Head about an hour and a half south-west of Melbourne and you’ll find the Bellarine Peninsula – a treasure trove of charming seaside villages, award-winning cool climate wineries, towns with rich maritime history and some of the best seafood you’ll find in Australia.
Here are some excellent reasons to make this your next destination for a road trip.
1. Treat yourself to a meal at Igni
If food is your thing then dining at Igni will make your heart sing. It was named the 2017 Regional Restaurant of the Year in the Gourmet Traveller’s national restaurant awards and the fire-driven degustation menu is truly jaw-dropping. It’s the perfect way to kick off your holiday.
2. Soak up the café lifestyle in Point Lonsdale
This little hamlet on the tip of the peninsula has plenty of great little cafes and boutiques to explore. Stretch your legs with a walk up to the historic lighthouse, take a dip in the sheltered bay beach or play nine holes at the local golf course. A great spot to stay in Point Lonsdale is The Nest – these luxury bed and breakfast “pods” offer great views of the passing ships, farmland and the wetlands.
3. Take a ride on The Blues Train
The Blues Train is described as a “mini music festival on a heritage train” and it’s a unique way to see live music. After enjoying a blues-inspired meal on the platform at Queenscliff, jump on the train and listen to four different musical acts playing in the different carriages of the train. You’ll journey along the Bellarine Railway, making new friends along the way, and be returned to Queenscliff later in the evening.
4. Visit the home of the original SeaChange, Barwon Heads
If you remember the first series of the TV series SeaChange you’ll be familiar with the beautiful seaside town where it’s set. Years later Barwon Heads still has the quaint charm that caught the eye of location scouts all those years ago. The river is a great calm spot for kids to swim, while excellent surf beaches are just a stone’s throw away if you want something a little wilder. The Barwon Heads Hotel is jumping in the summer months and the nearby 13th Beach Golf Course is a popular spot to swing a club.
5. Immerse yourself in maritime history with a trip to Queenscliff
If you’re a fan of all things nautical, Queenscliff will be incredibly appealing. This town has a rich maritime history, that you can take in at the local museum (and if you’re a military history buff, you can also tour the old Fort).
Afterwards, enjoy fish and chips in the park on the foreshore, watch locals throwing a line in from the wharf, explore the excellent gallery and bookstore and treat yourself to a cone from the Scandinavian Ice Cream Co. The Queenscliff Music Festival is also a fun, family-friendly event that heralds the start of summer. If you can time your visit to coincide with that, you’ll have a blast.
6. It’s a great spot for a cycling tour
7. The wineries (and whiskery)
When it comes to wine and distilleries, the Bellarine Peninsula has blown up in recent times.
Producing sophisticated cool-climate wines, premium ciders, as well as smokehouse products, Jack Rabbit is a must-visit on the Bellarine. This winery also has a great restaurant with amazing views across the bay to Geelong and Melbourne. The award-winning Scotchmans Hill winery is also well worth a trip, as is The Whiskery distillery where you can sit out on the lawn under a tree and drink one of the best gin and tonics you’ll ever have.
8. Eat your body weight in fresh mussels
Portarlington (where the ferry from Melbourne comes in) harvests about 60 per cent of Australia’s mussels. The Little Mussel Café is a wonderful spot to indulge in a big bowl of perfectly cooked molluscs, washed down with a cold glass of local beer or wine.
9. Get up close and personal with marine life
Leaving Queenscliff twice daily in the warmer months, Sea All Dolphins conducts half-day tours out into Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park, an area renowned for its rich biodiversity and unique marine life. On the tour you’ll have the chance to snorkel with colourful fish, seals and dolphins.
10. Getting there is half the fun
Don’t want to drive? No drama. Thanks to the Port Phillip Ferry that runs from the Docklands in Melbourne directly to Portarlington, it’s now easier than ever to get to the Bellarine Peninsula. It takes about an hour and twenty minutes to make the journey across Port Phillip Bay and will set you back $36 return for an adult.
Alternatively you can put your car on the ferry from Sorrento and cross the bay from the Mornington Peninsula on the Searoad Ferry (this is actually a great road trip you can take over a few nights, driving down one peninsula and back up the other, doing a full loop of Port Phillip Bay).