The sun setting near a winery and cellar door.
Photograph: Trevor Cooke

Bellarine Peninsula travel guide: the best things to do

Melbourne's western peninsula has everything from rugged coastal bike trails to five-star accommodation

Adena Maier
Contributor: Leah Glynn
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The Bellarine Peninsula is the lesser-known western cousin of the Mornington Peninsula, but it offers the same calibre of drinking, dining and gorgeous beaches. And while both are around the same distance by car from the Melbourne CBD (around an hour and a half), one thing that sets the Bellarine apart is its accessibility by ferry. Port Phillip Ferries departs daily from the Docklands, and the journey only takes 70 minutes, making it an easy destination for those without a car. 

Not sure what to do when you get there? To guarantee you have a great holiday, we've rounded up our top picks for where to eat, drink and stay and play in the region. 

Feeling the pinch? Here are 11 ways you can explore the Bellarine Peninsula for $20 or less.

Eat here

  • Modern Australian
  • Portarlington

Husband-and-wife duo Peter and Ebony Roddy – the team behind French eatery Noir in Richmond – opened this seaside eatery in 2020. Its schmick blue-and-white paint job can be seen from the ferry as it docks. The menu is contemporary Australian, with a heavy focus on seafood — and, of course, the famous Portarlington mussels. Diners can pop in for breakfast, lunch and dinner, making it the perfect pit stop for a pre or post-ferry trip meal, a catch-up with friends or a casual dinner with the family. While there are a few dishes on the menu that could be classified as fine dining, the Roddy's aimed to create an unpretentious and casual beachside eatery that was approachable to all.

  • Cafés

Ket Baker roughly translates to 'young street urchin' in Belgian, and it reflects the free-spirited and wildly independent streak of the Belgian-born and French-trained head baker and chef, Miek Paulus. Paulus describes herself as revolutionary, and she considers it her mission to replace that slab of bread from Coles or Woolies on your kitchen bench with her high-quality, chemical-free, short-chain and nutritious loaves. In the pastry display counter you're likely to find treats like savoury or fruit Danishes, pain au chocolat, classic croissants and some striped with chocolate or fruit, tarts and lamingtons. Nearly every ingredient is locally sourced, with the main exception being the use of Belgian or French chocolate for the pain au chocolat. It takes five days to hand-craft the croissants, which results in an intense and tangy flavour, and a texture that's unlike any croissant you've likely ever had.

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  • Modern Australian

Despite the high standard of food and service at Merne, it somehow manages to avoid feeling overly formal or pretentious. But when you’re surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, it’s probably hard not to be friendly and hospitable. Merne sits on the same site as Loam, the Bellarine Peninsula’s acclaimed fine-dining restaurant, which closed in 2013. Rising from the ashes, Merne has carved out its own chunk in the region’s epicurean scene, focusing on a share-dining service perfect for sharing a bottle of local wine. Choose from either the two- or four-course sharing menus (both come in at under $120 per person). 

Drink here

  • Breweries
  • Drysdale

The Bellarine Peninsula is chock-full of award-winning wineries, but after the closure of Corio Distillery in the 1980s, not a single distillery called this region home. This was remedied in 2015 when Bellarine Distillery was established and the Whiskery cellar door popped up on the former site of a chicken farm. Since then, the space has been churning out a range of award-winning gins and single malt whiskies. The cellar door exudes a rustic farmhouse vibe, making for a warm, unpretentious atmosphere for sipping spirits. During winter, the best spot in the house is by the crackling fireplace where you can sink into large leather armchairs. There are several cocktails on offer, including the Tango Foxtrot made with the Teddy and the Fox gin, lime zest, yuzu and bitters, but you'd be remiss not to start with a gin tasting paddle. It's the best way to get to know this special range of gins.

  • Wineries
  • Drysdale

With chief winemaker Robin Brockett at the helm, Scotchmans has been responsible for cool-climate maritime drops that have been rated among James Hallidays' Top 100 Australian wines. It didn't take long for Brockett, who started at Scotchmans as a vineyard manager back in 1988, to be recognised for his work – and for several other wineries in the region to tap him to make their wines. The cellar door is housed in a French provincial-style building offering sweeping views of the estate's vineyards. It feels old-world, and upon embarking on a tasting, you'll soon realise this philosophy applies to the wines, too. While Scotchmans does produce some entry-level wines (Swan Bay) to feed the current Australian appetite to consume young drops, Brockett is dedicated to crafting wines for the cellar. Visitors can choose between a basic tasting of five current vintages or a premium tasting of six wines that includes selections from the back vintage cellar reserve. 

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  • Wineries
  • Portarlington

There's no shortage of breathtaking views in the Bellarine Peninsula, but if one vantage point were to take the cake, it'd be Jack Rabbit Vineyard. With a glass of wine in hand, soak up the breathtaking views from the cellar door across the bay to Geelong, the You Yangs and Melbourne. Winemaker Nyall Condon has also been the brains behind drops at wineries like Leura Park Estate and Waurn Ponds Estate, and his approach is very much about minimal intervention, creative and thoughtful use of oak and retaining the natural characters of each varietal. Standouts here include the blanc de blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir – varieties that this region has come to be known for. After a tasting, you have two dining options: the House of Jack Rabbit café or the Jack Rabbit restaurant. The former offers casual breakfast and lunch fare, while the latter is your more formal option. 

  • Breweries
  • Ashburton

When Russell and Jan McGlashan first established this estate back in 1995, they didn't have the intention of turning it into a full-blown enterprise. At the time, it was simply a council requirement that those buying large swaths of land in the region for building a home must add agriculture to the property. However, after local winemaker Robin Brockett got a taste of some of the drops cultivated from the estate's vineyard, the McGlashan's were told it was too good to keep to themselves. The wines have gone on to win multiple awards, and the winery was recognised with a five-star rating in the James Halliday Wine Companion. After raking in accolades like that, it's reasonable to stop while you're ahead – but when daughters Maddy and Jaimie McGlashan recently took the reigns, they decided to throw their hats into the beer and spirits ring. 

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  • Things to do
  • Food and drink
  • Portarlington

Within moments of stepping onto the top deck of the multi-level cellar door, it's clear that the name Terindah ('most beautiful' in Indonesian) is well-deserved. The 100-acre property offers uninterrupted views of Port Phillip Bay and the You Yangs, and in the years since opening, it's become a coveted wedding destination. For soaking up the views and the drops, visitors have multiple options. Lounge outside and soak up the sunshine at the Deck, which is the cellar door's wrap-around back patio, or dine inside the Shed, a greenhouse-style dining area with a menu by executive chef Russell Hall. Or, choose the most recent – and arguably most interesting – addition to the property, a decommissioned old W class tram. 

Do this

  • Attractions
  • Theme parks

Adventure Park is the place to go when you want some exhilarating waterslide fun. For the thrillseekers (or the foolish) there is the Tornado which opened in late 2017. The biggest and longest waterslide of its kind in the state, this beast will drop you down from the 24-metre tower through the snaking slides. You'll even experience moments of zero gravity weightlessness! The newest ride to date, however, is the Tsunami – the Tornado's sister slide and the only triple funnel waterslide in Victoria. 

The relatively flat terrain of the Bellarine makes it ideal for a little two-wheeled tourism. The main track cyclists will want to try out is the Bellarine Rail trail – a 35-kilometre track that follows the old railway line and winds past many of the region’s attractions. You’ll travel through lush farmland and past the seashore on your journey, with the trail easy to complete within a day for recreational cyclists. And if you want to make things a bit easier on yourself, you can rent from Bella E-Bike – the power assist makes riding along hills far easier. 

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Swim or surf Ocean Grove

Fancy a dip? Ocean Grove is home to a two-kilometre beach popular with swimmers and surfers. The beach has lots of parking, a kiosk and wide, sandy stretches perfect for a round of beach cricket. Even on cooler days the beach is filled with locals and their dogs walking up and down the shore. Swimming is moderately safe during summer conditions at Ocean Grove, with the beach patrolled by lifeguards and the Surf Life Saving Club. Stay between the flags if you’re swimming. Or sign up for a surf lesson to really make use of the waves.

  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Geelong

Established in 1896, Geelong Gallery has a significant collection of Australian and European paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries. But it also presents regular contemporary exhibitions that regularly go toe-to-toe with what you get at the NGV – think stellar exhibitions on the moon, works from the Archibald Prize and an immersive retrospective on street artist Rone. Located in the middle of Johnstone Park, the gallery is ideally situated for those hoping to tackle Geelong on foot. It's also right next door to the structurally beautiful Geelong Library. 

Stay here

  • Hotels
  • Boutique hotels
  • Portarlington

Perched upon Newcombe Street and offering sweeping views of Port Phillip Bay, the You Yangs and Melbourne's skyline, the Portarlington Grand Hotel has served as a regional landmark since 1888. And after being acquired in 2019 by the Little Group, the hotel has undergone a $10 million dollar refurbishment to transform into a boutique seaside escape. That's not to say the hotel has lost its Victorian-era charm; in fact, it's quite the opposite. The renovation has preserved the building's heritage aspects (including the turret, grand staircase, façade and ornamental fireplaces and archways) while carefully introducing modern detailing. While it still harkens back to the golden age of Port Phillip Bay, the hotel is now home to 18 boutique rooms as well as four dining spaces.

  • Sport and fitness
  • Golf

The Curlewis Golf Club has been around since 1970, but it wasn't until it was acquired by the Sharp group and injected with a $20 million investment that it truly became a golfer's paradise. Much of that investment went towards the addition of 60 eco-suites to the property, providing visitors with a place to rest after a long day on the green. While the rooms are on the smaller side, smart use of space makes this a non-issue. So far, this may not sound particularly luxurious. But after enjoying a hot shower with premium Orana toiletries, sipping on a hot cuppa by Tea Drop, donning the luxuriously soft dressing gown and hopping into the premium Sealy bed, you'll understand that the Sharp's went all out on the most important aspects of a hotel stay. And, unlike hotels where you have to pay a premium for a balcony, every single one of these eco-suites offers a private balcony overlooking either the bay or the fairway.

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  • Breweries
  • Ashburton

If the idea of having a cellar door within a minute's walk from your bed sounds appealing to you, then book a stay at one of the four eco-villas on this estate. Each one is designed for a couple and is named after a wine region of France, and you'll have a back patio where you can catch the sun rising and setting over the sprawling vineyards. You'll get a complimentary bottle of McGlashan's wine with your stay, and when you're ready for another drink or several, you can head into the cellar door for gins, beers and more wines. 

  • Travel
  • price 4 of 4

The greater Geelong suburb of Leopold is probably the last place you’d expect to find an authentic-looking French chateau. But despite the dissimilar environs it’s exactly where you can go to spend a night or two pretending you’re 16,000 kilometres away in la belle France. Campbell Point House is a former private home that was repurposed into an events (read: wedding) venue. It’s time housing brides is on the out though, with the grandiose property officially rebranding as a hotel in October 2018. While there make use of the property's tennis court, infinity pool and private lake access.

Head to the high country

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