A Short Geelong Getaway
by Stephanie Williams
Since the Spirit of Tasmania terminal moved from Melbourne to Geelong late last year, a visit to Geelong has been on the radar.
During the school holidays, while on a visit to Melbourne, we decided to spend a few extra days exploring Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula. Geelong is a harbour city set on Corio Bay, an inlet of sorts from Port Philip Bay. According to ABS numbers, Geelong’s population sits at around 290,000 (whereas Hobart, for comparison, is around 250,000). It has a similar feel – vibrant waterfront, coastal vibes, period architecture and while we were there….lots of rain. We wore warm jumpers for most of our early February trip, which we were a little unprepared for, but being good Tasmanians, we had packed for all seasons, always!
With such a pretty waterfront, we booked into R Hotel (10 Bellarine Street, Geelong), a newish apartment hotel a street or so back from the bay and on the edge of the CBD. Our two bed apartment was perfect for what we needed – kitchenette, laundry and comfortable beds, all with a nice balcony view looking out to Eastern Beach.
The rain definitely put a dampener on taking in the city on foot, but this is a great city to explore in that way. The Geelong Gallery, the National Wool Museum, which is housed in a restored 1872 bluestone wool store, the Botanic Gardens, and Little Malop Street with boutiques and restaurants were on our hit list.
Heading out of town, the surf coast was pulling us in. Even with the rain, we loved stopping in at the beaches, watching the skilled surfers negotiating the waves, and just enjoying the expansive coastline with golden cliffs and grey ocean swell. It would have been criminal to be in these parts without taking a look at Bell’s Beach, home of the world famous Rip Curl Pro. It’s the longest running event in competitive surfing, and an important stop on the World Surf League Championship Tour. If you win, you get to ring the Bells Beach bell…the saying goes, ‘you have to win it to ring it!’” Nearby the Jan Juc surf club was an epic spot to dry off and take in yet more surfing action.
Barwon Heads (home to Australian cyclist and Tour de France winner Cadel Evans for the past 20 years) is a pretty, blink and you’ll miss it, town full of homeware and clothing boutiques and cafes. Had I not been there with children, I could’ve spent a decent few hours combing through the stores. But we were on a mission to get to Ket Baker (377 Grubb Road, Wallington) a backyard sourdough bakery with a cult following. Started by Miek Paulus, a Belgian born, French trained baker and chocolatier, the bakery is a timber hut on her property. Each delicious croissant takes five days to make – “Each one takes on the natural elements of our shed kitchen – our sourdough culture, our weather, our moods,” according to Miek. There was a steady stream of shiny SUVs and hire cars heading out on weekend trips the day we were there, all in on this delicious secret.
On our final morning the sun finally came out and it was time to properly explore the waterfront. After breakfast at Pavillion, the beautifully restored 1927 building which I’d say has the best location on the waterfront, the water beckoned for a dip. Little kids will love the paddling pool, while just behind that are the ocean baths. The swimming enclosure has been around since 1939, when it was built as a shark-proof enclosure following a shark attack in which a woman lost both her arms. It was the last stage in the development of the waterfront, leaving a livable, useful waterfront space for the people of Geelong. The toy train was the perfect way for us to cover more waterfront ground – covering a couple of kilometres, ambling past the famous Baywalk Bollards (huge timber bollards painted to represent different people), the Carousel and yacht club. The friendly driver even let our youngest pop up the front once we’d stopped, to sit in the driver seat and ring the bell – a definite highlight for a four year old!
The dining options abound. While we should’ve booked ahead to secure some of the hotter seats in town, ‘eat streets’ such at Pakington Street and Little Malop Street had us covered. Little Creatures Brewery is a big part of Geelong so that was a must, and perfect for an easy dinner. On different days of the week you can also visit the home of Furphy Beer and White Rabbit Brewery, each with their own dining and bar areas within the same complex.
Watching the Spirit of Tasmania come and go across Corio Bay was out of place at first, but soon it felt normal. The next trip we take we now know what to expect in the Victorian port, with much more now on our list to explore next time. The writer’s accommodation was supported by Tourism Greater Geelong & The Bellarine.