holidays, and during the school holidays, the “Great Ocean Road” part of the name isn’t due just to its street address. The two courses are based around the local area, and are quite different to the generic mini golf courses you may have played on elsewhere.
The 18-hole Shipwreck Coast course wends its way through native bushes and trees, with holes including a bunch of themed features like a shipwreck and even a replica of the Split Point Lighthouse. Meanwhile the 12 Apostles course (which has 12 holes, of course) is aimed at slightly younger kids, with information about the Great Ocean Road’s most famous attraction at each hole.
Prices are $14-16 per round for an adult, $10-12 for a child, and $44-48 for a family of four. There’s a discounted rate if you want to play both courses. Note that while there are toilets onsite, there isn’t a cafe: fortunately the excellent Onda Food House (mentioned above) is only a two-minute walk away.
Spot a Bunyip At Alan Noble Sanctuary
If you’re not familiar with Aboriginal folklore, you may not have come across a bunyip before. This terrifying creature was said to live in waterholes, swamps, and rivers, resembling anything from a large dog-like animal to a long-necked creature with tusks, a small head, and a horse-like tail, depending on who was telling the story.
Whatever it looked like, it was certainly best avoided: stories abounded of it eating women and children, while its loud, roaring call was enough to scare even the bravest of warriors.
An English convict who’d been sent to Australia, William Buckley, escaped from custody in 1803 and subsequently lived with the local Wathaurong People for the next 30+ years. Completely immersed in their culture and stories, he claimed to have personally seen a bunyip on several occasions.
What does this have to do with Airey’s Inlet, you may well ask? Well, if you head to the Alan Noble Sanctuary (you’ll pass it on your way to and from the lighthouse), you’ll have the answer to your question.
Local artists have created a wooden sculpture to commemorate “Buckleys Bunyip”, carving and painting tree trunks to come up with all manner of strange and distorted figures. Do they resemble a bunyip? Given how nobody could ever accurately describe what one looked like, I’m not going to say they don’t.
Once you’ve had your fill of bunyips, take another few minutes to walk around this small patch of wetland. You’ll likely spot several species of water birds in the reedy lake in the middle, and there’s a picnic table under the shade of a nearby tree that’s a great spot for an impromptu picnic.
Tried everything in Airey's Inlet and looking for something else nearby? There's loads to do in Anglesea, just a ten minute drive east, and even more in Lorne, just a little further away to the west.
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