In the late 19th century Melbourne’s wealthy rested and played in Queenscliff. They rode coastal trains and bay steamers to the Bellarine Peninsula town nicknamed the “Queen of Watering Places”. More than a century later, we arrive by bike and leave by historic railway.
The Geelong to Queenscliff railway, which opened in 1879, was built to transport soldiers and supplies to defend Port Phillip Bay against Russian attack. The destination was embraced by holidaymakers when the invaders failed to arrive. The railway closed in 1976, but its final 16km reopened as a heritage railway in 1981 and the full line became a rail trail in 2000.
We start on the Bellarine Rail Trail in Moolap, about 4km from South Geelong, and pedal gently uphill along backyards and farm fences to Leopold.
The trail is a mix of sealed track and fine gravel and is easiest to cycle on a hybrid or mountain bike but there are only a couple of spots that would trouble road-bike riders.
From Leopold we climb towards Curlewis, riding sealed track through an Avenue of Honour of more than 200 yellow box trees planted by the Friends of the Bellarine Rail Trail. The sapling pine at its eastern end is descended from the original lone pine at Gallipoli.
Now with Corio Bay on our left, reaching towards the distinctive You Yangs peaks, and Curlewis golf course on our right, we ride parallel to the rusty metal railway track, passing abandoned carriages and other stock.
We reach Drysdale and the Bellarine Railway, dogleg around the weatherboard station and platform, which overlook black swan-dotted Lake Lorne, and pass the old railway turntable. Then it’s up to the trail’s highpoint (about 90m above sea level), where Clydesdale horses in an adjoining paddock distract us.
The trail beyond is predominantly downhill or flat, with Queenscliff taking shape ahead and reeling us in, through remnant stands of she-oaks and native grasslands stitched with wildflowers.
An easy spin along a becalmed finger of Swan Bay puts us on Bellarine Highway footpath for a short run along the sandy isthmus linking Queenscliff and the peninsula. We then follow the shoreline, stopping at birdwatching platforms – more than 10,000 migratory birds from as far as Siberia summer in Swan Bay.
Local legend has it that pirate Benito “Bloody Sword” Benita buried the treasure he stole from Lima Cathedral, Peru, in 1780, in a cave near Swan Bay, and it is still there.
The rail trail ends at Queenscliff Station, where a steam engine gleams in the sun, but we cycle on to the tip of the peninsula to Queenscliff Harbour.
There is so much to do in Queenscliff we risk missing our 3pm train. Check out town defences at Queenscliff Fort or modern paintings, sculptures and ceramics at Salt Contemporary Art? Risk the sea breeze at a footpath cafe table or seek out an open fire in a grand boom-era hotel restaurant?
Eventually we board a heritage carriage behind an old-time locomotive – steam trains most Sundays – for a nostalgic 16km on the Bellarine Railway.
Through RACV’s Show Your Card & Save program, members can take advantage of discounts on The Bellarine Railway. See racv.com.au for this discount and others in the area.
There are few places on the Bellarine Peninsula without a view, so get behind the wheel and drive. Follow brown tourist signs down back roads to wineries, pick-your-own berry farms, farm gate produce and award-winning restaurants, and to beaches where surfers and dogs brave the waves in all weathers.
Enjoy salt spray on your lips, wind in your hair and sand between your toes – if they can bear the spring cold – walking between Barwon Heads and Point Lonsdale along Bass Strait’s shore. It’s about 11.5km one way so you’ll need to arrange a pick-up, splurge on a taxi, or walk both ways, take a break in a cafe at your turnaround town.