It’s not that far from Melbourne – only about 90 minutes’ drive in your rental car – but you’d think you were a world away. The Bellarine Peninsula is just past Geelong and has assets you’ll want to keep coming back for: wineries, cycling and produce trails, excellent golf courses, charming villages and amazing beaches. Some of them on the south side of the peninsula face the open ocean and the rest are sheltered by Port Phillip Bay.
If you’re somewhere like Queenscliff on the Bellarine, you look directly over to the Mornington Peninsula. For some reason, Mornington gets all the glory, but insiders know that to get away from the crowds the Bellarine is the place to be. Here are three of the best beaches on the Bellarine Peninsula.
Close your eyes and picture a perfect Australian beach… It probably looks like the epic stretch of sand at Ocean Grove. It’s about 2km long and, despite it having enough waves to attract surfers, it’s relatively safe thanks to the headland that protects it from strong winds off the ocean. During the summer months, it’s crowded with families taking advantage of the space and the surf patrol. Plus, it’s got the amenities you need like lots of free parking and public showers.
Over the summer holidays, Go Ride a Wave has a mobile hire facility right on the beach where you can rent beginners’ surfboards and body boards. It also runs two-hour introductory surf lessons that will introduce you to the basics of getting upright on your board. In the cooler months, this is a great spot to rug up and walk all the way to Barwon Heads and back – you’ll probably have most of the beach to yourself.
Treat yourself to lunch at The Dunes, a stylish restaurant with incredible vistas from both the dining room and the terrace. The menu includes lots of favourites, including burgers and fish and chips, but you might want to opt for a selection of sharing plates to graze on while you gaze at that view.
Barwon Heads is Ocean Grove’s neighbour, albeit a far more famous one. In the 1990s, the town was the setting for ABC TV’s much-loved drama SeaChange where it was called Pearl Bay.
For visitors these days, Barwon Heads is the idyllic seaside location for relaxation. Plus, it has two beaches. The first is safe and shallow, at the mouth of the Barwon River and right beneath the footbridge to Barwon Heads. It’s a popular spot for families, but is also a magical spot to pass the day: grab a coffee from a nearby cafe and catch up on some holiday reading, splash in the water, and check out what the fishermen on the bridge are hauling in.
On the other side of the bluff – you can either drive your rental car there or take the spectacular 4km walking trail – is Thirteenth Beach. If you’ve discovered you really love a walk, you’re in luck because there’s another 4.5km of sand you can stroll along here, with sand dunes on one side and crashing waves on the other. Volunteers from Barwon Heads 13th Beach SLSC patrol here on the weekends during summer months, but the beach is prone to rips so be careful swimming outside those times
If you’re more attracted to the extra trappings of the beach, rather than diving beneath waves or watching surfers practice their cutbacks, you might find yourself charmed by Portarlington. Its beach is a lovely stretch of sand, with the foreshore shaded by towering cypress trees. It is one of the bay beaches on the Bellarine Peninsula, so is completely protected, offering safe, shallow conditions for anyone who wants to swim. Not surprisingly, at the height of summer, it’s kid central.
The L-shaped pier is a big attraction here. If you fancy exploring beneath it, pull on your mask, snorkel and fins and slide in off one of the lower landings. Under the water, if there is little wind and the water is calm, you’ll see different species of fish, cuttlefish and kelp, but take your time because it’s the smaller creatures – nudibranchs, flatworms and even seahorses – that make this snorkel worthwhile.
Above the water, it’s a good spot to go fishing or admire the boats moored along it. It’s also where you’ll pick up your ride on the restored 40-year-old Huon pine trawler if you decide to spend a few hours with Portarlington Mussel Tours. They’ll take you out to where this prized delicacy is grown, show you how it’s done, then serve up a bowl of cooked Bellarine mussels to enjoy.
When you’re ready to explore Bellarine Peninsula beaches and more, hire a rental car from Melbourne before setting off.