Take a Detour: Geelong

The triple peaks of the You Yangs ridges look on as small, white-sailed yachts cut through the golden sunlight glittering on Corio Bay. Geelong wraps itself around this busy waterway, tucked into the far west of Port Phillip Bay, 70 kilometres from Melbourne. A historic maritime transport hub once so important to 19th century shipping and railway routes that locals were known as Pivotonians (as everything pivoted through here), today the large historic brick and stone wool stores continue to dominate the city. The stores eventually give way to colonial-era bluestone buildings and 1950s cream-brick edifices, all of which now act as a backdrop to a burgeoning arts and food scene that, combined with an affordable lifestyle, has reinvigorated a place once known as Sleepy Hollow. 

See & Do

Seafood lovers can wander through the marina at Geelong’s waterfront and opt for fish and chips, locally harvested mussels or a paella made by a Galician chef on his floating kitchen, The Mussel Boat. The marina makes way for golden sand and an Art Deco swimming enclosure at Eastern Beach. A curved boardwalk arcs around this historical bathing area, which was originally a pleasure park built for the working classes in the 1920s. Today the watery playground features island platforms and a diving board that sits in the centre of the sea pool. 

Another sanctuary in the city is the Geelong Botanical Gardens, offering four hectares of manicured lawns with Queensland bottle trees at the entrance, fine examples of gingko trees and magnificent copper beech trees, some dating back 150 years. The gardens sit within the greater Eastern Park precinct, perched high on a hill and delivering views across the bay. 

Of course, the city claims another, more famous patch of turf — Kardinia Park, home to Australian Rules Football’s Geelong Cats. A hallowed ground for supporters, it’s here you can buy a mighty blue and white jumper or wander across to the shrine-like GFC Memorabilia Museum. 

A short walk back to the heart of town and you’ll find Geelong Gallery. It’s here that Eugene von Guerard’s View of Geelong hangs — an 1856 painting once owned by influential British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. It’s one of many works on display — including others by Australian masters such as Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton. While here, check out the new Geelong Library, a large mauve dome, which was designed by ARM Architecture and is described as a temple to learning and literature. Down in trendy Newtown, among the cafes and bakeries, is Boom Gallery. Set in an old warehouse, it exhibits works by well-known artists, including former Mambo designer, Jeff Raglus.

Eat & Drink

Set around an open kitchen with a charcoal grill lying at its heart, Restaurant Igni has been critically lauded as one of the best in Australia. Hidden down a grimy lane, the old brick industrial building is now all clean lines — with acclaimed chef Aaron Turner behind the pans, cooking a degustation-only menu featuring a variety of local, native and foraged ingredients in dishes such as the chef’s acclaimed goose fat-basted beetroot steak. 

Tulip in Newtown, which plates up modern, accessible food, is also worth a look, while down the cafe-packed Little Malop Street in the very heart of town is the Coffee Cartel — think single-origin coffees, freshly roasted beans to go and a quick toastie as well. 

Later in the day, aim for a local red — we suggest a Farr Rising gamay — and charcuterie plate at the Geelong Cellar Door. Or, wander across to speakeasy-style bar, 18th Amendment. 

Stay

With arched windows and mod-Georgian styling, the 1926-built Gordon Junior Technical School has been transformed into the Devlin Apartments. Decked out with bare wood furniture and modern appliances, they’re just a short walk from Kardinia Park and a casual stroll to the waterfront. Vue Apartments, meanwhile, sit next to the water and offer contemporary accommodation options, as well as sweeping views across Corio Bay down to the Bellarine Peninsula.  

GETTING THERE

To book your flight to Melbourne, visit www.virginaustralia.com.

Words by Richard Cornish - Published 16 November 2018
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