Pelican's Rest, Queenscliff review: Rest is as good as a change

Read our writer's views on this property below

Kathy Evans and family survive a dull journey to reach their charming seaside hideaway.

As holidays go, we are off to an inauspicious start. Rain is falling from a lead-balloon sky as we head over the Westgate Bridge and out towards Geelong. The bald, brown landscape carved up by the Princes Freeway, is, on the best of days, featureless monotony. Under a sodden sky the journey between city and seaside becomes a grim purgatory to be endured.

Hopes are not raised by the first appearance of the house where we are staying in Queenscliff, Pelican's Rest. The name conjures all sorts of fanciful imaginings a two-storey elegant town house or a rustic weatherboard perched close to a windswept cliff. But not, perhaps, a 1950s suburban brick bungalow.

Spirits are lifted on opening the frosted-glass front door and stepping into a large, airy living room. The house, we discover, has a TARDIS-like quality about it, in that it is vastly bigger than it looks from the outside. With its four bedrooms, all with queen or twin beds, it feels very roomy for a family of five complete with two small dogs and could easily hold another three people and a Great Dane or two. The kitchen is spacious and well stocked with a microwave (but, alas, no dishwasher) and the brown Formica benchtops and large glass dining table fit very well with the '50s feel.

The house is owned by Alison Douglas, a Melburnian from the north of England, and dotted around are little signs of her heritage, including a cartoon print of Whitley Bay, the north of England's postcard hot spot in the mid-20th century.

Pelican's Rest does have a sort of English boarding house charm that, combined with Australian tastes for polished floorboards and white walls, makes it interesting rather than tacky. There is an eclectic mix of artwork (bush scenes, beach scenes, large naked cherubs painted on cloth and an odd-shaped couple hugging) that sits comfortably enough with the Pelican kitsch that can be found in every room. The children's task is to count up the pelican paraphernalia their pelican brief, ha! and this game filled in the blank moments over the weekend. They counted 13 pieces, ranging from the large sculpted lamp in the sitting room to the magnets adorning the enormous fridge and the wooden pelican with the windmill wings in the small, enclosed garden at the front.

My children love the white 1960s telephone positioned on the wall in the living room and marvel at the length of time it takes to dial a phone number. In a bizarre revolt against technology, they actually fall in love with the long, slow act of dialling and spend the rest of that wet afternoon making imaginary phone calls to all sorts of people.

The house is situated in Bay Street, right next to the harbour and a short stroll from Hesse Street, the main shopping strip in Queenscliff. When the rain eases, we wander into town and are delighted to come across The Chocolate Room, with an alluring array of dark, white and milk confections calling us in. Could they possibly be gluten free? Yes! At $1.80 each, they are not cheap and we have to issue restraining orders before moving up the hill only to discover a bakery, Cafe 67 On Hesse, with seven different gluten-free cakes.

We are now dizzy with delight. Large chunks of our lives have been spent visiting cafes or restaurants trying to find gluten-free food suitable for children and this double strike in the space of half an hour was just manna from heaven. Could Queenscliff be a coeliac's Mecca?

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As we continue our stroll, I am puzzled by the two different spellings of Queenscliff that appear on the library and the museum; the town appears to have lost or gained an additional "e" over time. To e or not to e, that is the question, which couldn't be answered by the museum because it was shut. But according to Google, the township of Queenscliff was first gazetted in June 1853. The extra e arrived with its Borough status 10 years later, incorporating the town and its neighbour, Point Lonsdale, too.

The next day, to pay for my indulgences, I embark on the six-kilometre return nature walk along the shores of Swan Bay, which conveniently starts in the car park behind the enclosed back yard. The air is freshly laundered by the previous downpour and the mingled scents of coast banksias, sea salt and damp earth are a balm for the senses. Out on the water, black swans gaze at their reflections and a group of pelicans comes into land with surprising grace.

In the afternoon, we head to the Jirrahlinga Koala and Wildlife Sanctuary in Taits Road, Barwon Heads, about a 20-minute drive away. Here we get up close and personal with a docile koala named Andy, watch some kangaroos bounce lazily around a mud-filled paddock and play peek-a-boo with a caged fox. We have a pleasant enough time but I think the $50 per family entrance fee is a bit steep.

That evening, as a storm lashes the house and sends waves spewing over the harbour wall at the bottom of the street, we raid the games/DVD cupboard and play Monopoly. Lovely as it is, I imagine Pelican's Rest suits summer visitors best, due to the absence of a roaring log fire, central heating and electric blankets in the bedrooms (there is reverse heating/cooling in the main room and additional heaters in other rooms).

We had planned to come home by ferry across to Sorrento but the violent weather scuppers that idea. So it is a return to purgatory, at least made bearable by the very pleasant few days at Pelican's Rest.

VISITORS' BOOK

Pelican's Rest, Queenscliff

Address 4 Bay Street, Queenscliff.

Bookings Phone (03) 9499 2061.

Getting there About 1½ hours from Melbourne via the Princes and Bellarine highways.

Summary Well equipped, spacious, comfortable and perfectly positioned. Offers excellent value for two families and groups.

How much $600 for a weekend.

Verdict 16.

The score: 19-20 excellent; 17-18 great; 15-16 good; 13-14 comfortable.

All weekends away are conducted anonymously and paid for by Traveller.