If you haven’t heard of the Bellarine Peninsula before, you aren’t alone.
A little gem an hour from Melbourne near Geelong, the Bellarine is one of Victoria’s best-kept secrets known for beautiful views across Corio Bay, all the way back to Melbourne; but it’s more than just a beach break.
Dotted along the Peninsula are boutique vineyards known for having their own distinct growing environment similar to that of growing regions in France’s Burgundy or Bordeaux. Alongside beautiful wines are craft brew houses, artisan food producers and even a distillery opening its doors to the public soon!
So leave the car at home or park it in Geelong for a ‘grape’ escape into one of Australia’s lesser known wine regions.
A Taste of the Bellarine Peninsula
With the launch of the new seasonal Port Phillip Ferries route from Geelong to Portarlington, adding on to the existing regular service from Portarlington to the cities Docklands, it’s now easier than ever to enjoy a great day trip or weekender to get to know this incredible region a little better.
After getting off the ferry at Portarlington Jetty, catch the free Bellarine Wine Tour bus between the wineries or take a tour catered to your personal interests on the eco-friendly Bongo (kind of like an extended tuk-tuk). Either option is a wonderful way to visit the wineries on the Bellarine Peninsula and taste quality artisan foods produced in the region.
Drive up the winding driveway, past the wines, to one of the oldest wineries on the Bellarine Peninsula. In its 30th year of wine production and rated among James Halliday’s Top 100 Australian Wineries, Scotchmans Hill produces cool climate wines including light Rieslings to rich Pinot Noirs.
Their cosy new cellar door is the perfect place to sit by the fireplace in one of the large leather sofas with a charcuterie board put together by local eatery Piknik or at the bar to do a wine tasting on a rainy day. On a summer’s day, sip on their light Swan Bay Pinot Noir Chardonnay (my personal favourite) on the outdoor terrace with views through the vines to the bay.
Plans are in the works to open a restaurant in the former family home overlooking the vines and bay in late 2018. I know that I will be checking that out pronto!
Manzanillo Olive Grove
Producing quality Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil within 24-hours of being picked, Manzanillo Olive Grove is well-known among the Peninsula.
If you dine at Terindah Estate, or many of the other restaurants along the Peninsula, it’s likely you’ll be served Manzanillo Grove‘s award-winning biodynamic olive oil in some form.
Stop by the Grove to taste their olives, olive oil range – including herb, truffle, and chilli infused varieties – or experience their olive oil skin care range for something a little different!
For those wanting to extend their stay on the Bellarine, you can wake up feeling like you are in Tuscany with a stay at Manzanillo Grove’s luxury accommodation on the Bellarine Peninsula. On site, they have two units, including a pet-friendly unit, fitted with everything you need for a short-stay or long-term escape. You can read more about them here.
Jack Rabbit Vineyard
This was the first of the wineries on the Bellarine Peninsula I visited and is still one of my favourites, not only for delicious food and drink, but that incredible view across the bay to Geelong, the You Yangs, all the way to Melbourne!
Whether you dine at The House of Jack Rabbit – their full-service cafe, stop by the Jack Rabbit restaurant for dinner or just want to grab a grazing platter while you do a tasting of their Pinot Noir, Cabernet or blends, you will be spoilt for choice at Jack Rabbit Vineyard!
Oh, and vegetarian and vegans? Jack Rabbit Restaurant offers food suitable for both!
Bellarine Smoke House
While the Bellarine used to be well-known for Scallop farms, in a bid to clean up the surrounding waters, the towns turned their focus to mussels. Today, not only is the water crystal clear but the mussels are incredible.
Alongside mussels – some which are soaked in Chardonnay before being smoked! – you can also try smoked trout, smoked pinky snapper and grain fed smoked duck – yum!
Best of all the smokehouse is on site at Jack Rabbit Vineyard! Their restaurants often incorporate their smoked scallops into their recipes.
Their wines are featured at some of the best Victorian restaurants, such as Brae, Royal Mail Hotel, and Lake House (Daylesford), but Basils Farm, formally known as Kiltynane Estate, remains humble and will welcome you warmly to their cellar door and cafe on the south side of the Bellarine.
Set in a weatherboard cottage with views across Swan Bay to Queenscliff, it’s like you are coming home when visit the winery. Filled with local artists work, plenty of the Bellarine’s best produce and – of course – their bio-dynamic wines created from their shiraz, chardonnay and pinot noir grapes.
Of the wineries on the Bellarine Peninsula, I’d say Basils is one of the best to bring families to.
With plenty of space to run around outside, veggie gardens to explore, farm animals to meet (including sheep and llamas!), and a great kids menu for both littlies and bigger kids, the whole family will be smiling after a visit!
Basils Cafe serves up house-made dishes created from their own organic gardens and orchards. While there, you can also try their house-made olive oil and chutneys! If you visit on Sundays, there’s live music each from September to April.
‘Terindah’ in Indonesian means “most beautiful” and it’s easy to see why they named it so. If you are looking for award-winning wines, spectacular views and casual fine dining on the Bellarine Peninsula then you need to stop by Terindah Estate!
Awarded by Tourism Victoria as one of the top five regional Victorian restaurants to visit, Terindah Estate may appear modest but it is the dark horse stealing the show on the Peninsula.
I had the pleasure of dining in The Shed, a renovated 1950s hay shed (a wedding was being held at the Cellar Door and The Deck during my visit) and while the food is kept simple, the high quality of the locally sourced ingredients (including Manzanillo Olive Grove) makes for a fantastic dining experience. Honestly, I couldn’t pick a favourite dish on the menu. Both the chicken and beef on offer for dinner that evening were divine, but the sauce that went with the chicken was truly something special!
While you are there, check out their award-winning 2013 Chardonnay, Pinot, and Shiraz. I was also quite partial to their Sparkling Pinot Noir for something a little lighter on the warm spring evening I visited.
Simple, wholesome food paired with the Estate’s beautiful wines – that’s what makes it one of the best wineries on the Bellarine Peninsula to dine at!
The Whiskery: Coming Soon!
Currently earmarked to open in early 2018, The Whiskery will be the first distillery on the Bellarine in thirty years.
Set on a historic seven-acre site near Scotchmans Hill that was a formerly the Cobb & Co horse watering hole, The Whiskery will not only serve its own whiskey and gin, but will also showcase locally-produced wine, cider, and beer as well as select drops from further afield. Those hungry for more will be able to choose from a light menu featuring pizzas and grazing plates.
A perfect addition to the wineries on the Bellarine Peninsula!
I’ll admit it: the best part of visiting a wine and produce region is sampling the goods fresh from the source. Indulge a little, have more than one glass of wine (we are responsible drivers!), and book in to stay the night in Geelong or along the Peninsula.
With Port Phillip Ferries launching a seasonal service from Geelong Pier to Portarlington, you’re able to hop on board and experience the wineries on the Bellarine Peninsula without a worry.
The comfortable 40-45 minute journey gives passengers access to both covered and open-air seating, a great crew full of helpful hints to get the most out of your visit, and luggage storage facilities in case you do choose to travel from the Docklands or you decided to bring a few bottles home with you. Also, there are vending machines on board should you need a refreshment mid-trip.
Better yet, leave your car at home and take the ferry from Melbourne’s Docklands to Portarlington and then continue on! The scenic voyage costs just $13.50 one-way with discounts for concessions, seniors, and children!
You can check the full ferry schedule on Port Phillip Ferries’ website.
For those who want to explore more of Geelong & the Bellarine, if you have a car, driving from Melbourne to Geelong along the M1 takes an hour and it’s just a short trip onward to the Bellarine – from Geelong to Portarlington takes less than 30minutes.
Where to stay
In Geelong, I recommend staying at the Rydges. Not only is it a short walk from the city center, but since it has been bought from Mercure Hotels the property has had some major cosmetic enhances, including new super comfortable beds (the same as those at the QT Hotels!) and new bathrooms. As it’s an old build-style, rooms are a great size!
Room rates are very affordable for a 4-star hotel, beginning at $110 – I went on an event weekend and paid closer to $220 – and there’s free on-street parking or paid on the hotel grounds (I think it was $18 or $15 for members).
To save even more on your stay, join their Priority Guest Rewards loyalty program for an extra 10% off standard room rates at Rydges and their sister brands properties.
What to do in Geelong
It’s so easy to share me!
I took the inaugural ferry from Geelong to Portarlington with Port Phillip Ferries where we visited Scotchmans Hill for a tasting & dined at Terindah Estate; however, I did purchase my own wines outside of the tasters and extended my stay in Geelong, to visit many of the places listed, on my own dime either on this trip or previous trips to the Bellarine Peninsula.
Photo of the glass of wine at Jack Rabbits overlooking the view is by Wine Geelong.