The 17th annual Queenscliff Music Festival will be held at various locations around this beautiful historic town at the southern end of Port Phillip Bay. The festival's hub takes over a reserve that looks out over the town's lighthouses and beyond to Bass Strait, with other venues including historic buildings and the town's renowned tourist railway. Performers this year include The Living End, John Butler Trio, Spiderbait, The Melbourne Ska Orchestra and Russell Morris. There are free events for younger children and free entry for the under-13s.
November 22-24, qmf.net.au
Perched 32 metres above the shore, the view from the top of the Queenscliff Harbour Observation Tower is spectacular. You can follow the regular comings and goings of the Queenscliff-Sorrento Ferry, the fishing boats motoring back to harbour, the water pouring through the opening from Swan Bay on the outgoing tide, and the harbour's massive resident stingrays as they glide under the moored boats. In the distance, the flocks of waterfowl resting on Swan Bay are tiny black dots on a glittering blanket of silver and gold.
The rich, throaty whistle of the steam engine sounds out across the bay and through the streets of Queenscliff, letting everyone know the train is running. The Bellarine Peninsula Railway ran between Queenscliff and South Geelong from 1879 until 1976. Volunteers now run steam and diesel-powered locomotives pulling carriages for tourists along a 16km section of the track following the shores of Swan Bay, then through rolling hills to Drysdale. Following much of the train line is the Bellarine Rail Trail, making it possible to park the car at Drysdale station, ride down to Queenscliff, have lunch, then throw the bikes in the back of the train back to Drysdale.
See bellarinerailway.com.au for timetables
On the shores of Swan Bay is a building resembling something out of TV's Grand Designs, with its sweeping arc and native grasses covering the roof. This is the Marine and Freshwater Discovery Centre, and after you've paid your fee and washed your hands, you enter the underwater world of the creatures living in Victoria's waterways. It's up-close-and-personal with blue-ringed-octopus, scallops, eels, southern rock lobsters, giant freshwater crayfish and other fresh and seawater creatures kept in glass tanks at eye level. There's a touch tank where you can pick up starfish and other creatures of the shallows. While perfectly suited to children, there is information about species and habitats that would appeal to those more interested in hooking the exhibits than looking at them.
2A Bellarine Highway, entry $8, open weekdays, 5258 3344
From the end of the Point Lonsdale pier, the rocky tip of Point Nepean is just over 3km away. Between the two are rocky reefs creating a navigable gap of just under 1km through which our imported TVs, cars and tinned tomatoes arrive on the decks of ships. Known as The Rip, it is quite a spectacle to watch the multicoloured container ships guided through this treacherous stretch of water by a relatively tiny bright-orange pilot boat. The ships plough through the swell that then peaks into waves. After the drama of the ships passing through The Rip the bay is home once again to the odd surfing seal and mutton birds silently cutting through the air just centimetres above the swell. Incidentally, Birds Australia's Sean Dooley says the nearby Point Lonsdale lighthouse is one of the best places in Victoria to observe sea birds.
The arrival of the train line in 1879, combined with the economic boom of the 1880s, saw Queenscliff transform from fishing village and port town into a popular seaside resort. Those who didn't take the train boarded the steamers Ozone or Hygea down the bay from Melbourne. Luxury hotels and guesthouses were built, with grand ballrooms, attractive salons and dining rooms. Today, one of the great pleasures is exploring these beautiful old dames with their tiled floors, carved wooden bars and stained-glass windows. Consider booking a table at the 1887 Queenscliff Hotel, the 1883 Vue Grand or the 1902 Queenscliff Inn.