Victoria's second largest city is many decades away from its industrial past of woollen mills and Ford car manufacturing. Whimsically decorated bollards along the waterfront offer a glimpse of what this bayside place now offers its visitors.
Geelong was founded in the 1850s as a centre for the nearby goldfields of Ballarat and Bendigo, and a port to transport the inland's wheat and wool. It has grown up to become a cosmopolitan city well placed between Melbourne to the north and the scenic Great Ocean Road to the west. From its location on Corio Bay, it's only 45 minutes to the Bellarine Peninsula where you may taste local wines and olive oils or relax at cafes and restaurants.
The Port of Geelong is a busy working port, the largest regional port in Victoria. Large cruise ships anchor in Corio Bay off Central Geelong, and passengers are tendered ashore to Cunningham Pier just a couple of blocks from the city centre. There are plans for appropriate berth arrangements in the future with the construction of a new Yarra Street Pier.
The pier is well located for enjoying the waterfront, shopping, or visiting sights in the town. The Visitor Information Centre on Moorabool St, (Freecall within Australia: 1800-755-611, +61 352 831 735). Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. next to the National Wool Museum is just over a block away, and the staff can answer all your questions about what to see and do. Across the road from this is a massive Westfield shopping centre with shops, eateries, ATMs and banks.
There is much to keep you occupied at the end of the pier, too. In the Steampacket Gardens, at Eastern Beach, to the left as you leave the pier, there is an eye-catching 1892 steam-driven carousel housed in a modern building. At the far end of the gardens there is a cafe and another place to eat, adjacent, on Fishermen's Pier. To the right, as you exit, there is The Geelong Boat House (+61 352 223 642) serving fish and chips on a restored barge, and open daily for lunch. Baveras Brasserie (+61 352 226 377) also shares the water views and is open for lunch daily, from noon.
Those brightly painted and quirkily decorated Baywalk Bollards are the work of local artist Jan Mitchell. She created these in the mid-1990s, painting more than 100 timber bollards that had once been a vital part of the port. They are worth looking at carefully as they reflect local history and identities. You won't miss seeing them as they are dotted all around the waterfront between Rippleside Park and Limeburners Point and the Botanic Gardens.
Not all beaches are patrolled or have flags so do watch out for 'rips' (strong currents) when there is a big swell. If bushwalking, be alert for snakes, and wear a hat and use sunscreen when outdoors.
By bike: Bicycles may be hired from Geelong Bike Hire; +61 401 217 877
By bus: Geelong buses use the myki card, a reusable Smartcard that you can buy and top up at more than 800 retailers including: all 7-Eleven Stores; the ticket office window at Premium Stations and staffed V/Line commuter stations; from a myki machine (full-fare myki cards only) located at all train stations and major tram and bus interchanges; on the website and by calling, in Australia, 1800 800 007.
By car: All the major rental car companies are represented in the city so get details from the Visitor Information Centre. If you are hiring a car, it is good to know that metered parking in the city is available during weekdays with free parking during weekends and public holidays, and is often time limited.
By helicopter: If you would like to see Geelong and the bay and beaches from the air without getting wet, Geelong Helicopters (+61 422 515 151) are on the waterfront at Yarra Street Pier.
ATMs and currency exchanges may be found throughout the town at banks and also in shopping centres as well as many hotels. Withdrawals will be in Australian currency, usually in $50 and $20 notes. For current currency conversion figures visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. U.S. dollars are not acceptable when shopping, but major credit cards are generally welcome.
English is spoken in Geelong. Listen closely, though, and you may detect a slightly different vowel use in Victoria. For instance, Melbourne becomes Malbourne, and television is talevision.
Recent years have seen an explosion of places to eat good food and drink good coffee, and enjoy a drink or two later in Geelong. With the vibrant example of Melbourne, there is much to live up to, but this has always been a town that strives to excel.
So much so, that many of the new and trendy cafes that have opened in Geelong have a distinctly 'Melbourne;' feel about them. Suggestions by locals are: Pakington Pantry (Pakington St, Newtown), King of the Castle (Pakington St) and Coffee Cartel Roasters (Leather St, Breakwater).
The Barking Dog: Relaxed place where dishes come ready to share, service is good and meals -- such as open lamb souvlaki and open steak sandwich or a burger anchored to a board by a steak knife -- go down a treat. (126 Pakington St, Geelong West; +61 352 292 889; open daily from 11 a.m. to midnight)
Flying Brick Cider Co: This could be useful if you are out of town, near Wallington, at lunchtime. Especially if you like a good cider. The menu is crammed with little tastes to share and big platters -- also to share. Overlooking water and near Adventure Park. Lunch daily
(1251 Bellarine Hwy, Wallington, Geelong; +61 352 506 577; open daily, Sunday to Thursday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.)
Telegraph Hotel: If you're in a hurry, there's an express lunch available for $19.90, served with a complimentary drink. Otherwise, enjoy the relaxed vibe and order comfort food such as such as sticky BBQ chicken wings, duck spring rolls, or a good-value 350g Black Angus porterhouse steak. (2 Pakington St, Geelong West; +61 352 222 471; lunch daily from 11 a.m.)
Tulip Bar & Restaurant: There is a cosmopolitan feel to the menu at this pretty little eatery that popped up on the north end of the street, amid the boutique shops and restaurants. Great as a place to take a break from shopping, then try some fried baby prawns with smoked garlic mayonnaise or a grilled grass-fed flank steak.
(Shop 9, 111 Pakington Street, Geelong; +61 352 296 953; lunch Monday to Friday noon to 2.30 p.m.)
Cunningham Pier: Drinks and lunch, from noon, is also available at two places on the bay: at the end of Cunningham Pier -- at City Quarter Bar (+61 352 226 233) dishes such as pulled pork sliders, chicken spare ribs or dips with flatbread, make great sharing and relaxed dining. Baveras Brasserie (+61 352 226 377) also shares the water views and is open for lunch daily from noon serving contemporary cuisine (Asian-inspired oysters, slow-cooked lamb, that sort of thing) in a sleek environment.
Most visitors fall in love with the decorated bollards along Geelong's waterfront and can't resist stocking up on miniature ones. Easy to find, you'll see them in many gift shops, as they have become the iconic symbols of this town.
Head to the National Wool Museum for woollen goods, linen, and beautiful handmade local arts and crafts. Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre is the best place to go for authentic Aboriginal artifacts such as didgeridoos and boomerangs as well as handmade indigenous items such as clothing and ceramics.