GEELONG was named in 1827, surveyed in 1838 and proclaimed a city in 1910 with everyone from pastoralists and lighthouse keepers to gold miners and mariners playing a part in growing the port settlement.
That history is celebrated in Geelong and around the Bellarine Peninsula with vintage estates and thoughtfully curated museums recalling the days when this part of the state was an outpost on the colonial frontier.
Visit the Old Geelong Gaol, stroll the Queenscliff Heritage Walk, explore the Fort Queenscliff Museum and Queenscliff Maritime Museum, ride the Bellarine Railway, browse the National Wool Museum and dive on the wreck of HMAS Canberra with Queenscliff Dive Centre.
Explore the lighthouse at Aireys Inlet, drive a section of the Great Ocean Road built by 3000 Great War veterans as a memorial to those who died in the conflict and get lost in the heritage grounds at Geelong’s Botanic Gardens.
There are four National Trust buildings in and around Victoria’s second-largest city – Barwon Park, Barwon Grange, The Heights and Portarlington Mill – and the Geelong waterfront is home to the Bollard Trail which stretches from Limeburners Point to Rippleside Park and presents 100 characters from history in a quirky and creative way.
Best for beach houses
Generations of Victorians have spent holidays on the Bellarine Peninsula, with the coastal villages that dot the parcel of land beside Geelong home to the beach houses that have provided a base for decades of lazy days at the seaside.
Bayside settlements such as Portarlington, Indented Head and Queenscliff are firm favourites, while Point Lonsdale, Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads are popular destinations on the Bass Strait side of the peninsula.
Torquay, Jan Juc, Anglesea, Aireys Inlet, Fairhaven and Lorne further west on the Surf Coast are also favourite spots for those who prefer spending a break in a beach house – owned or rented – rather than bedding down in a hotel or motel.
Kathy Anderson from Queenscliff &Coastal Holiday Bookings, just one company that manages holiday rentals on the Bellarine Peninsula, says the region has a huge assortment of beach houses which are ready to be occupied all year round.
“Renting a beach house gives guests privacy, a true local experience, and they may range from smaller apartments and economical family homes to larger luxury homes with fabulous ocean views,” Anderson says.
“A holiday rental is a home away from home that can be very economical and the Bellarine Peninsula is a great place to stay as it has a vast array of activities that include surfing, golf, wineries, steam trains and a fabulous selection of restaurants, cafes, shops and galleries.
“We have beautiful beaches and Queenscliff has a modern new harbour, great bike tracks, and really popular Sunday markets,” Anderson says.
“Renting with QCHB is really easy, we have a website with live booking calendars and it is loaded with photos and maps to give guests the information they require to make bookings online in confidence, and the best bonus is you can bring your pampered pooch with you as many of our holiday homes are pet friendly.”
OzBook, Holiday Great Ocean Road and Stayz Holiday Accommodation are three more companies that make it easy for holiday-makers to rent a beach house for a short break or longer stay.
Best for surfing
When it comes to riding a wave, you can’t go past Victoria’s Surf Coast.
The stretch of sand between Barwon Heads on the Bellarine Peninsula and Lorne on the Great Ocean Road is home to some of the world’s best breaks.
Everyone from absolute beginners to sun-bleached veterans will be able to find an uncrowded spot to hang ten.
Fairhaven, Southside, Rincon, Winki Pop, Moggs Creek and Thirteenth Beach have been drawing surfers for decades to ride booming Southern Ocean breakers whipped up by storms happening hundreds of kilometres from the state’s south coast.
The long lines of swell break on sandy shallows and crash on beaches that are often void of buildings.
Those waiting for a wave look across a patchwork of paddocks or blocks of bush rather than highrise towers and crowded dunes.
The Surf Coast’s most famous wave is Bells Beach, a natural amphitheatre surrounded by cliffs that plunge into the deep blue, with the iconic destination playing host to the world’s oldest professional surfing event.
Top male and female surfers descend on Bells Beach every Easter, with the Rip Curl Pro now considered to be one of the most sought-after titles on surfing’s ASP World Championship Tour.
It’s a competition that holds a proud place in surfing folklore.
Nearby Torquay is known as Australia’s surfing capital – it’s also the official start of the Great Ocean Road, one of the world’s top driving routes – with legendary surf brands such as Rip Curl and Quiksilver starting business in the hamlet that is a 20-minute drive from Geelong.
Those keen to slip into some surfie threads, or even buy a bespoke board, should visit the big brands’ factory outlets, while energetic types can learn the skills needed to negotiate a break by taking a lesson with Go Ride A Wave or Great Ocean Road Surf Tours.
Torquay is home to the Surf World Museum, the largest of its kind in the world featuring permanent and temporary displays that tell the story of the sport and celebrate the contribution Australians have made over the decades.
Best for animal encounters
If you’re heading to the Bellarine Peninsula pack some stale bread – or even surplus bacon – to feed the birds that gather when you stop for a picnic or barbecue on the balcony.
But there’s more to the wildlife scene in this part of Victoria than pelicans and kookaburras looking for a feed, with the territory between Corio Bay and Bass Strait sustaining a zoo of critters that live on the land and in the sea.
The Anglesea Golf Club is home to a mob of eastern grey kangaroos that feed on the grass around the clubhouse bistro, and Port Phillip’s western shoreline is one of 11 significant wetlands in Victoria hosting many shore and waterbirds.
Sea All Dolphin Swims gets visitors close to the marine wildlife that live in the southern reaches of Port Phillip Bay. The excursions depart from Queenscliff and visit Pope’s Eye where guests can snorkel with schools of colourful fish and Chinaman’s Hat to meet the Australian fur seals.
South Bay Eco Adventures also offers jaunts to glimpse the local dolphin and seal colonies as well as guided walks around Mud Islands to spy the seabirds that visit the tidal lagoons to feed.
If you like your animal encounters to happen on dry land then join a guide from Blazing Saddles for a beach or bush trail ride .
Amble into the Great Otway National Park or along Fairhaven beach from the Aireys Inlet stables – with koalas and kangaroos some of the wildlife you can see from the back of a horse.
There’s also the chance, if you time your visit just right, to score a seat at Simonds Stadium during footy season and witness the fierce Geelong Cats on the prowl.
Best for tasting
Wining and dining is an important part of every getaway and Geelong won’t disappoint, with a swag of restaurants, cafes and bars ready to welcome travellers who have found their way to the buzzing city by Corio Bay. Fuel Coffee + Food and The Pickers Union Cafe are top destinations for coffee.
A Spot for Joe and There There are high on the list of outstanding eateries, while The Lord Nelson is a restored Victorian pub with a great atmosphere, and Baveras Brasserie boasts the best views in Geelong from a perch on Cunningham Pier.
Queenscliff is another culinary mecca, with the McKenzie Ebbels Food Store, Vue Grand Hotel, Gusto Queenscliff, Charlie Noble Cafe, Q Seafood Provedore, Raw Ingredients, Saltbush Fine Foods, 360Q and The Queenscliff Hotel all agreeable choices, while the Queenscliff Fish and Chip Shop is celebrated as one of the best for picnic fare.
The Bellarine Peninsula is home to a host of family-owned wineries, boutique breweries, farm-gate producers and fisher folk making and harvesting everything from cider and cheese to mussels and blueberries.
There are more than 60 operators in all but, if plotting a path to visit even a few sounds like hard work, then step on to the Bellarine Taste Trail and follow the suggested itineraries. These are arranged according to various themes, to tantalise the tastebuds.
THREE WAYS TO DO IT
See: Inspect the extensive array of Australian art – including Eugene von Guerard’s View of Geelong – on display at the Geelong Gallery, an elegant institution established in 1896. Free.
Sleep: Camp at BIG4 Beacon Resort, a Queenscliff caravan park just a wander from the beach, and use the modern Camper’s Kitchen. Powered camping sites from $43.
Eat: If you’re craving pizza then navigate the Great Ocean Road to Lorne where Pizza Pizza on Mountjoy Parade is crafting some of the best varieties south of the border. From $12.
Drink: Retire to a table on The Sundeck at the Esplanade Hotel – a historic pub a stone’s throw from Queenscliff Pier – and linger over an alfresco drink. Drinks are at bar prices.
See: Go on safari, with an assortment of African animals roaming the wide open spaces at Werribee Open Range Zoo. Adults $26.10, children $12.90.
Sleep: Vue Apartments offer boutique self-contained accommodation near the Geelong waterfront, with studio rooms as well as one and two-bedroom suites. Studios from $149.
Eat: The Dunes – on the beach in Ocean Grove – is a favourite with locals and visitors alike for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as everything in between. Breakfast from $7.90.
Drink: Take in the views across Corio Bay as you linger over a coffee or cocktail at Edge Geelong, in the heart of the city’s waterfront precinct. Wine by the glass from $7.
See: Wine and dine while enjoying the music on The Blues Train as the steam engine makes the return journey from Queenscliff to Drysdale. Tickets from $95.
Sleep: The Turret Suite at the Vue Grand in Queenscliff provides those lucky enough to reserve the room 180-degree views to the entrance of Port Phillip Bay. From $395, bed and breakfast.
Eat: At The Heads, beside the waves at Barwon Heads, boasts one of the best views on the Bellarine Peninsula with thoughtful breakfast, lunch and dinner options. Dinner mains from $26.
Drink: Sample Leura Park Estate‘s cool-climate wines while lingering over a cheese platter or pizza from the cellar door menu. Cheese platters $20.
THE STORY FIRST APPEARED IN ESCAPE ON SUNDAY, JULY 14, 2016