Nestled on the Northern slopes of the dormant volcano of Tower Hill lies the historic Irish farming settlement of Koroit. This quaint, close-knit village is hailed as one of Australia’s most complete examples of early Irish settlement. Here, Irish charm flows as freely as pints of Guinness.
Stroll back in time along the Koroit Heritage Trail and lush Botanical Gardens before experiencing the townships warm hospitality at the iconic Mickey Bourke’s Hotel, local craft brewery and distillery Noodledoof, the volcanic soil vineyards of Basalt Wines and at resident fine dining restaurant Izzy’s.
You can’t visit Koroit without venturing into the dormant volcano of Tower Hill for a guided walk exploring the magnificent landscape and meeting the wildlife that call this re-vegetated park home.
See for yourself that Koroit’s claim as the Irish heartland of Australia is not made lightly. Koroit’s current population of about 1500 people is still dominated by families of Irish decent with Irish names common throughout the township. As you drive into town you can drive-thru the honesty system potato stalls of the local farmers and for $10 pick up a bag of these famous potatoes to take home. The rich volcanic farmland of the area drew their ancestors to Koroit who had fled the famine and couldn’t believe their luck to find a piece of Ireland in their new country. Potatoes, carrots and dairy cows still grow under and on top of the rich soil around Koroit and there is even a Blarney Stone at nearby Killarney visitors can kiss.
Is it a noodle shop? An outdoor dance party? Even better, it’s a craft brewery, distillery, cafe and event space tucked away in a refurbished motor garage. It was created by two mates Noodles and Doof with a love of making quality, creative craft beer and spirits. The tap list is constantly evolving – with exciting small batch brews and adventurous spirits. Their unique flavour profiles are born from the collaboration with local Aboriginal Corporation, Worn Gundidj using their expert knowledge of the native local botanicals such as correa alba, lemon myrtle and mountain pepper.
The cafe menu and daily specials of this brew-pub are equally exciting and a celebration of produce from the surrounding area and the nearly Southern Ocean. We tucked into a share plate of crab croquettes, a medley of locally farmed carrots followed by a spicy chilli dumpling and noodle soup. A cheeky (and tasty) nod to the pre-opening rumour mill about Noodledoof being a noodle shop.
This iconic pub is the heartbeat of Koroit’s Irish heritage. And a freshly poured Guinness is the lifeblood that runs through it’s veins. Since opening the doors in 1853 Mickey Bourke’s has been the locals favourite meeting place for a good yarn, a pint and a home-style Irish meal. So, grab yourself a beer, pull up a bar stool and drink up the charming character of this renowned hotel.
Pause the pub crawl and take a walk through the town’s fascinating history on the Koroit Heritage Trail. You’ll find the map here or you can pick one up with a freshly baked treat at the Koroit Bakehouse. The trail will take you on a journey to over thirty 19th century buildings and streetscapes. You’ll wander past tiny workers cottages, grand public buildings and through the lush Botanical gardens all influenced with the Irish heritage you’ve come to expect from Koroit.
Leave history behind as you step into the striking, modern interior of Izzy’s. This cosmopolitan dining experience serves up European influenced seafood, sizzling steaks and delicious share plates with an eclectic wine and craft beer list. This family ran business thrives on their shared passion for quality produce, much of which comes from their own restaurant garden in nearby Dunkeld.
Our meal was off to a great start with a selection of dips served with warm flat bread, fresh oysters and tempura jalapenos stuffed with herb and seasoned cheese. Followed by Seafood Bouillabailse and Beef Eye Fillet Wellington topped with shaved truffles plucked from the soil that day. With a full stomach it was time to enjoy an after-dinner cocktail by the fire but it was impossible to resist the Snow Egg and Caramel and White Chocolate Apple desserts – so pretty they were edible artworks!
From the mid 1830’s until 1843 Griffiths Island served as a base for a bay whaling station. Thankfully, today it is a protected sanctuary for plants, birds and animals. Walk the 1.8km path across beaches and sand dunes to the historic lighthouse whilst keeping an eye out for whales swimming past this stunning piece of coastland. You’re guaranteed to spot loads of wildlife – echidnas, wallabies and over 80 species of birds call this island home.
Wake up with the birds at your spacious, self-contained suite on the perimeter of the wildlife reserve of Tower Hill. Take your morning coffee onto your private balcony and watch the sunrise reveal views of the local farmland. Your home for the night is actually a refurbished, mid-century classroom converted into the comfortable one-bedroom bungalow, one of only 5 on the property.
Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve lies inside a dormant volcano that last erupted over 7000 years ago. The explosion created the enormous 11km crater rim and was thought to be as forceful as 4 atomic bombs. Venture inside the crater for a 90-minute walk with your experienced guide. You’ll explore the majestic landscape, learn of its historical importance and meet the wildlife who call the re-vegetated park home. Some of Australia’s most iconic animals live here and if you’re lucky you might see emus, koalas, kangaroos, echidnas and wedge-tail eagles just to name a few.
If you can’t leave Tower Hill without one last pic there are 3 great lookouts on the rim on the Tower Hill crater. This particular viewpoint was famously painted by Eugene Von Guerard in the 1800s. No wonder he chose this spot – it offers sweeping views of the reserve and the 4 unique volcanic cones that rise from the lake bed, created from smaller eruptions. Thankfully he did, because Von Guerard’s precise painting proved to be an invaluable template for the botanists, conservationists and scientists of the Tower Hill re-vegetation program, helping them to restore this land that had previously been destroyed by land clearing, grazing, fire and mining.
The volcanic soil creates some of the greatest wines going around. Before heading home make sure to stop at Basalt Wines newly constructed Cellar Door to try their award-winning Riesling and Pinot Noir. You can also enjoy a vine-side wine tasting, local produce lunch or grazing cheese platter.
Koroit is located three hours from Melbourne via the M1 inland route and 10 minutes from both Warrnambool and Port Fairy.
Walking through Irish history on the Koroit Heritage Trail
Enjoying a pint of freshly poured Guinness at an historic Irish Pub
Going behind the scenes at Noodledoof, Koroit’s newest brewhouse
The cosmopolitan European dining experience of Izzy’s
The informative guided walk of Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve
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Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawurrung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging. We recognise and respect their unique cultural heritage and the connection to their traditional lands. We commit to building genuine and lasting partnerships that recognise, embrace and support the spirit of reconciliation, working towards self-determination, equity of outcomes and an equal voice for Australia’s first people.