There’s usually a point when you're travelling to your favourite holiday destination where you feel your whole body relax. It might be seeing the rolling hills, the smell of the air, or simply veering off the main highway.
In my case it’s the Barwon Heads Bridge over the Barwon River, where when you round the bend from Ocean Grove you catch the glistening water of the river below, and behind you, the waves of the surf beach crash against the sand.
The colours are always what get me. The blues and greens against the golden sand dunes and the dog notices too, normally sitting up at this point, tail wagging as we round the corner into the popular seaside village locals and other tourists amble the streets in shorts and thongs, coffees in hand.
The dog’s head hangs out the window taking in the sea air knowing a trip here means morning and early evening runs along the beach, afternoons of backyard cricket with our two boys and being thrown a sausie or two off the barbecue.
We’re not the only ones who love this southern spot of Victoria, Lonely Planet listed it as one of the world’s best value destinations for 2017 – alongside Nepal, Portugal, Venice and Morocco (to name a few) and while it didn’t make the list for its penchant for pets – its reputation for ensuring our furry friends enjoy their holiday as much as we do is growing.
Known locally as ‘The Bellarine’, the peninsula extends past Geelong, hugging Port Phillip Bay from Portarlington around to Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads. An easy 90-minute drive from Melbourne the area can also be accessed by ferry from the Mornington Peninsula and Geelong is only 25 minutes from Avalon Airport.
While it can get busy over the Christmas and New Year period there are plenty of places to take your dog, whether it’s a beach or bush walk, café or winery.
Things to do
From 13th Beach to Ocean Grove you can take your dog along most of the beaches – but do check the signs as the on-leash and off-leash rules vary depending on the time of year.
For most of the time (except 18 December to 31 January) you can take your dog off-leash on the beach north of the Barwon Heads bridge to the southern end of the Riverview Family Caravan Park.
Narrows Beach (formerly known as Dog Beach) in Queenscliffe is also an all year round off-leash dog beach. The beach is accessed from the car park near the pedestrian lights on Bellarine Highway, opposite Roddick Grove and the off-lead area begins at the end of the boardwalk and extends east.
On the Northern side of the Peninsula about 20 minutes from Geelong in Clifton Springs a large section of beach from Beacon Point Road south is also an all year off leash dog area, and ten minutes from Geelong at the tip of the Point Henry Foreshore Reserve is an off leash dog area - and it won’t just be the dog who loves the environment. Point Henry is an extensive wetland environment in a remote atmosphere with amazing views across Corio Bay to Geelong.
The You Yangs
The distinctive granite peaks of the You Yangs rise from the flat volcanic plains between Melbourne and Geelong. The You Yangs has more than 50 kilometres of mountain bike trails but the mountain range is also rated by some as one of the top 10 walks around Melbourne. You can take your dog on leash along the You Yangs East West walk. The four kilometre walk circumnavigates Flinders Peak, the highest mountain in the You Yangs (named after the explorer Matthew Flinders), providing great views in every direction and once you’re done you can have a barbecue or picnic at the facilities in the car park - believe me you'll need it!
Where to stay
Queenscliffe Tourist Parks which accommodate RVs in the heart of Queenscliffe, has been pet friendly for many years and while it was only between May and October, this has now been extended to cover February to November.
Just north of Queenscliffe is Swan Bay Holiday Park and St Leonards Caravan Park which are also pet friendly. Swan Bay Holiday Park manager Mary-Grace Greer says considering many travellers, especially on long trips will travel with pets, it makes sense to allow their pets to stay with them.
In North Geelong Eldorado Tourist Park also takes dogs and is set in ten acres with a swimming pool, basketball court and playground just ten minutes from the city.
Places to eat
A visit to this region wouldn’t be complete without dropping into many of the incredible wineries and food producers.
The region is home to one of Victoria’s newest food and wine trails – the ‘Moorabool Valley Taste Trail’ which includes producers and wineries tucked away north-west of Geelong.
One of those in Bannockburn is Clyde Park Vineyard and Bistro, which sits at the top of a hill with stunning views across the vines and rolling hills beyond. Sit on the deck and watch the views while you enjoy one of their award-winning wines, while owner Terry Jongebloed whips you up a gourmet pizza in the over-sized outdoor pizza oven - and while your dog can't join you on the deck, you can sit with him or her on the grassed area below the deck in what Terry calls the 'dogs bar' - or leave them to it and take them for a stroll around the grounds afterwards.
Back in town Little Creatures and White Rabbit in South Geelong allows you to step into a ‘brewery village’ with a bustling canteen and wide laneway lined with multi-coloured chairs and shelters. While you might have to tie the dog up outside while you do the brewery tour, your dog can sit by your side afterwards in the laneway while you sample some craft beers and have a bite to eat - and while you’re here order an extra kangaroo skewers and slip it under the table, after-all, we all know who is top dog in this relationship.