Talk about punching above its weight. One of the most surprising inclusions on Lonely Planet’s Best Value destinations bucket list for 2017 was Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula.
The Bellarine’s not just off the Great Ocean Road – it’s almost completely off the grid. As Lonely Planet says, it’s been “a laid-back (read: sleepy) escape” for Melburnians for generations.
But here it is, suddenly hitting the big time – holding its own with Nepal and Namibia, Belize on the Caribbean coast, even Russia – coming in at number nine on the Top 10 list.
And why not? Anything those high profile destinations have, or do … the Bellarine can do too.
Portugal’s Porto has “inexpensive tours and tastings … and day trips to vineyards”. Well, the Bellarine has grape, grain and cider aplenty.
Or there’s the hipster Flying Brick Cider Co. with its vinyl poufs and retro studded-sofas, for apple and pear cider tastings.
Porto has cheap vintage trams for the “transport nerd in your party”. Any transport nerds heading to the Bellarine are going to love the heritage steam trains that choof from Queenscliff to Drysdale on Sundays.
Belize has amazing beaches and a “laid-back beach culture” and you can dive or snorkel. On the Bellarine you can surf (Barwon Heads’ 13th Beach is highly underrated), or you can take surf lessons, or stand-up paddle boarding lessons.
You can swim with dolphins and seals, snorkel, dive on reefs and wrecks, or join South Bay Eco Adventures if you prefer to look at marine wildlife and stay dry.
It’s a little hard to compete with Nepal’s “mighty mountains” because the Bellarine is, let’s face it, pretty flat. But you can get up in the clouds in Great Ocean Air’s jaunty little seven-seater plane or skydive, and drop at 200km per hour.
Russia may have the Trans-Siberian Railway, but in Queenscliff you can get ready to rumble aboard the legendary Blues Train with drinks and live music on board on Saturday nights. Or you could cycle the 32 km Rail Trail (no train but the trail’s free to ride).
It’s tough competing with Venice as a travel destination, but the bargain aspect is that you can now stay Airbnb in Venice and – guess what! – you can do that on the Bellarine.
Number 10 on Lonely Planet’s Best Value list is Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, with historic lighthouses, miles of beaches, quaint shops and gorgeous views. The Bellarine has all these too.
Actually, maybe it’s not surprising the Bellarine Peninsula is on the list after all.
Lonely Planet’s list of the best value destinations for 2017
3. Porto, Portugal
4. Venice, Italy
5. Debrecen, Hungary
9. Bellarine Peninsula, Australia
10. Michigan Upper Peninsula, USA