Port Phillip Ferries departs from and returns to Victoria Harbour, Docklands and operates daily. Note that for day trips the best days are Tuesday or Thursday (departing Docklands 9:30am, departing Portarlington 3:30pm), Saturday or Sunday (departing Docklands 11am, departing Portarlington 4:15pm).
The ferry is very comfortable, with outside areas front and back where you can admire the views, and inside upstairs and downstairs seating where you can enjoy the air-conditioning and watch the scenery from the windows from your plush seats.
The boat has toilets on board, free wifi, free charging stations, bike racks (which ideally should be booked ahead of time) and a kiosk selling snacks and drinks.
The trip takes 1.5 hours, with slow cruising from Docklands to Williamstown then faster across the wider bay until you spot the beaches and hills of Portarlington. There are lots of opportunities for great photos of the Melbourne CBD skyline, Bolte Bridge and Westgate Bridge.
A selection of local tour operators are available to meet passengers on arrival in Portarlington, transporting them to various wineries, restaurants, breweries and attractions.
Here are my Top 8 tips for taking a day trip to Portarlington with Port Phillip Ferries.
Book your tickets online
You can purchase tickets on board but booking tickets ahead of time means that you’re guaranteed a seat. I am surprised by how many people board our boat on a summer’s Sunday, which means that no doubt the service is even more popular during Christmas/New Year/ school holidays/special events.
If you’re planning to take bikes it’s best to include the bike with your booking as there are only 20 spaces. The boat is popular with keen cyclists who take their road bikes to Portarlington for weekend rides.
Return tickets cost $29 for adults, $26 for concession and $15 for children (aged 4-16), family pass for 4 people ($80), children aged 3 and under travel for free. Group discounts for 25+ people is $24 per person. Bike are free.
Claim an indoors seat by a window
Port Phillip Bay gets chilly even in the height of summer, so it’s good to have a home base that’s indoors where you can leave your stuff. The prime spots are the windows on the right (starboard) side going to Portarlington, and windows on the left (port) side going to Docklands.
For kids take snacks, drinks, entertainment
I find that for the first 15 minutes or so the boat is a novelty, and then kids want to do something else. I pack Nude Food lunchboxes, water bottles, colouring and books. On the way back I give Baby 2.0 my mobile phone to play games because he can’t read yet. Luckily there are free charging stations and wifi on board.
Lunchtime – Try Portarlington mussels
Once you reach Portarlington at 12:30pm it’s lunchtime. Because we have bikes we choose the closest and easiest option, Rockwall at the Pier. It’s a casual cafe, kiosk and restaurant which faces the pier and the dog beach and serves pretty standard fare, including pretty good fish and chips and the famous Portarlington mussels. The food is ok and the service is patchy, but it suits our purposes.
If you’re after a more gourmet experience I recommend trying one of the nearby wineries. The Little Mussel cafe a bit out of the town centre is also recommended.
Rockwall at the Pier, 3 Pier St, Portarlington 0490 907 567
Sweet treats – Jam donuts and lollies
Portarlington’s famous sweet treats are from the Jam Donut van at the pier and the Pier View Lolly Shop.
The former is parked right at the end of the pier so you can’t miss it. They sell large sugary-coated jam donuts for $1.80 each or 6 for $10.
The latter is at the top of the hill of the main street and is an old-fashioned pick-and-mix lolly shop ($2.60 for 100g). You can also buy ice cream there and it’s across the road from a playground.
Jam Donut Van Portarlington Pier, Portarlington
Pier View Lolly Shop, 92A Newcombe St, Portarlington 0413 507 757
Plan a mode of transport
If you’re planning to just hang around Portarlington there’s no need to consider a mode of transport. The town is small and walkable (after the sizable hill from the beach).
We take our bikes because the foreshore is a nice flat ride and because I’m not sure how far everything is from the pier. We could have gone for long bike rides but decide to stay closer to the town centre because I’m worried that we’ll miss the boat.
If you only need adult bikes you can hire ebikes from Bella e-Bikes who meet the ferry at the pier.
We arrange a 6-person tuktuk from Fergos Bongo Tours to take us to the Portarlington Miniature Railway at Point Richards (which is a 30 minute or 15 min cycle from the pier) and back into town. Fergos Bongo Tours are run by friendly Portarlington locals Joe and Leonie and they take visitors on tours on their tuktuk, cars that fit 7 people and vans that fit 12 people.
Fergos Bongo Tours, pickup locally or from pier 0419345147
Portarlington Miniature Railway
Every Sunday 11-4pm (and Wednesdays 11-4pm during school holidays) volunteers open the Portarlington Miniature Railway at Point Richards for public runs. Each ride is $4 (4 for $14) and you go for two loops around a flat track.
There are picnic shelters and barbecues on the site, a small playground, public toilets and the (rocky) beach across the road. Baby 2.0 says ‘this is so much fun!’.
Portarlington Miniature Railway, Boat Rd, Portarlington 0476 124 598
Pack your swimming gear
Portarlington Beach is shallow for a long distance and the water is still and clean. Once you tiptoe past the shells and grit the sand underfoot is delightfully soft.
The kids enjoy wading out and playing games in the sand before it’s time to head back to Melbourne on the boat. We have dinner at Southern Cross station (which has some dire options to be honest) and then take the train back home.
We are still basking in the glow of our visit to Portarlington with Port Phillip Ferries – it really was a joyous, family-memory-making sort of day. I highly recommend it for families wanting a day trip out of Melbourne. Next time we’ll venture further afield and explore some of the wineries and attractions beyond Portarlington. Here are some ideas of what else you can see and do in the area.
This post was produced in partnership with Port Phillip Ferries and Tourism Greater Geelong and the Bellarine.
Where are your favourite places to go with kids in Portarlington and the Bellarine Peninsula?