European explorers first arrived in Queenscliff in 1802, Lieutenant John Murray in January and Captain Matthew Flinders followed in April. The first European settler in the area was convict escapee William Buckley between 1803 and 1835, he is said to have lived in a cave beneath the Point Lonsdale Lighthouse, with the local Aborigines.
Permanent settlement began in 1836 when squatters arrived in the area known as Whale Head. The name was changed to Shortland’s Bluff in honour of Lieutenant John Shortland, who assisted in the surveying of Port Phillip. Land sales began in 1853, the same year the name was changed to Queenscliff by Lieutenant Charles La Trobe, in honour of Queen Victoria.
Originally a fishing village, Queenscliff soon became an important cargo port, servicing steamships trading in Port Phillip. A shipping pilot service was established in 1841, and its two lighthouses, the High and Low Lights, were constructed in 1862-63. Queenscliff also played an important military role. Fort Queenscliff was built between 1879 and 1889, and operated as the command centre for a network of forts around the port. Fort Queenscliff was integral to Victoria’s defences. It was constructed when Melburnians, flushed with gold fever, were getting jittery about out-of-towners stealing their booty. By 1886, Port Phillip was the most heavily fortified port in the southern hemisphere, with Fort Queenscliff the nerve centre in a string of nine forts and gun batteries around the bay. Although it never fired a shot in anger, Fort Queenscliff did play a role in both world wars. On orders from Fort Queenscliff, the first artillery shots were fired by the British Empire in World War 1 when a gun at Fort Nepean fired across the bow of a German freighter attempting to escape to sea. The same gun, with a different barrel, also fired the first Australian artillery shot of World War 2.
Queenscliff became a tourist destination in the late 19th century, with visitors arriving from Melbourne after a two-hour journey on the paddle steamer, Ozone. The opening of a railway line to Geelong in 1879 brought increasing tourists to the area, and numerous luxury hotels (or coffee palaces) were built to accommodate them. The Palace Hotel was built in 1879 (later renamed Esplanade Hotel), the Baillieu Hotel was built in 1881 (later renamed Ozone Hotel), the Vue Grande Hotel was built in 1883, and the Queenscliff Hotel was built in 1887.
Quaint little cottages around Fishermen’s Flat, grand hotels and fine Victorian architecture reveal just how this magnificent historic town was established. Remarkably, the town has remained intact as a superb showpiece of Victorian heritage
Real Estate & Design
The former 1880s seaside resort town is now known for its Victorian era heritage and tourist industry, and as one of the endpoints of the Searoad ferry to Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula.
Queenscliff is surrounded on three sides by water, giving the town large stretches of coastline, consisting of a combination of sandy beaches, rocky outcrops, cliffs and historic piers. At Shortlands Bluff is the Queenscliff Lighthouse which was built in 1862 and includes a lookout near the base. Further north along the coast is the Black Lighthouse, unique in Australia, having been constructed from bluestone.
The commercial centre of Queenscliff, characterised by historic shop fronts and buildings, is situated on Hesse Street, dominated by the ornate Vue Grand Hotel which was constructed in 1881. Grand hotels and guest houses can also be found along Gellibrand Street which is separated from the cliffs along the coast in this area by extensive parkland.
There are plenty of shopping highlights in Queenscliff. Most shops are set in historic buildings, including former churches and feature local produce, goods and services.
Queenscliff’s historic atmosphere adds to the pleasure and scope of the shopping experience. The town boasts a number of galleries, antique centres and curio shops that brim with goods that will keep you browsing for hours.
Hesse Street is a classic shopping experience. From boutiques and gift shops to cafes and galleries, it offers something for everyone. The new Queenscliff Harbour also has an exciting range of food and retail outlets.
Sports Fitness & Recreation
The Queenscliff Football Club is the town’s Aussie rules football club which participates in the Bellarine Football League. Golfers are well catered for with the Queenscliff Golf Club at Swan Island.
Distance from CBD & Transport
Quenscliff is best known as being one of the endpoints of the Searoad ferry to Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula. It is also the terminus of the Bellarine Peninsula Railway which once connected to Geelong, however the Bellarine Peninsula Railway now runs as a tourist railway only.
Queenscliff is 103 kilometres south-west of Melbourne, about 1.5 hours by car on the Princes and Bellarine Highways.
Queenscliff has three museums, the Queenscliff Historical Museum, QueenscliffMaritime Museum, and the Fort Queenscliff Museum.
Fort Queenscliff is one of the country’s largest and best preserved military forts which dates back to 1860 which includes the museum.
The Queenscliff Harbour, situated along Larkin Parade, consists of several wharves and is home to several fishing fleets, some of which offer direct sales to the public from their boats. At the eastern end of the harbour is a car and passenger ferry service which operates between Queenscliff and Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula, providing an alternative to the road route via Melbourne.
Wild dolphins and historic views are part of your sight-seeing experience on the 45-minute ferry journey across Port Phillip Bay’s southern reaches from Queenscliff to Sorrento.
Swan Bay Marine Reserve is regarded as one of the healthiest reserves in the bay, Swan Bay is an excellent example of an ecosystem with seagrass, intertidal mudflats and salt marshes. An international wetlands protection treaty recognises its significance. During Summer and Autumn, visitors will see black swans, pelicans and comorants. Rare orange-bellied parrots feed and winter on the salt marshes.
Popes Eye Marine Reserve is a horseshoe-shaped basalt rock structure is the foundation of what was to be an island fort in Port Phillip. It was built around 1880 and is now a marine reserve. It has a sandy bottom and up to three metres of water. Outside, the depth is 12 metres.
Popes Eye is home to many fish species, coral, kelp and colourful algae. It is a safe anchorage, making it popular with scuba divers and snorkellers. While the best time to dive is on the start of the ebb tide, it provides almost all-weather, all-current diving.
The popular seal & dolphin swim, snorkel and marine animal viewing tours operates out of Queenscliff Harbour. The tours last for 3.5 hours and give guests a great understanding and experience of the area’s local wildlife.
The Marine Discovery Centre offers an insight into the local marine life, has aquariums and touch tanks, and organises boat trips, snorkels and rockpool rambles. Its programs operate in Summer, Easter and July and September school holidays.
The Marine Discovery Centre is in an ideal location with a range of diverse marine habitats within easy reach including rocky shores, mudflats, mangroves, sand dunes and temperate reefs.
A disused railway corridor has been reborn as a 32km walking/cycling path linking the outskirts of Geelong with the coast at the historic village of Queenscliff.
The Bellarine Rail Trail mostly follows the reserve of the old Geelong-Queenscliff railway, established in 1879 to service the military fort at Queenscliff. The railway soon became a popular service with visitors heading to the coastal holiday resort, an alternative to the bay paddle steamers. Eventually, diminishing freight and a lack of patronage saw the service finally closed in 1976.
The rail trail begins near the Geelong Showgrounds, about one kilometre from the South Geelong railway station and ends near the historic Queenscliff railway station. It is mainly flat, with some short, steep climbs up from Leopold toward Curlewis and Drysdale. Steam trains still run on the section between Queenscliff and Drysdale. The Bellarine Peninsula Railway’s vintage trains carry passengers on Sundays and public holidays.
There are many access points to the trail and bay scenery and birdlife are some of the highlights. In the future, it is planned to link the trail with the Barwon River trail network and Eastern Park
For something decidedly different and entirely enjoyable, Queenscliff’s legendary Blues Train is one of Victoria’s most spectacular dining and entertainment experiences.
Resturants & Cafes
With beautifully maintained historic buildings and world class dining, Queenscliff is a great spot for any dining experience – from a 5-star luxurious experience to fish and chips with the family.
Cafes along Hesse St in Queenscliff are in good supply and offer a fabulous variety of gourmet treats and freshly cooked meals. Pop into one of them for a coffee as you sit back and soak up the scenery of the bustling Hesse Street.
Particular dining highlights in Queenscliff are restaurants such as Athelstane House, Apostle Queenscliff, Gusto, the Queenscliff Hotel and the Vue Grand Hotel. These historic buildings, along with a number of others house world class chefs and offer customers a truly luxurious experience. Smaller restaurants along Hesse Street are also popular for dinner and ensure that all tastes – and budgets – are catered for.
Schools & Education
Queenscliff has two primary schools, St Aloysius is located at 34 Stevens Street, and Queenscliff primary is in Stokes Street.
Queenscliff is home to the Queenscliff Music Festival, a popular annual music festival, held on the last weekend of November, which attracts both local and international acts and is an important part of the town’s tourist industry. The festival features an eclectic mix of artists coming to Queenscliff from around the country, plus entertainment for the whole family.
The Queenscliff Seafood Festival is a culinary feast using fresh seafood donated by local fishermen, and prepared for the public by volunteers and local restaurants. It is held annually on Good Friday to raise funds for the Royal Children’s Hospital and features live bands and performers throughout the day.
The Queenscliff market is held on the foreshore, September to May, on the last Sunday of the month. Home-made and home-grown goods top the list at the markets. In fact, that’s all you’ll find there, which means great food, art and craft and other tasty goodies.