St Leonards is a small beach resort in an area notable for some beautiful scenery, calm waters for boating, yachting and family holidaymakers, a jetty which provides good anchorage and some excellent fishing opportunities.
Where is it?: St Leonards islocated 114 km south of Melbourne, 41 km east of Geelong and 10 km south of Portarlington at the tip of the Bellarine Peninsula which extends out into Port Phillip Bay.
St Leonards is home to good sailing waters as it maintains consistent calm waters because the town’s location on the Bellarine Peninsula helps protect it from the bay’s typical year round south west winds. Thus whilst large waves may be pounding on the east side of Port Phillip Bay due to strong south west winds, the water could be rather calm at St Leonards.
Situated on Bluff Rd, Harvey Park is a foreshore area overlooking Port Phillip Bay. It has picnic-barbecue facilities.
A memorial on The Esplanade commemorates a landing by Matthew Flinders in 1802 and by John Batman in 1835. In fact, a stone cairn on a small reserve at Indented Head (4 km north) marks the exact spot where Batman’s party landed before proceeding to the head of the bay where they encountered the future site of Melbourne.
The Esplanade runs right behind the beach. There are two picnic areas behind the main beach, with a camping reserve toward St Leonards, and a foreshore reserve with numerous facilities backing the bluffs and St Leonards Pier Beach. Toward the southern end of St Leonards Beach, there are several wooden groynes, as well as the breakwater and pier, that form the boundary with the 300 m long St Leonards Pier Beach. This beach terminates at a low, rocky point and reef flats that are exposed at low tide. Both are relatively safe beaches, bathing is better at mid to high tide when the flats are covered.
The rocks on the south side of Indented Head and the St Leonards Pier are the two best places to reach deeper water when beach fishing.
The town is surrounded by salt marsh wildlife reserves which provide habitat for hundreds of birds, including the critically endangered orange-bellied parrot of which there are less than 200 in the wild. Salt marshes are one of the most biologically productive habitats on the planet, rivalling tropical rainforests.
Edward Points and Duck Island State Faunal Reserves
South of St Leonards the coast road extends south out to Edwards Point and Duck Island offshore. This area is a declared fauna reserve where the rare orange-bellied parrot lives. A fire trail heads off from Beach Parade for those interested in exploring on foot.
Edwards Point protects the last remaining stand of coastal woodland on the Bellarine Peninsula. From coastal woodlands to a magnificent coastline, the reserve is home to a vast array of indigenous plants and animals. The reserve is an exciting destination for outdoor enthusiasts and boasts natural beauty and a feeling of remoteness. A number of walks throughout the reserve allow visitors to explore the breathtaking views, sandy beaches, cool coastal woodlands and extensive salt marsh communities of the area.
The Bellarine Rail Trail runs through the town. This 32 km walking and cycling trail follows the route of the former South Geelong to Queenscliff branch line. It runs from South Geelong to Queenscliff, passing through the towns of Leopold, Curlewis and Drysdale. The Bellarine Railway operates a tourist railway between Drysdale and Queenscliff, and the walking track runs parallel to the railway in this 16 km eastern section. The tourist railway is happy to take bicycles on their trains if you don’t want to ride in one (or both!) directions of this section. The route traverses farmland with scattered patches and strips of native vegetation, mainly eucalypt woodland.
The 16-km Bellarine Peninsula Railway is run by the Geelong Steam Preservation Society. It has an outstanding collection of vintage steam locomotives and carriages which take passengers on scenic pleasure trips to Queenscliff, taking in views of Swan Bay, the Bellarine Hills, Corio Bay and Port Phillip Bay. The station is located at Lake Lorne Reserve, just off the main Geelong-Portarlington Rd (High St), at the southern end of town. Trains run every Sunday of the year, some Saturdays and several days a week during school holidays (see the Railway’s website for detaila).
An all-weather cycling and walking trail runs parallel to the railway track and those wishing to take the train one way and ride a bicycle back can transport their bikes for an additional fee. The trail continues from Drysdale along the original rail line as far as South Geelong. Trains can also be hired for special occasions. Contact: (03) 5258 2069.
Clifton Springs adjoins Drysdale. It occupies land on the foreshore of Port Phillip Bay and is essentially residential in nature. The population in the 1996 census was 6651. The settlement was named after some mineral springs discovered below the cliffs in 1870. In the late 19th century such waters were widely believed to have medicinal value and, together with the seaside atmosphere, they attracted many visitors. The area was also popular with yachting and boating enthusiasts and a pier, hotel, baths and a kiosk were built with steamers conveying people back and forth from Melbourne. The mineral water was bottled and sold by the thousand and the pier was extended in 1889 to accommodate the growing custom as Clifton Springs began to rival Queenscliff as a favourite holiday resort.
Clearwater Drive provides access to a 65 ha complex which includes a country club, a golf course, a bowling club and a swimming pool. Clearwater Drive continues on to the beach where there is a boat ramp. Golfers can also try out the Curlewis Golf Club on the Geelong Rd. Clifton Springs Rd leads to a lookout over Port Phillip Bay.
Spray Farm is one of Australias most unique and picturesque historic venues. It was until recently a venue for weddings, corporate events, conferences and private functions. It is reputed the property was named after The Spray, the first sailing ship to single-handedly circumnavigate the world, which had entered Port Phillip Bay in late 1890s.
Spray Farm was formerly known as Ellenvale when built in 1851 for army captain James Conway Langden to the designs of Geelong architect John Young. The main house was a single storey brick and rubble villa based on a symmetrical plan around a central hall and vestibule lit by a large lantern. It was acquired in 1862 by Geelong Dalgety wool broker, Charles Ibbotsen who extended it in 1875 with the addition of a Victorian Gothic brick wing and stable complex forming two fully enclosed courtyards. Its stables have now been converted into four guest suites.
The historic estate bought by businessman and horsebreeder Rick Jamieson who bought the property in 2010 for $7.05 million. Rick Jamieson, who famously sold Black Caviar as a yearling for $210,000, was the founder of party supply and events company Harry the Hirer. Its current owner is ANZ chief executive Mike Smith and his wife, Maria. It is now a private residence and closed to public access. Location: 2275 Portarlington Road, Bellarine.
Down the road, at 330 Scotchmans Rd, is Stoneacres Farm, a large orchard/rose garden/nursery which is situated on elevated ground offering fine views over the bay. There is a rose walk, a wild garden, a hedged terrace, a bluestone wall, a sunken garden, a pond and a bog garden. The nursery specialises in old-fashioned roses, perennials and unusual shrubs. The Cafe is open for Summer Lunch: Wed-Sun, winter Lunch: Fri-Sun, public holidays. Regional wines are featured at this little country cafe with its nursery setting. The views from the Bellarine to the Mornington Peninsulas are stunning. The service is casual and friendly and the menu is changes frequently, but the risotto is always a good choice. Location: 330 Scotchmans Rd, Drysdale. Ph (03) 5259 3109.
Drive along Murradoc Road for a very short distance and you’ll find Becks Rd heads off to the left. Along here, at no.35, is Tuckerberry Hill where you can pick your own blackberries during picking season (December to March). Blueberry jams, juice, chutneys, muffins and toppings and blueberry plants are available all year round. Tuckerberry Hill was started by one of Australia s pioneering blueberry farmers, Margaret Tucker (hence the name!), with her daughter Christine and husband David Lean continuing on the farm. Tuckerberry is the only blueberry orchard on the Bellarine and all their fruit is spray-free and grown under natural conditions. There is no entrance fee, you just pay for what you pick. Tuckleberry Hill also has a picnic area and offers sweeping hilltop views. The Ph: (03) 5251 3468.
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 Rd
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.
It is said that St Leonards was established in the 1840s as a fishing base to supply Geelong but was largely deserted in the 1850s due to the goldrush. In the 1850s Captain George Ward-Cole, a shipping agent and landowner, moved into the area, felling the tall red gums and shipping them to Melbourne. Wattle tree bark was then harvested for use in the tanning of leather. To further this endeavour required the building of a pier and the town consisted of a hotel, store and six houses in 1858. The first Hotel in St Leonards was established in 1858. St Leonards operated as a fishing port and supported a large Chinese community at one time.
In subsequent years it became a popular if low-key boating and holiday destination. It has enjoyed the limelight recently as one of the locations for the popular TV series ‘Sea Change’.