As you head into Queenscliff along the Bellarine Highway, the first thing you notice is that the township is like a little island, connected to the Bellarine Peninsula by the road you’re driving along. Travel further and you’ll see that Queenscliff is a classic seaside town, with heritage architecture lining the main street, which further adds to the charm of the place. With its rich maritime and military history, 19th Century architecture, heritage trains and annual music festival, the town caters for a range of interests- making it the ideal spot to visit on your travels.
If you’re in Sorrento (on the Mornington Peninsula), and don’t feel like driving all the way around the bay and through Melbourne to get to the Great Ocean Road and South West Coast, why not take the Searoad car-and-passenger ferry across Port Phillip Heads? There are two ferries- the MV Sorrento and MV Queenscliffe- that cross the southern end of Port Phillip Bay every day of the year. The service runs on the hour, every hour, from 7:00am to 6:00pm. The trip takes about 40 minutes but it’s a pleasant journey, and you get a great view of the lighthouses (and the occasional seal or dolphin if you’re lucky).
Every year, in the last weekend of November, music-lovers converge on the town for the increasingly popular Queenscliff Music Festival. Attracting a varied crowd of musicians and folk-music aficionados, the festival caters for most musical tastes and has featured an eclectic mix of Australian and international acts since it first began in 1997. Some of the better-known performers over the years have included Paul Kelly, John Butler Trio, Cat Empire, Xavier Rudd, Kate Ceberano and The Waifs.
The best thing about this festival is that the whole town gets involved- the main street is usually closed off from the roundabout down to the Railway, market stalls line the street, and stages are set up for roaming performers. It’s a fun environment for anybody interested in good music, food and wine. There’s also a Sunday market on the last day of the festival, for those looking for quality handicrafts and gifts.
Buy a ticket for the day, the night, or the whole weekend and you won’t be disappointed.
If you’re interested in learning about the marine life that inhabits Victoria’s coast, then you should definitely take the time to visit the Marine Discovery Centre. The centre caters to all age groups- they run special programs throughout the year- and features touch tanks and aquariums, which aid in the learning experience. You can also organise, through the centre, to go on snorkelling, canoeing, boating and rock pool rambling trips.
Queenscliff boasts not one, but two fully operational lighthouses. The White Lighthouse was originally built in 1853 but was reconstructed using bluestone in 1862. The unique Black Lighthouse, located inside Fort Queenscliffe, was also reconstructed in 1862 after the original structure began to deteriorate. Although both are made from the same bluestone, only the White Lighthouse was painted, so that people could easily distinguish between the two during daylight. Although the lighthouses aren’t open to the general public, they’re well worth looking at for their historical value.
There are two museums in town that should whet the appetite of anybody interested in the town’s rich maritime and social history.
The Queenscliffe Maritime Museum, which opened in 1986, features a large collection of artefacts and exhibits, including a display of the town's last Lifeboat. This is the place to go if you want to see relics found on shipwrecks, an original Fisherman’s Cottage, the buried remains of an old Navy torpedo boat, items covering Queenscliff’s vast shipping and fishing history, as well as historic charts, maps and displays. The museum is open seven days a week and is run mostly by volunteers.
The Queenscliffe Historical Museum- located between the post office and the library in Hesse Street- is only open between 2:00pm and 4:00pm daily, but you shouldn’t let these time limits deter you from taking a look at their extensive collection of social history. The museum houses over 8000 photographs, thousands of documents (relating to property, public records and colonial history), clothing, textiles, and household items. These have been collected over the years and are representative of the people of Queenscliffe, since their settlement in 1838. If you know that you have family connections here and want to learn more about your ancestors, the museum has a family history facility that should be able to provide you with all the information you desire.
Fort Queenscliff, a defensive stronghold that was originally constructed in 1860, is a must-see for any military enthusiast. Situated on Shortland’s Bluff, the Fort overlooks Port Phillip Heads, and the shipping lanes that lead to Melbourne and Geelong. Inside the grounds of the Fort, visitors can explore the museum, which holds a collection of rare memorabilia (including the fully-restored original guns) and view the numerous indoor and outdoor displays. The Fort is considered one of the best-preserved forts in Australia, and, having celebrated 150 years of Military presence in Queenscliff in September 2010, is one of the town's historical treasures.
If you’re looking for something a little bit different to do while in town, then the Bellarine Railway may have something to offer. Fully-restored heritage steam and diesel trains run from here to the town of Drysdale, and offer visitors a chance to see the Bellarine Peninsula from a different view. The 16 kilometre trip usually takes about 45 minutes.
Between August and May, the Bellarine Railway also runs the legendary Blues Train. Visitors have dinner and drinks, before jumping aboard the train, where they are then entertained by musical performers. At each stop, passengers swap carriages so that they can experience another act. The train travels all the way to Drysdale before turning and going back to Queenscliff. This is a fantastic and unique dinner-and-show experience that you really shouldn’t miss.
Did you know? There is sometimes confusion surrounding the spelling of the town’s name. In general, ‘Queenscliff’ refers to the town, whereas ‘Queenscliffe’ is the name of the Borough (that the town and its close neighbour, Point Lonsdale, are a part of).
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