On the eatin' track

In Great Ocean Road country, Greg Clarke walks a fine-food trail that comes with a generous helping of natural beauty.

Inside the tent is an aged cigar chair from Malaysia. The footstool it's paired with is from Morocco. These are strikingly bulky furnishings for a tent but my wife, who isn't much of a camper, fixes on the dreamy promises of comfort whispered by a king-size bed and its woollen blankets. Not even the sounds of the Southern Ocean seem of much interest to her.

The safari-style tent is one of six at unheralded Princetown, the closest township to the Twelve Apostles. Each of the tents at Pebble Point is smartly furnished with pieces collected by the owners, Gavan and Georgia Quill.

Princetown is on the Great Ocean Road just six kilometres east of the Apostles but other lures are far closer. The Great Ocean Walk slinks along cliff tops and beaches from Apollo Bay to near the Apostles and passes almost by our tent flap.

Parts of this cracking trail can be tackled as individual short walks. Some can be blissfully experienced by strollers rather than hikers and this is one reason for our visit to Princetown.

Yet Jodi, my wife, hasn't even packed her boots. She has, however, brought along well-honed tastes for comfort and fine food.

Pebble Point opened just before Christmas. A circular gourmet trail was launched about then and includes producers in nearby Port Campbell, Timboon and an area known as Cooriemungle. There are 12 producers on the food trail; French cheeses, smoked eel, beef pies, chocolates and whisky are crafted by some of them.

In another neighbourhood development, an addition to the Great Ocean Walk is extending from its original no-man's-land finish line to much closer to the Apostles. The overdue addition includes a viewing platform.

There is a whole lot of new about Princetown but there is nothing modern about its broader appeal. Early last century there were at least three grand timber guesthouses hereabouts and visitors from Melbourne would catch steam trains to Timboon (about 40 kilometres inland from Princetown) and then take horse-drawn carts to their lodgings.

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One of the guesthouses was on the 12-hectare property where we stay. The tents may be a contemporary incarnation of the work begun by Gavan's forebears, as his family has owned the property for more than 100 years.

With a population of just 28 people, it might be fair to assume the town hasn't in all its years had too many growth spurts.

On our first night, we sleep with one of the tent flaps open. Although it is autumn, the bed and blankets deliver on their near-medicinal promises to Jodi: both of us sleep as if anaesthetised. We wake to the rising sun, somehow coax each other out of bed and explore ocean views near our tent. We share this part of the coast with no one but rosellas rioting about the thick scrub.

From the cliffs we tramp, following the old coach road for a time, into the centre of Princetown. There are dashing views over the Gellibrand River and an estuary lively with waterbirds. A boardwalk breaches parts of the estuary and occasionally seals can be seen from it, lured like fisher folk by caches of perch, bream and sometimes salmon.

But the most coveted bit of real estate on the Princetown hill happens to be a patch of land taken up by a table at the village's general store and cafe. The table claims views over the river to sand dunes and ocean. The Lazy Bones Jones Cafe is a place to unhurriedly look out over the Gellibrand, linger over a hearty breakfast and pick up tips on things to do from its proprietor, Ryan Jones. Jones, too, is new, at least to Princetown. He and his wife, Tiffany, took over the cafe and general store late last year and, having gigged it up, are writing their own chapter in this 90-year-old place.

While we work our way through a rustic farmer's breakfast, Ryan slips between his roles of cook and unofficial tourist adviser. "People ask for directions to points all along the coast," he says. "Most people come here for the Twelve Apostles and know virtually nothing else."

Ryan, who estimates 70 per cent of his customers are international visitors, often suggests things they might do. "Most people who come in buy something, which is good," he says.

As well as breakfast, we buy some steaks from the nearby Kangaroobie farm to cook up later in the evening on the common barbecue at Pebble Point. After stashing the fillets of meat in a fridge at Pebble Point, we drive towards Timboon, home of some of the most popular parts of the food loop. With about 800 residents, Timboon is, by the Princetown measuring stick, a metropolis.

Jodi and I top up our haul of meat with cheese from French-born Matthieu Megard at L'Artisan Cheese. The tasting shot(s) of whisky at the Timboon Distillery are enough to run off thoughts of an afternoon siesta, at least for me.

We buy more local produce at the Fat Cow. This place of good food, a cafe, isn't on the food trail but includes curries made from scratch and pies made by the owners, Tod and Lisa, who are both chefs. Here is also a selection of produce from the food trail.

On return to Princetown, I leave Jodi to resume her soporific chats with her friend the bed and I meet Georgia Quill, who is taking me on a walk to the Apostles.

Late in the afternoon, we meander by the cliff tops, are dazzled by coastal views and chat often enough for me to learn that Pebble Point is named after one of the three layers of rock found in the Apostles and adjacent limestone cliffs.

We meet no one else on the trail and at the Apostles I have a winsome sense we might be the only people to arrive by foot at one of Australia's great landmarks. Down on a beach we eyeball one of the mightiest towers of rock before heading back along sand much of the way to the tents.

We have taken the western track from Pebble Point. Those who relish bush trails the way we do local food could ramble east on the 18-kilometre (return) walk from Princetown to Devils Kitchen.

We don't make it to Devils Kitchen but on our second day we walk up part of the trail through the dunes, before succumbing to the lure of a generous chunk of home-made carrot cake at Lazy Bones Jones.

For two days the cafe becomes our breakfast, afternoon coffee and/or milkshake haunt, a place to refuel before and after walking. For both Pebble Point evenings we opt for the barbecue and garnish steaks with harvest from the food trail.

We live in the district and haven't travelled far to visit Princetown. It should then, in theory at least, be easy for Jodi to stay in touch with her new friend.

Greg Clarke travelled courtesy of Tourism Victoria.

FAST FACTS

Pebble Point has six large luxury tents with king-size beds. They cost from $140 a couple a night. There is a trundle bed under the king-size bed for a child. The bathrooms, just outside the tents, are as stylish as some of those in luxury hotel rooms. A bottle of wine and locally made chocolates are complimentary for stays of two nights or more. Pebble Point is at Old Coach Road west, Princetown.

Phone 5243 3579, see pebblepoint.com.au.

The Lazy Bones Jones Cafe at Post Office Road, Princetown, is open seven days a week. Phone 5598 8250.

The Talk of the Town is licensed and the only other eatery in Princetown. Other food offerings include reasonably priced meals at the pub in Port Campbell.

There are 12 producers on the newly created food trail, which features cheeses, smoked eel, local beef and a whisky distiller. See visit12apostles.com.au.

Staff at the Port Campbell Visitor Centre on 26 Morris Street, Port Campbell, are friendly and knowledgeable. Phone 5598 6089.

Princetown is about three hours' drive from Melbourne via Colac.

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