With endless beaches, waterfront restaurants and plenty of places to play, Geelong and the Bellarine are ripe for summer fun.
Hot beach towels, camping a stone’s throw from the beach, walking barefoot with a Golden Gaytime in hand. I have fond memories of summers of my youth spent at Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads on the Bellarine Peninsula. I’d walk the bridge linking the twin beach towns, across the Barwon River where people drifted on colourful inflatable mattresses and families built sandcastles on the sand flats.
Nowadays my territory, and my summer goals, have broadened. From Geelong, an hour’s drive west of Melbourne, to the tip of the Bellarine Peninsula as it cradles Port Phillip, my regular rambles have revealed the entire region has all the ingredients to be the perfect summer playground.
Where city meets the sea
Geelong has everything you’d expect from Victoria’s second biggest city – top-notch restaurants, bars, shopping and art – but there’s a definite ‘holiday resort’ vibe to the place. I don’t know if it’s the palm tree-lined promenades tracing the waterfront, the hundreds of yachts floating offshore, or the Giant Sky Wheel turning slowly against a twinkling sea. Or maybe it’s the north-facing outlook that worships the sun, whatever the time of day.
One of my favourite walks runs from the iconic 1850s Cunningham Pier to Eastern Beach, with a detour up the 440-metre overwater Wangim Walk. I can never seem to resist popping in for a glass of something cold at Sailors Rest, a multi-level 1915 beauty which spans from al fresco boardwalk restaurant to rooftop bar where the sea views are truly panoramic.
The big blue
Water is essential to a summer holiday and the peninsula has both the sheltered waters inside Port Phillip bay and the invigorating ocean facing the Bass Strait. Beaches at Indented Head, St Leonards, Queenscliff and Portarlington are calm and relaxing, while Ocean Grove’s surf beach is patrolled in summer. The wide and shallow waters of Barwon River Estuary remain a favourite with families and lovers of stand up paddleboarding.
I never tire of the sea baths at Geelong’s Eastern Beach. They’re a throwback to the 1930s, enclosed by a semi-circular boardwalk that shelters diving boards, floating pontoons and a lap swimming area. It’s a hive of activity in summer and while there’s parkland adjacent, I personally can’t think of a better place to picnic than out on the water in an electric GoBoat. There’s nothing speedy about them (no special licence is required) but the 8-seater table and sunshade onboard is ideal for cruising with a different view of the coast – and dogs are welcome too.
Over the years, I’ve watched the food and drink scene here skyrocket, adding hatted restaurants and five-star James Halliday-rated wineries to the old favourites of fish and chips and pub fare.
There’ll always a place in my heart for a chicken parmi, and the newly redeveloped Portarlington Grand Hotel has possibly the best, served in fabulous heritage décor. Also renowned in this sleepy seaside town are mussels – so much so, there’s a festival dedicated to them every January – and the waterfront Pier St café dishes them up year round.
The Bellarine’s many wineries are some of my favourite places to savour long lunches, made all the more special by the backdrop of the vast blue bay beyond rows of vines, such as at Jack Rabbit Vineyard and Terindah Estate.
I stumbled across Anther Gin Distillery while visiting the enormous Geelong Vintage Market – both are in the heritage red-brick Federal Woollen Mills – and tastings here are a real eye-opener. Places like Wallington’s Flying Brick Cider Co or The Whiskery in Drysdale are part of a growing number of distilleries, idyllic for whiling away an afternoon.
Between beach towels and books, there’s occasionally a need to burn off some energy. Options include any of the dozen golf courses (Barwon Heads, Lonsdale Links and 13th Beach are ranked in Australia’s top 10 public courses), or perhaps Adventure Park Geelong, arguably Victoria’s best water theme park, packed with splash pools, tube rides and mega waterslides.
I love cycling the Foreshore trail between Portarlington and St Leonards for a scenic ride past peaceful bays, drifting pelicans and the wreck of the Ozone paddlesteamer, a popular snorkelling spot. (You can rent bikes from Bella E-Bike Hire.) Amongst the pylons of St Leonards Pier is another prime location for floating above colourful sponges, fish and seahorses – or for casting a fishing line.
Take home memories
What’s a summer holiday without souvenirs? I once coveted seashells but these days my take homes are more cashew butter brownies from the Bellarine Brownie Company (literally irresistible) or hot smoked barramundi from Bellarine Smokehouse. The Bellarine Taste Trail highlights the many tempting producers and provedores, or for chic boutiques and homewares, Hitchcock Ave in Barwon Heads is the go.
There are endless places to explore. If only summer holidays were endless too.
Where to stay in Geelong
The Best Western Geelong Motor Inn & Serviced Apartments offers fantastic four star accommodation. Ideally positioned to experience the best of Geelong and the Great Ocean Road, a short two-minute drive will take you to the city centre, while you are only a short walk from the Corio Bay Boardwalk and Geelong Waterfront – with all the restaurants, cafes and attractions at your fingertips.
There are plenty of rooms to choose from to suit all travelers, including spacious standard rooms, family rooms, spa suites and one and two bedroom fully self-contained apartments. All rooms feature everything you need to make your holiday easy and relaxing, while there is also an indoor heated pool to enjoy.
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