Ocean Grove lies on the eastern bank of the Barwon River estuary which separates it from its twin town Barwon Heads. The river connects the ocean to Lake Connewarre. As these towns possess both the closest ocean beaches to Geelong and safe family beaches along the riverbank, they are popular holiday destinations with a wide range of accommodation and holiday activities. Ocean Grove is the largest settlement on the Bellarine Peninsula (with the exception of Geelong).
Where is it?: Ocean Grove is located on the Bellarine Peninsula, 25 kilometres south-west of Geelong and 98 km south of Melbourne.
Smiths Beach is the town’s lengthy ocean beach which can hold a large crowd. It is very popular for swimming, surfing and fishing. A surf lifesaving club is located off Surf Beach Rd. Yachting, waterskiing and scuba diving are also popular in local waters. There are many walking tracks which lead off Surf Beach Rd, Orton St, Ocean Throughway and the private road to Collendina Caravan Park (which runs off Bonnyvale Rd).
Smiths Beach is located in the centre of the 9.5 km long beach that curves in a broad, south facing arc from Point Lonsdale to the Barwon River mouth.
The Ocean Grove section is 2 km long and faces south-east. Some protection is offered by Barwon Heads and the beach receives waves averaging 1.4 m. At low tide there is an exposed bar. The town of Ocean Grove backs the beach, with a wide, well-arranged foreshore reserve between the town and the beach. It provides extensive parking, together with most beach amenities. The good parking and easy access, together with the surf club patrols and slightly lower waves make this a popular summer beach. It is a moderately safe beach for swimming, particularly during average summer conditions, when extensive bars dominate. It is best at high tide, however watch the rips, particularly at low tide.
The very lengthy foreshore reserve extends from the tip of this promontory all the way around to Buckley Park Foreshore Reserve at the south-eastern edge of town. There is a parking area, a rotunda and picnic facilities off Surf Beach Rd. A lookout offering excellent views of Bass Strait is located at the end of Lookout Rd which runs off Orton St to a point above the beach.
Raffs Beach occupies the western 1.5 km of the 11 km long stretch of sand and reef that runs from Point Lonsdale to the Barwon River mouth. There is a foreshore reserve between the road and the beach, that has a camping area on both sides of the road. It also has a car park and numerous beach access tracks over the low dunes.The beach has a wide, low gradient, continuous bar, which is usually free of rips. Swimming here is moderately safe and better at high tide, with a greater chance of rips at low tide. Be careful near the river mouth as it has deep tidal channels and strong currents.
There are beach surf breaks, which decrease in size, all the way to the river mouth. Best conditions are in a moderate swell and north-west to westerly winds. This is a good place to check out when westerlies are blowing. The river mouth is the best location for fishing, as the beach tends to be wide and shallow.
Ocean Grove Nature Reserve
Ocean Grove Nature Reserve (143 ha) is the only remaining section of substantial native bushland on the Peninsula. It supports she-oak, tea-tree, banksia and wattle and is home to a koala community and the ant blue butterfly which was only discovered this century. Its larvae feed exclusively on ants. The reserve is located at the northern edge of town, on the western side of Grubb Rd (an extension of Tuckfield St). There are two 3-km walking tracks and two birdhides. Pedestrian access is daily but vehicle access is only on weekends. It is closed on days of total fire ban.
Kingston Park on Shell Road has barbecues and toilets and a playground, the Shell Road Reserve is on the right. Collendina Reserve is located off Minerva Close while Lake Avenue Reserve and Blue Waters Lake are off Lake Avenue. The Begola Wetlands feature a range of waterbirds and can be accessed off Emperor Drive.
Australian Equestrian Academy
The Australian Equestrian Academy is located at 1625 Bellarine Highway (just east of the intersection of the highway and Grubb Rd). Koombahla Park Equestrian Centre is located 1.5 km north of Ocean Grove at 365 Wallington Rd. It offers horseriding and tuition and is open by appointment, Ph: (03) 5255 1020.
Reedy Swamp and Lake Connewarre
Just to the north-west of town are Lake Connewarre and Reedy Swamp which are important migratory bird habitats and hence are havens for waterbirds such as bitterns, swamp hens, ibis, spoonbills, egrets, cormorants and herons. There are mangrove swamps in Lake Connewarre State Game Reserve on the southern shore. The lake is fished commercially for short-finned eel. It also usually contains yellow-eye mullet, black bream and Australian salmon. Other fish may be present, depending on salinity levels.
There are a number of activities that can be enjoyed at Lake Connewarre Wildlife Reserve, including canoeing, kayaking and coastal walking. Visitors can picnic at Taits Point, which offers panoramic views of the lake, and there is also a boat ramp suitable for launching small water craft. There are a variety of fishing platforms and a boardwalk provides good access to the river upstream at Barwon Heads. The reserve is also classified as a State Game Reserve, with designated areas for duck and quail hunting during the declared season. Access is via a series of roads which run off the Wallington Rd and the Bellarine Highway.
Set in 52 acres of picturesque parkland at nearby Wallington, Adventure Park is Victoria’s biggest theme park. It has a wide range of activities for families, including a 100-metre tube waterslide, go-karts, a 9-hole golf course, jumping castles, volleyball, a merry-go-round, paddleboats, an archery range, Adventure Island mini-golf, aqua bikes and canoes, mountain bike riding, the Adventure Express Train, paddleboats, an archery range and the Adventure Playground. Facilities include a kiosk and cafe and undercover seating. Gas barbecues and lockers are available for hire. Location: 1249 Bellarine Hwy, Wallington. Ph: (03) 5250 7200. To get there, head south-west along the Geelong-Portarlington Rd. When you reach the roundabout at the edge of Drysdale, veer south along Grubb Rd for about 3 km then turn right into Swanbay Road.
Also at Wallington, a little further south of the intersection with the Bellarine Highway, is A Maze ‘n’ Things, a complex which features a giant three-dimensional wooden maze, a puzzle and jigsaw centre, a croquet court and a 24-hole mini golf course. There is a kiosk, a playground and a picnic area with barbecues. It is open daily 10 am to 6 pm and doubles as something of a tourist information centre for the Peninsula. Location: 1570 Bellarine Hwy, Wallington. Ph: (03) 5250 2669.
The area is thought to have been occupied by the Wathawurung people prior to European settlement which commenced in 1854 when William Bonsey took up a property. He used the wattle bark he found on the property to establish a leather-tanning industry. Ocean Grove received its name from a town of the same name near New Jersey in the United States. During the 1870s the American Wesleyan Church set up a religious camp near New Jersey and due to its success decided to set up camps overseas. They set up forces with Methodists in Victoria and set up a camp near Point Lonsdale. They purchased a large area of land to set up their Australian version of Ocean Grove in 1882.
Fishing became the mainstay of the local economy until after the Second World War when Ocean Grove’s potential as a holiday resort and residential area was fully recognised.