FROM BUSH TO BEACH

Surprise, surprise – within 50km of Geelong there are all kinds of treats in store!

WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVID WOLTSCHENKO

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You don’t have to travel far out of Geelong to have unique experiences. 50km to the northwest, you will travel through the beautiful Golden Plains to the Brisbane Ranges, while to the east the Bellarine Peninsula stretches out into the ocean.

The Brisbane Ranges will delight nature lovers, and the Golden Plains offer kilometres of picturesque landscapes that will keep any avid photographer busy. When you reach the Bellarine Peninsula, you will discover towns with a history that dates back over 100 years – but modern enjoyments abound too, including a chance to taste Australia’s best pie!

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EXPLORING THE RANGES

The beautiful Brisbane Ranges National Park, just 90km west of Melbourne, is a great detour for those traveling towards Geelong. The roads inside the park are mostly graded dirt tracks with a few sharp bends or steep inclines that are easily navigated, even with an on-road caravan.

The park has over 600 varieties of Victoria’s flora, some of which are endemic to the area – such as the Brisbane Ranges grevillea. It is quite common to see kangaroos, kookaburras and koalas from the road, but keen bird watchers will want to set off on one of the many hiking or walking trails for a closer look at the avian population. This area is a twitcher’s delight: one hundred and eighty species of bird either pass through or call the ranges home.

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You are permitted to camp in the Brisbane Ranges overnight, but you must book in advance. Two of the four camping areas are accessible with a van in tow: Boar Gully camping area and Fridays Camping area. Both are surrounded by beautiful large trees that provide lovely shady areas to set up for a relaxing day in the bush, and walking trails begin close to each of the campsites. Both campsites have bush BBQs and pit toilets.

After staying a night in one of the camping grounds, you really should visit Anakie Gorge. This place contains 475 of the plant varieties in the ranges – which is an incredible one sixth of all Victoria’s flora! The gorge itself is quite small but the plummeting rocky cliffs create Kodak moments with picture-perfect reflections.

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Exiting the park to the southwest, you will come across the historic town of Steiglitz. It’s quiet now, but it was once a busy gold mining town with a population reaching 1500 and a variety of stores including four hotels and an undertaker. Sunday is a great time to visit, because the locals open up the Court House, now a museum, to visitors. Visitors can browse through documents and artefacts from the gold rush era. Even if you can’t time your visit for the open day, pose for a ‘selfie’ in front of the old shops and the courthouse. You’ll just have to wait for Internet reception to share it with your friends and family!

BELLARINE PENINSULA

Motoring east of Geelong you will be traveling on the Bellarine Peninsula, where you’ll find a relaxing vibe typical of coastal areas. It’s always tempting to take off your shoes and stroll along a beach, but there’s a lot more to do here as well!

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If you’ve only ever tasted strawberries from the shelves of a supermarket, head towards Tuckerberry Hill for a whole new taste sensation. You will be invited to take a bucket and pick strawberries and blueberries from any of the bushes – and you might be surprised to find that there’s a technique to this! The staff there will show you how to ‘tickle’ the berries so you know the right ones to pick. Once you have collected what you like, take your bucket to the staff for weighing. You’ll be happy to pay for this luscious fruit.

After a stint of berry-picking it’s likely that you’ve worked up an appetite, and I know just the place to go to attend to this! The Rolling Pin Bakery in Queenscliff was awarded “Australia’s Best Pie “ in 2013 and 2014, and also has great coffee and a large selection of sweets.

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A short stroll downhill will take you to the Queenscliff Railway Station. The railway, operating between Queenscliff and Drysdale, features heritage locomotives and carriages. The operating days vary depending on the time of year, so it’s best to check online first if you’re planning to climb aboard. At the Drysdale end of the line you can wander around a museum room, with over one hundred years of railway history to be discovered.

If you decide to spend more time in the town, then the Queenscliff Fort and Black Lighthouse deserve a place on your to-do list. The Black Lighthouse is within the fort’s grounds and, interestingly, is the only black lighthouse in the Southern hemisphere – think about it: how many photos do you have of lighthouses coloured other than white? The stone used to construct the lighthouse has a story of its own – actually, two stories! One version claims that the bluestone used came from Scotland; the other maintains that the stone came from a Melbourne quarry, and was then transported to Queenscliff by barge.

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The fort is beautifully preserved – another good photo opportunity – and has three tours each day on the weekend and every day during school holidays. If you miss out on a tour, take a drive around the corner to Hesse Lane for a great view of Port Phillip and out into Bass Strait.

Heading up north you’ll find Portarlington. Some seafood aficionados will already know about Portarlington for its celebrated Mussel Festival. This is held for one day only, usually in mid January, and for an entry fee of only two dollars you get amazing live bands and entertainment, a large variety of stores and international food stalls, and of course, the biggest attraction of all, the mussels! Prepare to gorge yourself with amazing food.

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Lastly, Portarlington has beautiful protected beaches that are tops for swimming – there’s nothing like a relaxing dip in the ocean at the end of a long day of exploration!

All of this is within 50km ofGeelong, but I’d recommend that you take your caravan with you instead of just planning day trips out of Geelong – solely because some of these inviting locations and campsites can take a few days to properly explore. You may get hooked on twitching in the Brisbane Ranges, or perhaps the fish are biting in Portarlington! Whichever it may be, it’s on the cards you will want to stay a little longer.

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