Warrnambool: the secret seachange destination

FOND memories from their honeymoon and a desire to retire on the coast prompted a sea change to the south-west for former Melbourne-based couple Jo and Marty Dover.

The Dovers were enticed to Warrnambool by its affordable property prices, lifestyle and healthcare services. 

Impressed by the close proximity of all the essential services, and the CBD only a few minutes’ walk away, the couple bought a home at Roxburgh Park, the new housing precinct being built on the site of the city’s former woollen mill in South Warrnambool.

The Dovers made the move in September and said they immediately felt part of the community, with locals embracing them and inviting them to different events.

They recalled how they came to live in Warrnambool, remembering time spent in the region as a young couple and their love of coastal areas.

“We thought of this place for our honeymoon. We were young and didn’t have much money. It was a practical holiday and I had a nice new car at the time and thought we can use that to get where we’re going,” Mr Dover said. 

Mr Dover’s family visited when he was a boy, but the couple’s honeymoon was his wife’s first time in the region. The pair spent a week in Warrnambool, staying at the Mid City and enjoying what the city had to offer.

Mrs Dover said they returned as a family a couple of times in later years and it was then the thought of Warrnambool as a retirement option occurred. 

The Dovers had considered other Victorian beachside locations to retire, including  the Mornington and Bellarine peninsulas, and closer to the city at Port Melbourne. 

“You get the beach but you get high-rises and traffic and all of that, which didn’t appeal to us,” Mrs Dover said.

“I had the idea and said ‘Why not Warrnambool?’ We Googled property prices and they were great.

“We brought our son down here. He was 10 or 11 and we went to all the touristy spots and he loved it. 

“I can remember that holiday so it’s always been in the back of our heads as a nice location and not too far to come from Melbourne. 

“It was a real light bulb moment when Marty said ‘what about Warrnambool?’ and it was ‘oh yeah, that’s obvious’.

“Because Marty grew up by the sea he’s always had it in the back of his head that we’d like to retire somewhere close to the sea.” 

Mr Dover believes Warrnambool in too often overlooked.

“We hadn’t thought about it (Warrnambool) and you know what, I don’t think many other people do. It’s a bit of a secret. 

“People think of Port Fairy and Lorne and places like that, but I don’t think many Melburnians get the thought of Warrnambool,” Mr Dover said. 

“Now that we know what’s here, we’re kind of a bit amazed and thinking ‘Why is it so below the radar?’” 

His wife said it met all their needs. “We went through the list (of what we wanted). Beach was important, good real estate and then all the stuff we like — eating out, theatre — and then because of our ages, we’re thinking we’ve got to look out for doctors and hospitals, optometrists and all of that, and it’s all here. 

“When we went through the list we thought it’s kind of obvious. Why didn’t we think of it? It was really one of those moments.” 

The couple love their new lifestyle and the ease of getting around still astounds Mrs Dover.

“The first time I went into town here for a haircut I left five minutes before my appointment. 

“It was brilliant. I just thought ‘oh wow, this is lovely’. Instead of having to set aside a whole morning just for an hour appointment.”

The couple take their beloved Labrador Tacara on walks to the beach and regularly enjoy going out for breakfast at Simon’s, overlooking the Lady Bay.

Nonna Casalinga and the Hotel Warrnambool are some of their favourite places to dine and the variety of beers on tap at the latter is a drawcard for Mr Dover, a passionate home brewer.

One of the food enthusiasts’ first nights out was to the Hunter Gatherer Dinner, an event organised by Shipwreck Marketing, which showcased south-west chefs from various restaurants and gave attendees a chance to taste locally sourced produce.

The Dovers have attended a few shows at the Lighthouse Theatre for a lesser cost than they would have paid in the city.

Mr Dover enjoys riding along the Port Fairy to Warrnambool Rail Trail and around the city. 

“It’s great and it’s a good way to get to know the area,” he said.

His wife adds: “We feel like we’ve settled in really quickly and I think a big part of that is the people who’ve been around here  ... People are so welcoming, (saying) ‘we’re having a barbecue, come round’. 

“When we go out and about, we usually see a familiar face, which is really nice when you’re new to a town.”

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