Friday, March 29

Across the Bay

The city of Melbourne sits on the northern shore of Port Phillip Bay, an enormous expanse of water, encircled by more than 264km of coastline. At its widest point the bay is almost 100km wide. However, despite this expansive surface area, the bay feels more like a lake than a harbour. Its deepest point is only 24 metres (79 ft) and its only passage to open sea is barely 3.5 kms wide.

The bay is encircled by two scenic peninsulas, both popular playgrounds for Melbourne’s frazzled urban population. Mornington Peninsular sweeps down from the northeast, while the stumpy, craggy, Bellarine Peninsula stretches out from the west. The Mornington Peninsular offers quaint coastal villages, stunning beaches and world-class golf courses, while Bellarine is home to a number of quiet, windswept nature reserves.

As a Sydney-based lad I’d never experienced the Bay’s charm until this month. A consulting engagement resulted in me spending a night at Moonah Links, a golf resort on the Mornington Peninsula’s southern flank. The resort includes two championship certified courses, including the only course designed specifically for the Australian Open tournament. From Melbourne, it takes about 90 minutes to reach the resort.

However, the morning before my consulting engagement, I’d made arrangements to spend time in Geelong. This regional city sits on the southwestern flank of Port Phillip Bay, almost an hour away from Melbourne. I was up for a 2.5 hour drive around the bay until I discovered a regular ferry service linking communities across the bay’s narrow entrance.

Every day, two large catamarans depart from opposite shores, carrying passengers and vehicles between Queenscliff and Sorrento. I caught the ferry at Queenscliff, a sleepy town on the tip of the Bellarine Peninsula. From here it’s a scenic 20 minute journey to Sorrento, a popular coastal town on the Mornington Peninsula. Not far from Sorrento is Cheviot Beach. It was here that Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt, drowned on the morning of Sunday 17 December 1967.

The Queenscliff terminal has undergone modest redevelopment in recent years. A small, picturesque marina now offers the usual selection of shiny-new, sun-baked eating establishments on one side while open, wind-swept dunes and curving sand beaches remain untouched on the opposite side. It’s an impressive balance of modern convenience and preservation of the local environment. The entire scene can be enjoyed from a funky spiral observation tower by the marina’s entrance. On the afternoon I visited, I was fortunate to have its stunning vista all to myself.

My ferry arrived on schedule. It took less than ten minutes to load the dozen or so vehicles waiting to board. I spent the entire journey on the roof deck soaking up the view. The sun began dropping behind light cloud as our crossing began. As we sailed, its light was split into spectacular shards that danced across the headlands. A fully laden container ship completed the scene. It crossed our path and headed into the dramatic setting sun.

After such a stunning introduction, I’ll definitely be back to enjoy more of Port Phillip Bay.

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