Steeped in history, Queenscliff’s modern, cosmopolitan touch is driving everyone south in Victoria to discover its charms in accommodation, dining, train rides and seaside appeal among dozens of other reasons. From its early beginnings in the 1850s when it became a strategic defence post close to the entrance of Port Phillip which in turn provided shipping access to Geelong and Melbourne, it’s become a hot-ticket item for “great escape” destinations in Australia.
Only a 90-minute drive to the Bellarine Peninsula in your Melbourne airport, Queenscliff has dozens of reasons for a weekend – or week-long – escape, but here five standouts.
360Q – a waterfront feast for the senses
Great ocean views, superb service, incredible food and live entertainment. There’s 10 words or less that should be enough to suggest you’d be crazy to avoid spectacular 360Q waterfront restaurant (pictured) at Queenscliff Marina. The venue was closed in 2014 but was reborn over 12 months ago under the management of charismatic Mornington Peninsula celebrity caterer and restaurateur, Barry Iddles, who has breathed new life into its two venues – the Hooked on Fish Cafe Bar and Restaurant downstairs and the spectacular 360Q function space on the first floor.
Upstairs you can soak up views across Queenscliff’s $38 million marina, with the city of Melbourne in the distance, Port Phillip Heads and the town of Queenscliff from its enclosed viewing deck which guests access via a spiral staircase. The food itself is adventurous and memorable. Think entrees like sweet corn and jalapeno fritters with lime and chilli glaze or Idamaes summer duck salad with peach salsa. Mains hit the spot with popular menu items such as Sri Lankan rubbed lamb rack with cardamom pilaf rice, green beans and raita or Dendeng balado beef short rib with coriander rice & fried basil. Of course, the location requires some choice seafood and it certainly delivers by capitalising on local produce – try Portarlington mussels with lemongrass & chilli, coconut broth, or the simple but sensational Furphy battered whiting fillets, crunchy chips, lemon and tartare. Desserts are must, namely the Chocolate molten pudding w vanilla ice cream and a compote of raspberries, or Coconut creme brulee with papaya & lime.
“This was an incredible opportunity to relaunch a venue that locals and Melburnians alike know and love,” Iddles told DriveNow. “It’s the perfect spot for residents to come for a casual lunch or breakfast, for tourists off the ferry to stop and relax during their day trip and its magnificent views will mean we’ll soon be the most talked-about function space on the Bellarine coastline.”
Sleep easy at beautiful Benamda B&B
This historic cottage is one of the oldest buildings in Queenscliff still in use and has an old-fashioned irresistible vibe with hosts Geoff and Anne at the helm.
Benambra Boutique Bed & Breakfast offers a relaxing escape in the heart of town where you can experience an ambience of the 1870s with modern day comforts and homely food. Lovingly restored and in immaculate condition, it provides seven rooms with ensuites; two with spas. Everything is nearby including the beach, restaurants (360Q only 10 minutes by foot), shops and the ferry to Sorrento.
Homemade cake with tea or coffee is served on arrival and every morning begins in the dining room with a hearty breakfast like grandma used to make. Plus you can tap into the hosts’ wealth of local knowledge and top tips.
Eco Boat Tours
After you wander the historic streets to work off a big breakfast, book in with the South Bay Eco Adventures crew for any number of tour types at Queenscliff Harbour.
Take your pick from Bay & Bass Strait tours, Bird Watching & Photography, South Channel Fort Tours, Mud Island Tours, Dolphins, whales, seals and penguins, private charters and more. These guys offer an up close nature based adventure you won’t forget highlighting the unique history, wildlife and coastal landscape of the area.
Rock out on the Blues Train
They say nothing quite captures the essence of the blues like a steam train in full swing, and this Blues Train is always rockin’.
The Blues Train leaves Queenscliff Railway Station after guests enjoy a buffet style dinner with local wines, beers and spirits. Then the real party begins. It’s a full meal and show, four blues artists and the full train ride to Drysdale return over five hours.
A tipple or two at Scotchmans Hill
From a broad selection of wineries in the region, Scotchmans Hill is a must with lots going on as new owners work on some renovations. Established in 1982, Scotchmans Hill is a producer of premium cool maritime climate wines and is rated among James Halliday’s Top 100 Australian Wineries. Immaculately maintained vineyards overlook Port Phillip Bay, and the wines are to die for, which can be sampled in the cellar door. Must include the wickedly delicious freshly made platters out in the courtyard.