The factories have gone but Geelong hasn’t turned its back on its roots, converting workshops into cafés and mills into wineries and galleries. Add sea baths, walks and boutiques and you’ve got the perfect break.
If the number of cranes on a skyline indicates economic health, Geelong is booming. On the edge of the CBD, the historic Dalgety & Co. building is being transformed into 12 storeys of office space for a government agency, one of four that have chosen to relocate here. In 2006, the population of metropolitan Geelong was about 168,000; within a decade, it had grown to 191,000.
Sections of the city are being revived, residential developments are climbing skywards and the inner suburbs are gentrifying to accommodate the influx of newcomers. Some work for the businesses that have transferred here, others are commuters who travel to offices in Melbourne (a 75-kilometre trip up the Princes Freeway) but enjoy Geelong’s more relaxed lifestyle.
For a century, starting in the 1860s, Geelong was one of Australia’s largest manufacturing centres, producing everything from paper to cars. These industries have all but disappeared (Ford, which shut its plant in 2016, was the last major manufacturer) but Geelong is booming again, thanks to an increase in service industries. The rapid change has created a city – the second largest in Victoria – with much to offer the curious visitor.
Day 1 AM
Whether you drive south-west from Melbourne or catch the train, it doesn’t take long before the countryside scenery returns to that of an urban environment. On reaching Geelong, set a course for Newtown, one of the city’s more chichi neighbourhoods, with beautiful Victorian and Edwardian homes and upmarket stores and eateries.
Refuel at Skinny Dippers, a hip café run by a dedicated CrossFitter. It’s fresh, healthy and paleo-friendly, with baristas utilising beans from Mikro Coffee Roasters in a Slayer espresso machine. Must try: sweet-potato waffle with coconut yoghurt and fruit.
Next, explore the stores at the Newtown end of Pakington Street. For high-end labels such as Maticevski, Ellery and Missoni, spend time flicking through the racks at Tinky. Sassica and Salter is the place for breezy, coastal homewares.
While you’re in Newtown, look out for the historic woollen mills with a façade covered in signs for marketing companies and design firms. They’ve been turned into a hub for small businesses but also house Boom Gallery, where you can view eclectic art, from ceramics to photography, with local up-and-comers well represented. Grab a coffee at the light and bright café or head across the street to Boom Makers to shop the wares of a framer, jeweller, macramé artist and others.
For more shopping, drive to the recently upgraded laneway precinct around Little Malop Street, 10 minutes away. Duck in to Real Music Vinyl & CDs or seek out a quirky gift at Our Satellite Hearts, a cute and colourful store with crystals, jewellery, books and beauty products.
The Barwon Paper Mill at Fyansford, about 10 minutes’ drive from Geelong’s CBD, hasn’t operated since the 1920s but artists and artisans have recently taken up the bluestone buildings and formed a small cultural community there.
Day 1 PM
For lunch, head to the Geelong West end of Pakington Street, one of the city’s fast-developing areas where light industrial sites are being turned into shops and eateries. It’s also home to the annual Pako Festa (24 February), a celebration of cultural diversity.
Stop at Robbie Lecchino’s King of the Castle café, which started out as a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop in an old bakery. When the opportunity came up to take over an abandoned garage a few doors down, Robbie took it and transformed the space. Plywood, polished concrete and greenery now dominate and there’s an all-day menu spanning blackberry smoothie bowls with fruit sorbet; Thai-inspired bacon and eggs with chilli jam, coriander, mint and roti; and mushroom and truffle ramen. Find the King by looking for the baby-blue shipping container out the front, where Josiah Munday runs The Resident Barber.
For more art, make your way to Geelong Gallery on Little Malop Street. Established in 1896 and part of the city’s revitalised arts district, it’s one of Australia’s oldest and most important regional galleries. Take in the historical pieces – including Eugene von Guérard’s View of Geelong (1856) and Frederick McCubbin’s A Bush Burial (1890) – before exploring the touring exhibition.
Just down the street, you’ll find Geelong Cellar Door. In the countryside surrounding the city, there are a number of emerging winegrowing regions – the Barrabool Hills, Bellarine Peninsula and Otway hinterlands among them – and at this wine bar, you can taste the fruits of the local producers’ labours. Snare one of the stools by the window, order a glass of chilled Domaine D’Esterre Lalou Rosé from the Moorabool Valley and watch the city’s denizens wander by – you’ve had a busy day.
When it’s time to eat, grab a table at perennial favourite Tulip, where chefs Graham Jefferies and Matt Dempsey create smart, contemporary dishes designed for sharing. Unable to make a decision? At $75, the four-course, nine-dish chef’s selection is the way to go. It includes dishes such as oysters with seaweed vinaigrette; cured fish with pickled fennel, plum and seaweed oil; kangaroo tartare; slow-cooked lamb shoulder with sides; and Ecuadorian chocolate cream with chicken-fat caramel, walnut and goat-milk ice cream.
What was once the Gordon Junior Technical School on the edge of the CBD is now Devlin Apartments, named after former student Stuart Devlin who designed Australia’s original decimal coins. Geelong’s only 4.5-star accommodation, it offers 37 rooms in three styles: New Yorker, Industrial and Modernist. Go all-out with a New York suite, where the lofty ceilings and huge arched windows are teamed with sleek furnishings, smoked-glass mirrors and monotone prints.
Day 2 AM
Don’t leave without exploring the Geelong waterfront. Since the 1990s, millions of dollars have been poured into the development of the land overlooking Corio Bay to create parks and piers, cafés and quays.
Follow the Bollard Trail, an easy walk along the bay that takes about two hours. It features more than a hundred painted-pylon characters – created by artist Jan Mitchell – that chronicle the history of the city. Along the way, you’ll discover a steam-powered, hand-carved carousel, built around 1892, that has been meticulously restored and now resides in a contemporary pavilion.
Take a break at Eastern Beach, towards the southern end of the walk. Change into your swimmers for a dip in the sea baths or hire a stand-up paddleboard from WSUP for an alternative view of the shoreline.
Day 2 PM
Tired legs? Worked up an appetite? Head to the thriving Little Creatures Village, where you’ll find Little Creatures and sister brewery White Rabbit. The White Rabbit crew started out in Healesville, Victoria, using a brewing kit they’d inherited from Little Creatures before moving to Geelong in 2015.
“There were originally just the two beers: the white and dark ales,” says Harlee Bolger as she sets up a tasting. “But the range has grown with the new premises. There’s now room for barrel ageing and experimentation.”
These days, White Rabbit offers five beers: the original white and dark ales, plus an American-style pale ale, sour ale and a tart weisse beer. It also offers seasonal brews on tap. Sign up for a tasting and you’ll discover them all.
Settle in for a platter of local charcuterie and share plates or stroll over to Little Creatures for the tour (Monday-Thursday: 11:30am and 2.30pm; Friday-Sunday: 11:30am, 2:30pm, 5pm) of the 20 million-litre brewery. Afterwards, take a load off in the huge restaurant, where you can snack on pizza and sip beers – including the popular Bright Ale and Pilsner – before calling time on your Geelong weekend. ￼
Photography by Lauren Bamford
This story was originally published on 26 January, 2018 and updated 12 March, 2020.