Beach Dreaming

From glittering beaches to mineral-rich springs, with a host of unusual locals – fairy penguins, koalas, fur seals and wallabies – in between: discover Australia’s surf life and wildlife on the Bays and Surf Coast Touring Route.

Phillip Island

Phillip Island

Kicking off in Melbourne, where all great Victorian road trips begin, you’ll start by heading to Phillip Island (90 minutes away by car), famous for its little penguins, whose nocturnal antics are viewed by visitors on a daily basis. Back in the 1920s, local residents Bern Denham, Bert West and Bert Watchorn began taking tourists by torchlight to Summerland Beach, to watch the nightly return of the penguin colony; these days, viewings take place from specially erected beachfront stands and boardwalks. For the best seats in the house, splash out on Penguins Plus tickets, so you can spy on the dapper diminutive birdies from the comfort of a swish new viewing platform, designed to mimic the curves of Phillip Island’s coastline.

Continue the wildlife theme with a trip to the island’s Koala Conservation Centre, where you can admire the eucalyptus-munching marsupials in their native habitat, alongside wallabies, wombats, echidnas, possums and more. The Nobbies is an awe-inspiring headland on the south-western tip of the island: soak in its coastal views, gawp at the blasting blowhole and keep your eyes peeled for penguins.

Antarctic Journey

Antarctic Journey

Talking of penguins, admire the new Antarctic Journey experience at the Nobbies Centre, before hopping on a Wild Oceans EcoBoat Tour to Seal Rocks. You might spot whales and dolphins; you’ll definitely spot seals, who show off in the waters around the boat (in January, you can even see pups taking their first tentative swimming lessons). Landlubbers might prefer hiking to Cape Woolamai, home to a shearwater rookery, or stomping from Berry’s Beach to Pyramid Rock.

Cowes

Cowes

Cowes is the island’s commercial hub: join the sun-worshippers on Cowes or Ventnor Beach, take a cooling dip by the foreshore or borrow bikes, cycle to San Remo and feast on the fishermen’s succulent catch. Caffeine-fans might appreciate a flat white (with added banana bread) from Madcowes Cafe, before hitting the road for Mornington Peninsula.

Stop off at Rye, a seaside resort whose main beach is ideal for swimming and boating. You might not be able to walk on water, but you can stand on it, with help from Peninsula Stand Up Paddle; if your tastes are a little more high-octane, try spearfishing, kayaking or scuba diving with Extreme Watersport.

It’s just a 10-minute drive from Rye to Polperro, where the excellent Judith Muir runs her family business, Polperro Dolphin Swims. Go out on a boat and swim alongside bottlenose dolphins and seals, then learn about marine conservation over morning or afternoon tea on the boat.

Big Blue Backyard

Big Blue Backyard

Peel off your wetsuits and hop back in the car for Big Blue Backyard by St Andrews Beach. This boutique hotel tucked between the beach and bushland has just three romantic rooms, each named for its theme – Africa, Bush and Beach. It doesn’t hurt that one of the owners is a well-travelled chef (expect big breakfasts and even bigger dinners). Big Blue’s beds are pretty special, but to guarantee a blissful night’s sleep, book a bathing session at nearby Peninsula Hot Springs; for pimped-out tubbing, book a private bath or pavilion.

You should also treat yourselves to a long lunch at Montalto in Red Hill, a family-run vineyard and restaurant with a chef’s hat, set in natural wetlands. Indulge in a wine and olive oil tasting while you’re here, then go on a ramble in the gardens. Montalto hosts an annual sculpture competition, with sculptors from all over the world participating.

Mornington Peninsula to the Bellarine Peninsula and Geelong

Mornington Peninsula to the Bellarine Peninsula and Geelong

The next leg of the route takes you from Mornington Peninsula to the Bellarine Peninsula and Geelong. Hop on the ferry from Sorrento to Queenscliff: once the most heavily defended fort in the southern hemisphere; now a popular resort town. Admire the white-sand beaches, picturesque fishermen’s cottages and elegant 19th-century architecture, including the splendid Vue Grand Hotel, built in 1881.

There are plenty of stellar local dining options. Feast on fresh seafood at the Advance Mussel Supply, or drive to Jack Rabbit Vineyard, home to two acclaimed restaurants and a cellar door. The restaurant’s wine-matched dishes include miso pork belly with pickled peach purée, and caramelised banana tart with buttered-popcorn ice-cream. Include a guided tasting of cool climate wines and take in the sweeping views of Corio Bay, Geelong, the You Yangs and Melbourne.

Drive on to Geelong, Victoria’s second largest city: a hub for beachy entertainment. Laze on Eastern Beach, stroll along Cunningham Pier, pretend to be incarcerated at Old Geelong Gaol and explore the galleries and gardens.

En route to Torquay, a 25-minute drive away, spray some sea salt in your hair and dust off your surfboard: this is Victoria’s surf capital, birthplace of Quiksilver, Rip Curl and the annual Rip Curl Pro contest at Bells Beach. Learn about Australia’s surf scene at Surfworld, or test the gentler breaks and learn to surf with help from Go Ride A Wave at Torquay or Anglesea.

You’ll be hungry after all that. On your drive back to Melbourne via the Surf Coast Highway and the M1, plan what to have for dinner when you reach Coppersmith hotel. There’ll be a big bed waiting for you, too.

 

Facts About This Route  

Distance 445 km/276 miles

Drive time Roughly seven hours

Highlights Phillip Island; Mornington Peninsula; Bellarine Peninsula; Surf Coast

Scenery Beaches, bays and islands

Themes Nature; wildlife; gourmet; coast; adventure; relaxation

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