The Business End of The Bellarine

We explores what Geelong and The Bellarine has to offer the corporate traveller with Executive PA Magazine readers

When Lonely Planet named its best value destinations for 2017 – it was somewhat of a surprise to some that a little laid-back escape tucked away in a corner of Victoria managed to make the top ten. The Bellarine Peninsula was after-all named alongside Nepal, Portugal, Venice and Morocco (to name a few). But for those of us who have been visiting the region for many years, the only surprise was that it wasn’t named earlier.

To me Geelong and The Bellarine equals walks along the soft sand beach of Ocean Grove, paddle boarding on the Barwon River and exploring the multitude of wineries and eateries – the many things which have led to it earning its place on the Lonely Planet guide, but it’s equally impressive as a business destination, as a group of EAs and I discovered on a recent trip to the region.

Led by locals from Business Events Geelong we were picked up at South Wharf in Melbourne’s CBD with no idea where we were headed.

First stop was Werribee Open Range Zoo, an African themed zoo in Werribeenly about 35 minutes by car from the centre of the city – a location many wouldn’t anticipate was available to corporate groups. But for those who want a close-up animal encounter you won’t be disappointed – join the corporate teambuilding in the ‘Gorilla mission’ or stay at the zoo on the ‘Slumber Safari’ and wake up from your luxury camping experience to watch animals roam outside your door.

There’s also an off road safari where you can get a good appreciation for the incredibly vast habitat where the wildlife roam within metres of the vehicles. If the great outdoors isn’t quite your corporate style down the road is the Mansion Hotel and Spa at Werribee Park. When we arrived television crews were filming in the grounds, which is hardly surprising given there are ten acres of formal English gardens.

This isn’t your standard mansion, but a sprawling estate built out of solid bluestone in 1877 and said to have cost nearly $9 million in today’s money.

Accommodation includes a five star hotel with 91 rooms  – some of which were once home to the St Joseph’s seminary and have been transformed in accordance with strict heritage guidelines.

The Mansion also has nine conference spaces with everything from the theatre with six metre high ornate ceilings to the Pavilion with floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the polo fields. This touch of grandeur in the country is just a short stroll from Shadowfax Wines, created by Kiwi winemaker Matt Harrop, where you can learn about the wine growing process and do a wine tasting, or simply have a meal by renowned local chef Ben D’Arcy.

About forty minutes south and we’re in the port city of Geelong, which overlooks Corio Bay which is home to ‘The Pier’, aptly named as it sits on the end of a pier, with function spaces with floor-to-ceiling windows offering vast bay views.

A trip to Geelong wouldn’t be the same without posing with its most well known residents – the bollards. There are more than 100 bollards around the city painted by former local artist Jan Mitchell who was commissioned to transform old timbers and piles from a city pier, demolished in the 1980s, into works of art. They are the most photographed aspect of Geelong and include nurses, lifesavers, bathers, nuns, a rifle band and local people of note. Zigfrids which featured in Good Food’s foodie’s guide to Geelong didn’t disappoint for our evening meal with dishes served from local produce in a chic-industrial atmosphere.

Then it was time to bunk down at the Novotel which has a prime waterfront position right in the city.  Known for its ability to host corporates, and do it well, if you have staff who don’t want to venture out of the hotel, there’s hardly any reason to leave. There are 109 rooms, five function rooms, free Wifi, a fitness centre, heated pool, bar and restaurant.

For us it was about exploring the options and we headed out the next day to Barwon Heads for a golf lesson at 13th Beach Golf Links.

I would have thought being able to hit a ball off the ground, let along watch it fly out of sight (well almost) was asking the impossible, but at 13th Beach Golf Links (which also has multiple function rooms) they’ll have your executives soaring to new heights  – and soaring we were, when afterwards we were picked up from the club rooms by Geelong Helicopters and taken on a scenic flight across the peninsula to Bellarine.

There’s nothing quite like seeing a region by air and it’s clear from this height exactly why this region should make Lonely Planet’s top lists.

Our pilots dropped us at Jack Rabbit with views across the bay to Melbourne, the You Yangs and Geelong. The restaurant has taken out numerous awards including ‘Best People Place and Product Tourism Restaurant in Australia’ at the Savour Australia Restaurant and Catering Association National Awards and has featured in The Age Good Food Guide as well as named a finalist in the annual Golden Plate Awards six years running.

Our final stop was Little Creatures and White Rabbit in South Geelong where you step into a ‘brewery village’ with a bustling canteen and wide laneway lined with multi-coloured chairs and shelters.

Do a brewery tour or hold your next function in the White Rabbit barrel hall where barrels filled with aging ales greet you upon entry. The hall is completely open with a platform where you can look into the open fermenters.

Not only did the diversity surprise us all, but whatever your corporate event – there’s nothing quite like regional Aussie hospitality and Geelong and The Bellarine has it in bucket loads.

HERE’S WHAT OUR READERS HAD TO SAY…

“I learned so much about the region and what it has to offer. There really are some amazing venues – I was especially impressed with the Werribee Open Range Zoo and the Mansion.

Also impressed with how beautiful the Bellarine is, and the spectacular views from the helicopter ride we were lucky enough to take. Sharon and the team at Business events Geelong looked after us so well and treated us like VIPs from the moment we arrived. I can’t wait to get back there and have been telling my colleagues about the wonders of Geelong and the Bellarine.”

Angela McCloy, EA, Westpac Banking Corp.

“I was blown away by the experience. First of all, the Geelong Business Events team did a great job in organising everything to the detail and in making us feel very well looked after. Secondly, the range of activities was fantastic. We got to explore lots of venues of very different style and character such as the gorgeous Mansion Hotel, the adventurous Werribee Open Range Zoo, or the beautiful Pier, Novotel and Mercure. There is a venue to match each group and there is a lot more to do than just conferencing in a relaxed atmosphere outside of the fast-paced cities. Another thing that surprised me was how easy it is to get to from Avalon airport. I can’t wait to get the dates for my next conference and start planning.”

Mercedes Martin, EA, Civica Pty Limited