How to Spend an Hour in… Williamstown

By Jessica Hoadley on 29 Nov 2013
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I can’t believe I grew up in Melbourne and I’ve barely bothered to discover this charming beachside suburb.

While there’s plenty to do here, I can’t possibly list it all, so I’ve decided to mention just a few of my highlights.

Williamstown Harbour

Williamstown Harbour

Beach It

Williamstown Beach is a wide stretch of yellow sand between the esplanade and the serene coastline.

Even today, when the sun is barely shining, there are dog-walkers and joggers pounding the esplanade, and overenthusiastic toddlers in hoodies with buckets and spades stumbling towards the sand.

There’s the swimming and life-saving club down one end, and teenage lifesavers in wetsuits are dragging surf skis down to the water’s edge, ready for a group of school kids.

I can see six container ships crawling along the southern horizon, and I can’t believe that in huge southerly swells this beach is actually surfable.

Williamstown Beach

Williamstown Beach
Photo: Travel Victoria

Get Green

The peaceful Botanic Gardens are just across the road from the beach.

They’re fenced in with ivy-covered walls, and when I enter through the elaborate wrought-iron gates, I feel like I’ve discovered a secret garden. The shady, manicured lawns would be a nice spot for a picnic in amongst the trees, flowerbeds and winding paths.

“This is the classic Williamstown you see in the tourist brochures – beautiful heritage buildings, cafes spilling onto the street…”

I walk the length in a couple of minutes and don’t meet a soul, but apparently on warm weekends the place can get busy with wedding photos and family picnics.

Williamstown Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens

Main Strip

As I round the corner into the main harbourfront strip, the intoxicating smell of La Porchetta pizza overwhelms the smell of rose gardens I had been enjoying in the quiet suburban streets.

This is the classic Williamstown you see in the tourist brochures – beautiful heritage buildings, cafes spilling onto the street, boats and masts bobbing in the harbour behind the trees.

Nelson Place in Williamstown

The long stretch of cafes along Nelson Place

When the sun comes out and the sky suddenly turns blue, gelatis from Capriccio Gelato start appearing in hands.

There’s a few artisan and old-fashioned shops in Nelsons Place like Ye Old Suckers Lolly Shop where the walls are lined with jars of hard-boiled sweets, liquorice sticks, jaffas and peppermint creams. I buy a giant white chocolate freckle and munch on it all the way down to Gem Pier.

Ye Olde Suckers on Nelson

Ye Olde Suckers Lolly Shop

Mari-time

Williamstown is famous for its maritime history. It was first used as a port in the 1830s and soon became the major cargo port of Victoria.

There are information boards placed around Commonwealth Reserve portraying the suburb’s history, and tours run on the museum ship HMAS Castlemaine, which is docked at Gem Pier. Only maybe keep away at night, as the WWII minesweeping ship is purportedly haunted.

HMAS Castlemaine

HMAS Castlemaine – is it haunted?

On weekends, for some more recent nautical history, you can get a free tour of the Sea Shepherd, which is currently docked in Williamstown. The conservation organisation’s mission is to end the destruction of habitat and the slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans, and in the current climate, they need all the support they can get.

On a Boat

This last one doesn’t technically involve spending an hour in Williamstown, but this unexpected mode of travel home turned out to be a highlight of my day.

To be honest, I was planning on just catching the train back to the city, but I had blisters and couldn’t be bothered walking back to the station, so I caught the ferry.

The city from Williamstown ferry

The city in the distance

And I’m so glad I did; it gave me such a new perspective on my own city that I felt like a traveller. I may have been the youngest person on the boat by about 40 years, but that meant that while the grannies sheltered inside the cabin, I had the whole alfresco area of the boat to myself (I should have sheltered with them. I got sunburnt).

And I got as close as I’ve been to tasting Yarra River water spray since my rowing days.

“The ferry gave me such a new perspective on my own city that I felt like a traveller.”

No, seriously, it was fun. We went underneath the Westgate, past the massive shipping container cranes that look like Star Wars snow walkers, and got a new look at the now-completed Melbourne Star Ferris wheel. We went under the Bolte, past the Polly Woodside at South Wharf, past Crown and the Aquarium, and we came into dock under the footbridge at Southgate.

The dock at Southgate

Coming into dock at Southgate

With the city visible across the water from Williamstown, I reckon it’s just close enough to be in the hustle within 15 mins by car, 30 mins by train and 1 hour by ferry, and just far away enough to maintain that beautiful, quiet sea-village feel.

About the Author

Jessica Hoadley is a writer and editor based in Melbourne. She has completed a Bachelor of Arts (Creative Writing) and an Associate Degree of Professional Writing and Editing. She has been published in Voiceworks, Catalyst and Lip Mag.

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