Surfing the swells

Surfing the swells
PHOTO: David McMahon

The Bellarine Peninsula, 90 minutes' drive from Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport, is a haven for tourists and short-term holidaymakers of all ages.

In the summer months from December to February, the full-time population at Ocean Grove, a town with just over 10,000 inhabitants, easily swells fourfold - in proportion to the swells that bring on the surfers.

When we visited parts of the peninsula in mid-January, it was the high season in the Australian summer school holidays when offices function on a skeleton staff, and everyone gets out to savour the Australian beach experience.

Despite the rain, we loaded up the car and headed for the freeway. Such is the allure of Victoria's surf towns.

Driving up to Point Lonsdale for street parking, we found a parking spot across the road from a cafe called Grow Naturally - a warm vibe glows inside, complemented by the rustic timber tables and homely decor.

The food - promptly prepared and of robust quality - was served by a waitress who gave us the welcoming news: "Better weather is not far away."

After lunch, we enjoyed the short walk in the drizzle to Point Lonsdale Lighthouse, a heritage-listed landmark that is still operational and provides a night-time guidance point for vessels coming through to Port Phillip Bay.

Surfing never stops

As word of improving weather got around, we saw first-hand just how irresistible the call of the ocean can be for surfers.

We drove to one of the many beaches in the area, with a great view over the boardwalk, verdant hillside and endless stretch of sand.

In the open-air car park, there was a surfer getting ready for the water. He had his wet suit on and was changing on the tailgate of his four-wheel drive.

A couple of minutes later, he grabbed his surfboard and ran barefoot through the puddles, pausing for a couple of seconds to make sure there was no traffic coming, before sprinting across the road and disappearing down the boardwalk to the beach.

Right on cue, the smallest patch of blue appeared in the grey sky, and from our vantage point looking over the bay, spreading dramatically like blue paint spilled from a can.

The clouds receded and the breeze was distinctly warmer now, in one of the signature Victorian weather changes that can be swift and dramatic.

The sun was so bright that it appeared to create diffused light through the sea spray down the end of the beach.

Fishing and eating chips

Daylight hours in summer being long - the sun sets around 9pm - it is easy to lose track of time in the gentle breeze.

If you seek a relaxed pace of life, you will find it at Barwon Heads, a nearby town.

Small one-man fishing boats bob at anchor as seagulls wheel above, their white wings starkly visible against the clear blue sky.

On the wooden pier, there were adults fishing, as well as children.

There was a tangible family holiday atmosphere as we walked from the large car park to the timber restaurant At The Heads, where the huge windows provided a special charm as well as magnificent views of the waterfront.

The fish and chips on my plate were excellent, but the views also whetted my appetite for photography in the immediate surroundings.

Guidelines

- I flew on Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Melbourne.

- Depending on traffic, it takes about an hour to drive from the central business district of Melbourne to Ocean Grove, or about 90 minutes from the airport.

- Because of large distances, it is advisable to hire a vehicle that can be picked up at Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport.

- Check that there is no limit on daily distances, as some hire-car companies cap distances at 250km daily, with subsequent distances charged at a set rate of cents per km.

- Obey the speed limits closely on the freeway from Melbourne to the coastal towns as speed cameras operate all day, every day.

- Take the ferry from Queenscliff to Portsea or Sorrento and watch the water carefully for dolphins.

- Immerse yourself in the quint essential Australian summer experience and cook a meal on the free public barbecues in the parks in each town.

- Accommodation on the peninsula ranges from caravan parks to motels and hotels.

This article was published by the Special Projects Unit, Marketing Division, SPH.


This article was first published on August 18, 2015.
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