A stretch of western coastline dotted with busy surf towns, laid-back hideaways and produce to spare. In partnership with Visit Victoria, we highlight where to eat, drink and stay around Geelong and The Bellarine.
A little over an hour’s drive from Melbourne lies Geelong, Victoria’s second-largest city and a neighbour to the Bellarine Peninsula. Once a town that turned its back on a prime waterfront location to make way for industrialisation, Geelong has since become a burgeoning food, art, drink – and now waterfront – destination for locals and visitors alike.
The Ford Motor Company was established here in 1925, and the city’s fortunes rose and fell with those of the automotive giant until its closure in 2016. By then Melbourne’s small bar legislation of 1994 had kicked off a wave of urban renewal, and along with Geelong’s (relatively) affordable real estate, a influx of new cafes, restaurants and bars began reshaping the town. Aaron Turner’s Igni proved you don’t need to be a Melbourne laneway location to make waves internationally, and today Little Malop Street and surrounds are leading a new charge.
All this makes Geelong an ideal spot from which to launch a full-scale assault on the dishes, produce, distilleries and markets of the Bellarine Peninsula. Taking in the coastal towns of Portarlington, St Leonards, Queenscliff, Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads, it’s a laid-back stretch of boutique accommodation, surf spots, cool-climate wineries and acres of farmland.
With so much ground to cover, no one guide can showcase everything the region has to offer. So here’s a selection of some spots worth starting with.
Welcome to Geelong and The Bellarine
From cafes in shipping containers, to rustic restaurants overlooking wineries and slick international fusions, no taste is left unaccounted for.
With gin distilleries, cool-climate wineries and convivial breweries to explore, your esky won’t leave empty.
Art galleries, vintage shopping, retro train rides and waterside walks abound.
Established in 1896, Geelong Gallery on Little Malop Street has developed into a true destination for art from all eras. In 2017 a redesign and refurbishment of its entrance foyer updated the heritage-listed building for modern times, and in 2019 and 2020 a major collection storage upgrade was completed. It features an expansive collection of Australian and European art, including classic Australian landscapes by Arthur Streeton, as well as Aboriginal art, sculptures and contemporary techniques – most notably featured in its biennial Contemporary Art Prize. Opposite Johnstone Park, the grounds of the gallery are an ideal spot for a post-visit stroll. There’s free entry, but exhibitions may attract a fee.
The Blues Train
Since taking its debut trip in 1994, the Blues Train, founded by music industry veteran Hugo T Armstrong, has become a popular live music event for anyone enamoured by delta blues, down-home blues and most other sub-genres you could shake a harmonica at. The appeal is much broader than the blues itself though: how many other steam-train journeys offer raucous live music and hearty food on the fly? Each event starts and ends at the historic Queenscliff Station. It’s a five-hour train ride that includes bar service, a buffet dinner, four 30-minute performances from local blues artists and a journey along the historic Bellarine Railway, which is maintained by volunteers from the Geelong Steam Preservation Society.
The Q Train
The Q Train on Station Street in Drysdale is a fine-dining restaurant in a restored train that travels along the historic Bellarine Railway. Departing from Drysdale station around midday, the journey delivers a three-hour experience that includes a five-course degustation and views of the undulating Bellarine. The menu proudly features local brands such as Apostle Whey cheese and Manzanillo Grove olives, and there’s an extensive local wine list available at Club Loco: the train bar that opens for a drink 30 minutes before departure.
If you’re visiting Geelong, don’t miss a stroll along the length of the waterfront to enjoy spectacular views and colourful art. Created by artist Jan Mitchell, 104 bollards line the arc of the waterfront from Rippleside to Limeburners Point, each one representing a different character from Geelong’s history. If you walk from end to end, you’ll be rewarded at Eastern Beach and the Botanic Gardens with impressive views across the bay.
The Amazing Mill Markets
This giant warehouse-style shop on the Bellarine Highway in Newcomb, boasts aisles of vintage knick-knacks, clothes, furniture, records and antiques that demands – and rewards – your time. Owner Mark Ward leases out space to local businesses, collectors, hobbyists and community groups ensuring an enormous assortment of items. There’s also an in-house cafe for coffee and refreshments.
Bed down at a boutique hotel or venture further afield for incredible views
A Geelong Day Out
Start your excursion with a treasure hunt of vintage knick-knacks, grab a coffee and walk along the waterfront, then wrap it up with woodfired pizza and wine at a rustic cellar door.