I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published October 11th 2016
Historic Townships Top Attractions
Queenscliff is a classic seaside holiday destination, home to a long list of things to see & do and one of Victoria's premier tourist attractions.
I've nominated what I think are the top 10 reasons you should visit this historic township.
1. Fort Queenscliff
Work on fortifications at Shortland's Bluff had originally begun in 1860 with the construction of a sea wall on top of the bluff capable of housing heavy guns and by 1864 the first permanent battery was in place.
There was little progress on the defenses between 1864 and 1879 when work commenced on another two batteries. They were finished in 1882 and construction of the walls continued until, by 1886, the fortifications at Queenscliff were completed.
Fort Queenscliff is a meticulously maintained historic site and regularly open to the public. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Originally the entire perimeter was surrounded by a moat with access gained through two large gates each fronted by a wooden bridge.
The north wall included a fort within a fort. Called the 'Keep' it was a self-contained, raised watchtower overseeing the landward approaches and manned by a small force able to fight on if the main garrison was over run.
Today the fort is a meticulously maintained historic site. The original command post, signal station, guardroom and cell block have all been carefully restored and are supplemented by a small but excellent military museum.
Without doubt, time spent at the Fort, the largest and best preserved of Australia's 19th century fortifications, is time very well spent.
Tours commence at 1PM and 3PM Saturday, Sunday and school & public holidays. An additional tour commences at 11AM during September and December/January school holidays.
Construction of the Vue Grand Hotel commenced in July 1881 and, although only partially complete, opened as Adman's Grand Hotel on 22nd December 1881.
Considered one of the finest hotels in the colony many of the well-heeled guests were brought from Melbourne to Queenscliff on-board the luxury steamers Ozone and Hygeia.
Queenscliff's Vue Grand Hotel epitomises 19th Century luxury but with essential mod-cons. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
The Vue Grand was the hallmark of opulence & luxury and reflected victoria's wealth, riding on the back of the world's greatest gold rush.
In October 1927 the hotel was almost destroyed by fire, possibly the result of a manager's young son playing with matches.
Today the Vue Grand allows visitors to step back in time with a range of accommodation options, great places for a convivial drink or two including the Roof Top and Vue Street Bars and, perhaps the ultimate Vue Grand experience, fine dining in the iconic Grand Dining Room.
Queenscliff's Marine Disaster Bell was used to alert Lifeboat crews for rescues in nearby waters. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
3. Wining and Dining
Queenscliff offers an incredible range of eating and drinking options ranging from some great paper-wrapped fish & chips to the ultimate fine dining experience in a magnificently restored 19th century hotel.
There's Chinese and Italian and everything in-between at establishments such as Athelstane House, The Tavern, Gingers Restaurant & Bar, The Couta Boat Café and the great hotels like the Vue Grand, The Queenscliff and The Esplanade.
The old Pilot Boat jetty is a great spot for the kids to fossic under at low tide. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
The old steamer pier and Lifeboat station take visitors back to a time when luxurious steamers plied the bay bringing visitors to Queenscliff and other resort towns. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
4. Bellarine Railway
The Bellarine Railway is a volunteer run heritage train service which runs between Queenscliff and Drysdale.
Commissioned in 1878 the original railway line ran between South Geelong and Queenscliff, principally servicing Fort Queenscliff, one of the State's key defence installations.
The Line ceased commercial operations in 1976 and a group of Geelong railway enthusiasts set about restoring a section of the line on which to run its steam engines.
The railway runs regular tourist trips year round as well as special school holiday programs, special occasion & wedding charters, group and school tours and the very popular Blues Train featuring live music on most Saturday nights between August and May.
Some of the scenery around Queenscliff is nothing short of spectacular.
Great views can be had from within Fort Queenscliff overlooking the bay to Sorrento & Point Nepean and along the beach between the ferry terminal and Shortland's Bluff.
Other scenic lookouts include a viewing tower within the marina complex and also the Roof Top Bar at the Vue Grand Hotel.
The car park immediately behind Fort Queenscliff provides a view through The Rip and across to Point Lonsdale as well as 'ship-spotting' of vessels entering and leaving Port Phillip.
A stream of vessels entering and leaving port provide some great ship spotting opportunities. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
8. Queenscliff Maritime Museum
Queenscliff Maritime Museum is jam-packed full of history relating to the wrecks and rescues that have taken place in nearby waters in in particular the operation of Queenscliff's famous and now preserved Lifeboat.
The displays include artefacts and models detailing the operation of luxurious bay steamers, particularly Hygeia and Weeroona, which serviced Victoria's bay side resorts.
It's posssible to spend hours soaking up the history at Queenscliff's fabulous Maritime Museum. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
There's also a fascinating history of the Port Phillip Sea Pilot Service.
The museum is open daily between 10.30 AM and 4.30 PM.
The real charm of Queenscliff lies in its magnificent hotels, Coffee Palaces, guesthouses and private homes.
As the gold capital of the world in the 1880's there was money to be spent in Victoria and luxurious holiday locations were in great demand.
Ozone House is just one example of some outstanding period architecture to be found in Queenscliff. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Queenscliff's outstanding scenery and ready accessibility from Melbourne via steamship or by road from the gold fields or rich grazing areas of the Western District made it ideal. The hospitality industry flourished and grand structures sprang up to cater for the trade.
Standout buildings include the Ozone Hotel (1881), the Esplanade Hotel (1878) and of course the iconic Vue Grand Hotel (1882).
For something a little different check out the Black Lighthouse within the grounds of the Fort.
The only black lighthouse in Australia, it was manufactured in Scotland, broken down into individually numbered stone blocks and shipped to Queenscliff where it was reconstructed in its present location.
10. Take the Searoad Ferry to Sorrento
Searoad Ferries commenced operations between Queenscliff and Sorrento in 1983 and despite its sceptics the service has gone form one success to the next, introducing bigger & better vessels and a regular, all-weather service.
SEAROADS vehicular ferries depart both Queenscliff and Sorrento hourly throughout the day. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
At just 5.6 kilometres the crossing takes about 40 minutes.
Services depart Queenscliff and Sorrento every hour, on the hour between 6 AM and 7 PM. Seasonal variations do apply to the timetable so be sure to check the website for applicable times on your proposed travel date.
Searoad Ferries offer a quick and reliable alternative to travel between the Bellarine and Mornington Peninsula's with the road connection via Melbourne covering more than 200 kilometres and sometimes taking between 3 and 4-hours.