Where is Wonthaggi
Wonthaggi is a seaside town located 132 kilometres south east of Melbourne in Victoria. To get there you travel via the South Gippsland and Bass Highways. They will take you into the Bass Coast Shire of Gippsland. Wonthaggi will probably only take about 1.5 to 2 hours to reach making it a great day trip from Melbourne however, you will appreciate the area the longer you stay.
About Wonthaggi and It’s Town Centre
If you hadn’t guessed already Wonthaggi is an Australian Aboriginal name meaning ‘home’. It was originally known for its coal mining but is now the largest town in South Gippsland being a regional hub for the beef and dairy and tourism industries in the area. We arrived to this quaint town mid-morning after leaving Melbourne. Our first stop was at a coffee shop in the main street of Wonthaggi. To my surprise the town was abuzz with people as they went about their shopping before zooming off in their cars to I do not know where.
Wonthaggi’s commercial centre is concentrated around Graham Street and nearby Murray Street and McBride Avenue and it is a bustling place at times. On the corner of McBride Avenue and Murray Street is the Taberners or Wonthaggi Hotel. This hotel became licensed in 1914 and is heritage listed site with the National Trust. It is a beautiful looking hotel with many Federation aspects to it that reflect the time it was built. At the entrance are the giant jawbones of a 23 metre whale that washed up on a local beach in 1923. And as it turns out the Wonthaggi Hotel is a great place to enjoy a meal.
Over the road from the Wonthaggi Hotel, located in Apex Park is the Old Poppet Head. It contains the mine whistle which echoed across the town and signalled the change of shifts for all the coal miners. This poppet head is the remaining one of the 24 poppet heads which were spread across the Wonthaggi coal mining area and was relocated here in the 1950s. The mine whistle still blows at midday – unfortunately we missed it.
On learning that Wonthaggi was built on the coal mining industry we headed out the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine to learn more.
Wonthaggi State Coal Mine Heritage Site
Dimly Lit Tunnel To The Coal Pit
The Wonthaggi State Coal Mine offers a journey back in time. It operated from 1909 until 1968. Even though the mine is no longer active but you can experience what life working in a coal mine was like in the 1900s through the interactive centre and also be going underground on a tour. As you arrive you will firstly head into the interactive museum area before watching an informative video in the theatrette. It was all explained to us how during the New South Wales coal strikes at the turn of the 20th century, coal was needed and so coal mining was stepped up in Wonthaggi to meet the demand. So Wonthaggi went from being a make shift ‘Tent Town’ to a thriving town governed by the ‘Mine Whistle’ while producing some 17 million tonnes of coal for Victoria’s industries and railways. The coal mine is no longer mined but remnants of the mine both above and below ground are still very evident and have been preserved at the State Coal Mine Historic Reserve.
The reserve consists of several separate sites, with the main feature being the East Area Mine consisting of a visitor centre, equipment displays, restored historic buildings and a mine shaft which is open for underground tours. If you decide to take a tour underground, like I did, be prepared to wear a beautiful hair net and helmet which is supplied! And don’t forget to wear closed in shoes. Putting looking like a miner aside, going underground in the mine is truly an experience, one I hadn’t experienced before.
The mine opening is not elaborate but the gate protecting it is locked and unlocked daily. Here we began our descent into the dimly lit tunnel. Half way down the tunnel our guide advised that if we felt uncomfortable being in the tunnel now was the time to head back because further down the tunnel you will not be able to get out. As we continued our descent our guide would occasionally stop to point out interesting mine things. When we reached the bottom tunnels darted off other tunnels. It was very cool at the bottom and very quiet. I tried not to think how deep under Wonthaggi we were. It was amazing to think that we were underneath the land and the houses we had driven past on our way to the mine.
While underground you can admire seams of coal that are some 130 million years old. It is a wow moment. Many things about mining are explained and learnt while on this tour. We were underground about 45 minutes learning how Victoria’s hard working mines extracted the black gold – coal, and that was definitely enough time for me. I was looking forward to the caged cable car ride to the surface, which would have been pulled up by a pony when the mine was producing coal.
Fresh Air At Last
Once above ground we were able to explore the historic buildings still standing and really, just enjoy being back up in the fresh air. There is the Caretaker’s cottage, a token room and hat room, a blacksmith’s shop and a locomotive K192 with railway wagons to discover. And these all gave me a great understanding and more respect of what miners do underground and in particular, what the coal miners in Wonthaggi did. And finally I enjoyed a coffee in the coffee shop after the whole mining experience.
There is no fee to enter the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine site but there is a cost for the underground tour. You can purchase tickets on arrival or you can purchase online here.
Where to eat in Wonthaggi
There are a number of coffee shops scattered throughout Wonthaggi to get a meal during the day. If you are looking for dinner options in Wonthaggi you can choose between Thai, Chinese and Pizza but we chose the Bistro at the Wonthaggi Hotel. The hotel’s food is typical Australia ‘pub grub’ (food) which can be had at many a typical Australian pub. Including such delicacies as steak and chips, burger and chips, fish and chips to the classic Chicken Parma (Parmigiana), chips and salad I had. Which was washed down with a local white.
Where to stay in Wonthaggi
Accommodation in Wonthaggi is limited. In fact, there are only two choices – the Wonthaggi Motel and the Wonthaggi Park Lane Holiday Park. Our digs at the Wonthaggi Motel were nice and what is expected from a budget to mid-range hotel. You can get more details, pricing and booking options here for both the Wonthaggi Motel and the Wonthaggi Park Lane Holiday Park. Otherwise, there is accommodation in the nearby seaside towns of Kilcunda or Inverloch.
Things to do nearby Wonthaggi
Wonthaggi, as mentioned, is the main town in the Bass Coast Shire in the Gippsland Region in Victoria, but there is plenty to do nearby. The actual coastline of the Bass Coast is only 5km away from Wonthaggi.
Pristine Beaches Along The Bass Coast. This is near Inverloch.
Spend time discovering The Bass Coast offering over 180 kilometres of spectacular coastline. Some notable places to visit are the nearby town of Kilcunda which is home to the historic Kilcunda Trestle Bridge. Also, take in the spectacular coastal views while walking along the cliff tops on the George Bass Coastal Walk. If feeling energetic walk or ride your bike along the Bass Coast Rail Trail, the only coastal rail trail in Victoria.
Maybe explore some of the coastal parks like the Bunurong Marine and Coast Park. Here you can wonder the trails and discover the local birdlife.
Perhaps drive the Bunurong Coastal Drive between Cape Paterson to Inverloch. This 14km drive sees you cruise along rocky cliffs taking in stunning shoreline offering spectacular coastal views. Stop at some of the secluded beaches for a swim. The beaches are pristine where you can swim, snorkel, fish and surf. Or perhaps when you reach Inverloch enjoy a meal in one of its funky cafes or shop in one of the boutique stores. You can see why many people have holiday homes in this area to spend long summer days at.
While at Cape Paterson go fossicking at the Dinosaur Dreaming site near Flat Rocks during low tide. This is where thousands of footprints, bones and teeth have been discovered as well as the first dinosaur bone to be discovered in Australia, in 1903, the ‘Cape Paterson Claw’.
But if you are into wind farms you can view the Wonthaggi Wind Farm from Campbell Street running west of Wonthaggi. The wind from currently supplies 6,400 households in Wonthaggi and saves the town emitting 48,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases. A very friendly energy saving place is Wonthaggi.
Or you could go to nearby Phillip Island home to the world-renowned Penguin Parade. Read my post Phillip Island: What To See And Do.
I wasn’t really expecting to find my visit to Wonthaggi and its surrounds to be so interesting. It truly amazes me how many gems Australia has. Sometimes, the best travel experiences are those that aren’t planned, but stumbled upon and this is how I feel about the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine. Wonthaggi is a little gold mine, I mean coal mine! And it is well worth spending a day, weekend or longer in this interesting area.
Sharyn McCullum has travelled all of her life thanks to her dad who worked for an airline. She is the creator of Live Work and Play in Australia. She loves coffee, chocolate and parmas and currently calls Melbourne home. Read More.