Colleen Guiney and John Watkinson of Drift House Port Fairy had a slow-burning dream. It started when they were 21 and wanting to earn money to travel the world. At the time John’s parents ran a B&B in the Yorkshire Dales in England and the couple took over the job as a way to fund some new adventures. “We just thought it was a lovely life and we could do something like this,” Colleen says. “It took us 20 more years to realise this dream and it just got bigger and bigger over time, but it was always in the back of our minds.”

Eight years ago the couple bought a run-down historic house in Port Fairy, a coastal town about three and a half hours west of Melbourne off the Great Ocean Road. John left his job in marketing and management roles and Colleen gave up her work as a visual merchandiser. (She continues to work as an artist.) “We think we make the perfect yin and yang team, combining John’s left-brained business acumen with my right-brained creativity,” she says. 

Port Fairy was also a good fit for them. “Beautiful beaches, good cafes and restaurants, historic town centre and a strong community feel,” Colleen says. They wanted to create distinctive luxury accommodation that was informed by the site but was an experience in contemporary living. To finance the Drift House Port Fairy project, they sold their award-winning warehouse in Richmond that design studio Multiplicity had designed. “Having worked with them we knew they would bring something really special to our accommodation and steer clear of the hotel cookie-cutter approach,” Colleen says. After opening in 2014 the architects won a Commendation in the Australian Institute of Architects Awards, and the accommodation has won Best Luxury Accommodation in the Qantas Australian Tourism Awards for two years in a row (2014 and 2015).  

Colleen and John live on the property with their two boys in what was the 1950s double garage. “We have extended it slightly,” Colleen says. “it is only 75m2 but it is very cosy and as I tell my friends ‘it is an architecturally designed garage now’.”

Below, Colleen shares some tips on the Port Fairy area.

Breakfast Our guests eat in and make the most of the Drift House Signature breaky hamper. Filled with local ingredients – Gloria’s chook eggs, avo and dukka, Irrewarra sourdough, house poached pears, muesli and Grampians yogurt and all the little bits that go with it.
Lunch Farmers Wife Harvest Café - bags a spot in the sun. Daily specials, yummy salads and best coffee in town.
Dinner Fen - recently awarded 1 Chefs Hat in The Age Good Food Awards. Chef Ryan Sessions is a quiet achiever with a big reputation. We highly recommend the tasting menu of locally sourced and foraged ingredients and local wines. Very special.

Him Hmmmm, wine from Basalt Vineyard Cellar Door
Kids The Lolly Shop
Food Saturday morning farmers market

May to September - whales can sometimes be spotted at East Beach and the light house. 

Winter Weekend Festival runs for seven consecutive weekends from the Queen’s Birthday and there are always some fun events on – the Dachshund Dash, movies at The Reardon Theatre where you may be treated to a free cuppa and bickies and performance by George on the grand piano before the movie begins, twilight lantern walk with a DJ and paella, free mulled wine and hot choc, local designer talks, dawn solstice dip and light festival.

East Beach at 7am for a body surf with Jim and 94-year-old Wally. It’s a treat. I cannot recommend this enough.

Griffiths Island loop walk, home to wallabies and echidnas and some beautiful beaches.  

Fish and chips on the beach cooked by Con the Frymaster from East Beach Takeaway. Ask for them extra crispy.

Foraging early winter for mushrooms in Orford;  samphire, sea lettuce, neptune's necklace, pigface etc along the local shores. 

Belfast Reserve Killarney - this easy walk allows you to explore one of the lesser-known and most beautiful sections of our coastline. The track runs through the dunes to the oval at Killarney Beach. It’s hard to believe but this track was once the main road to Port Fairy and passes the site of the old Farmers Arms Hotel. You can return via the beach.

images courtesy of drift house port fairy; photography martina gemmola