Barwon Heads is a picturesque town on Victoria's Bellarine Peninsula. It sits on the west side of the mouth of the Barwon River, opposite its twin-town Ocean Grove.
Barwon Heads is 97 km south-west of Melbourne, near the regional city of Geelong, and has a population of just under 4,000. It is a popular holiday spot thanks to the peaceful river waters, the pounding surf beaches and excellent fishing opportunities.
Although surveyed in 1827, it was not until 1889 that a post office was finally built and the township started to grow. In early days, fishing was the main industry but in the 1920's and 30's it became popular with wealthy families from Melbourne and Geelong as a resort town and many built houses here. Tourist numbers continue to swell the town's population each year.
In the early days, a ferry service operated between Barwon Heads and Ocean Grove but as visitors were drawn to the area, the need for a bridge became apparent.
The original Barwon Heads Bridge was a timber, twin-lane bridge. It was built in 1927. By 2006 its condition had deteriorated significantly and much debate followed over how to maintain the heritage listing yet build a structure that met modern demands.
The winning design cleverly managed to tick both boxes. The original timber ‘causeway style’ bridge was dismantled and all usable components were salvaged. The new timber followed the original design as closely as possible using timber, steel and concrete. Built in 2010, it is 9 metres wide and 308.5 metres long.
To accommodate the additional lanes, a new pedestrian bridge was also built ten metres away. Although more modern, it was designed to complement the look of the road bridge and those who venture beneath it can appreciate its own unique character.
The pedestrian bridge was named the William Buckley Bridge after famous convict. Buckley escaped from the short-lived convict settlement at Sullivan Bay, near Sorrento on the east side of Port Phillip Bay, in 1803. He made the long journey alone to the east of the bay and the Bellarine Peninsula region. Here he chanced upon members of Wathaurung people and lived with them for 32 years until they discovered a small party of white settlers. Buckley was eventually pardoned on the condition he act as an interpreter for the government. He did so but struggled to find his identity between the two cultures.
The terms “Buckley's and none”, “Buckley's chance” or simply “Buckley's” are believed to have originated from his story. As he was believed to be dead, other convicts were told that if they tried to escape they would have two chances “Buckley's and none” effectively meaning they had no chance at all.
In 1959 the town was featured in the closing scenes of the film “On the Beach” based on the Nevil Shute novel.
However, it was the late 1990's ABC Television series “Sea Change” that had a major effect on the town.
The show was about the life of a Melbourne lawyer and her family making the move to the sleepy town of ‘Pearl Bay’ and their slow acceptance into a colourful local community. The iconic bridge starred in the opening credits and a number of other buildings were also used regularly. Another landmark building is the former coolroom on the fishermen's jetty (known as the Lobster Pot) which had been used historically as a dancehall, a school house and later as ‘Diver Dan’s shed' in the show.
The series popularised the concept of ‘making a sea change’ or moving from the hustle and bustle of city life to more peaceful towns around the country. In fact, the ‘Sea Change effect’ was so successful that Barwon Heads itself underwent a major population and tourism boom that continues to this day.
Wander up to the majestic Barwon Heads Bluff for stunning views of the river, the twin towns and the Surf Coast of Bass Strait. In this area you will find an amazing variety of birds including Red-capped Plovers, kestrels and tiny thornbills. The plant life is also diverse so keep an eye out for several wattle and spear grass species, sea celery and Moonah woodland.
These large shallow lakes are lagoons in the Barwon River estuary. They are teeming with life and are a mecca for birdwatchers and fishermen. Parts of Lake Reedy are off-limits to the public during duck hunting season.
The Jirrahlinga Koala & Wildlife Sanctuary covers 5 acres and is located on Taits Road. It plays a vital role as a home for distressed animals and has a dedicated animal hospital. It is open for visitors 7 days a week. You can bring a picnic or grab snacks from the kiosk.
A lesser-known function of the sanctuary is as a place for people with physical or mental health challenges to come for beneficial animal therapy. Under professional guidance, they can work quietly with the animals or simply enjoy touching the koalas and joeys.
For some truly heart-pumping action, nothing beats the thrill of getting airborne in a genuine ex-military fighter plane. You can choose an adventure flight and be strapped in for some dare-devil barrel rolls, spins, loops and more. Or if you really want to get into the spirit, you can go up in teams for mock-battles. The fighter planes can also be used more sedately for lovely scenic flights over the region.
Out at the Barwon Heads airport, you can also take off in a helicopter for joy-flights over the Bellarine Peninsula, Geelong and the Surf Coast.
Golfers of all ages and skill levels will fall in love with the postcard views of the local courses. Just be sure you don’t wander into the path of a flying golf ball while you take it all in.
The Barwon Heads Golf Course is an 18-hole course with excellent facilities. If you are there late on a summer afternoon, you might be distracted by the colours of the sunset on the stands of cypress pines.
Thirteenth Beach Golf Links actually has 2 world-class 18-hole courses plus a modern residential village. You can try your hand at the Beach Course or the Creek Course. Both consistently rank amongst the top golf courses in Australia.
Families love the calmer waters around the river mouth to splatter around, build sand castles or laze in sun. If you want something with a bit more excitement, venture around to Thirteenth Beach (named for its proximity to the 13th hole of the golf course) and ride the fresh surf waves.
Those new to the surfing experience can sign up for lessons from the experts. The surf breaks are formed by underlying reefs and rocks. At low tide these also make excellent fishing spots. Whenever you are around the water, even if it appears calm, be sure to check the local weather conditions and be Beachsafe.
Local Cadel Evans is the only Australian to date to win the famous Tour de France cycling event (in 2011). After retiring from the sport, he initiated this epic event as a way of giving back to the community. The first race was run in 2015 and grew bigger the following year. The next race in January 2017 is gearing up to be even more monumental, promising a weekend of exhilarating action for both participants and spectators.
All communities love a good festival and the Barwon Heads Festival of the Sea is a great one. As the name implies, it is a celebration of all the regional links to the sea including history, the arts, environment, culture and fabulous local produce. It even has a popular duck race.
Operating since 2001, this free festival continues to grow. The next festival will be in March 2017.
From abalone farming to fine-dining and from beer and cider to cool-climate wines, the Bellarine Peninsula has tastes to please every palette. Follow the Bellarine Taste Trail and visit over 40 unique food and wine destinations.
Every Saturday, just over the bridge in Ocean Grove, you will find the Bellarine Community Farmers’ Market. Here you can sample the best produce the region has to offer and purchase some to take home and enjoy.
Step back in time and hop aboard a historic steam or diesel train for a scenic ride along the Bellarine Peninsula Railway between Queenscliff and Drysdale.
In October 2016, the whole family can enjoy a unique ride on Thomas the Tank Engine! The Corio Model Railway Club will also be there.
This historic lighthouse will play host to the International Lighthouse Weekend in August 2016. Visitors will be able to take a tour of the lighthouse and soak in stunning views over the entrance to Port Phillip Bay.
Fans of great music and cultural celebrations will love the National Celtic Festival held at Portarlington in June and also the Queenscliff Music Festival in November 2016.
No matter what time of year you visit Barwon Heads, there will always be plenty of wonderful things for you to see, do and enjoy.