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What a difference a Bay makes

Two peninsulas cradle Port Phillip Bay – two very different stories

sunny 27 °C

The first recorded shot of World War I, the 'Gibraltar of the South', dozens of shipwrecks and entrance to the richest port in the world. All part of European history? Far from it! The other side of the world in fact. Down under, down south and down at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay.

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The entrance is a mere three kilometres of deceptive, treacherous water with a navigable channel of only one kilometre…better known locally as “The Rip”. Peninsulas each side of the Rip lay sentinels to Melbourne’s ocean gateway and offer two of Victoria’s most popular and interesting coastal destinations – Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula and Sorrento on the Mornington Peninisula.

With thundering surf on the ocean side and safe, calm water on the Bay side, they could be mirrored reflections of each other. But, the differences are deep and reach far back. As far back in fact, to the origin of the state of Victoria.

In 1803, Sullivan Bay, one kilometre east of Sorrento, was Victoria’s first, and unfortunately very short, European settlement. Under control of Lieutenant Colonel David Collins, the penal settlement was abandoned in less than a year due to the scarcity of fresh water, unsuitable soil, fear of Aborigines, lack of discipline and the escape of many convicts. The settlement was moved to Risdon Cove in Van Diemen’s Land, later to be known as Tasmania. One escaped convict was William Buckley who lived with aborigines for more than thirty years on the opposite peninsula.

Frederick William Woodhouse, The first settlers discover Buckley, 1861, State Library of Victoria

From Van Diemen’s Land, a young settler by the name of John Batman led an expedition back to the Port Phillip Bay area, and laid the founding stone of Melbourne in 1835. This meant Sorrento was again settled by Europeans. The grab for land claims and family holdings, of which many still remain, are the reason Sorrento is like it is today.

On the other side of the Bay, in 1853, Lieut. Governor La Trobe named the fishing village, Queenscliff . As the town prospered it was proclaimed as the Borough of Queenscliffe – the added’ e’ is now only used in reference to the Borough.


It soon became clear by the growing number of ships being wrecked, the Rip – named after the combination of tidal turbulence and dramatic variations of depth – was, and still is, one of the most hazardous channels in the world.

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Marine disaster bell, Queenscliff and the wrecked SS Cheviot breaking up at Point Nepean in1887.
Thirty-five lives were lost making it the worst shipwreck in Victoria's history.

To protect the vital shipping for this growing colony, each ship needed directing through these dangerous waters. In 1838, four men risked their lives by venturing out in an open whaleboat to steer ships through the Rip. This was the start of the pilot service that continues to this day. No longer in open whaleboats, but in fast, sleek, bright orange boats equipped with the latest technology. Despite the heroic efforts of the earlier pilots, more than 100 shipwrecks lay beneath the waves in this area of coastline.

An artists impression of the Sea Pilot's worst disaster when the pilot schooner Rip capsized in 1873 killing the pilot and three crewmen.

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A modern pilot boat heading out to the Heads and their berth at Queenscliff Harbour.

While the marine importance of Queenscliff was to set its character, a more important role would establish its style.

"Gold!" The word cried out around the burgeoning state. Gold seemed to be everywhere creating vast riches. At the height of the Gold Rush, Melbourne was the richest port in the world which meant a greater need for defence. A list was established of potential external enemies with plunder on their minds and an easy escape through the lightly defended Heads of Port Phillip.

An Australian Gold Diggings, Edwin Stockqueler, 1855, National Gallery of Australia

It was recommended in 1877, that fortification on both sides of the entrance to Port Phillip was of utmost importance. Queenscliff had, at that stage, a small contingent of army personnel to protect the growing pilot and customs activities as well as the vital lighthouse. The main fort was built on Shortland Bluff overlooking Queenscliff, which, to this day, is Australia’s largest preserved fort. Another fortification was established at Swan Island, situated just inside the bay, and others at Portsea and Point Nepean on the other side of the Rip.

Fort Queenscliff.
The Black Lighthouse in the background is built of black stone and one of only three black lighthouses in the world.

By 1886 the initial defence of Port Phillip was complete and regarded as the most heavily fortified port of the British Empire in the Southern Hemisphere – The Gibraltar of the South.

The establishment of Fort Queenscliff brought new growth and wealth to this seaside village. The military personnel had to be catered for and the added protection enticed new businesses that led to Queenscliff becoming a holiday resort.

At Portsea and Sorrento, the story was similar. The added protection of the Landed Gentry, made Sorrento the favoured, fashionable escape for the ‘rich and famous’.

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Affluence lines the foreshore from Portsea to Sorrento.

The wealth from gold and business successes allowed more time for excursions and relaxation. This created new enterprises. Paddle steamers joined the trading schooners that linked Melbourne to Queenscliff and Sorrento, the forerunners of the little steamers of Port Phillip Bay.

Ozone passing Pile Light, Port Phillip (Unknown c.1910).

Passengers on steamer ferry, circa 1920, Museum Victoria

Grand hotels were erected to cater for the visiting ‘well-heeled’ pleasure seekers. Music and gaiety, mixed with the invigorating sea air, established the southern-most part of Port Phillip Bay as the Queen of Watering Places. The hotels are still there, and most certainly, the reputation has survived.

Continental Hotel, Sorrento

Vue Grand Hotel, Queenscliff

Queenscliff Hotel, Queenscliff

A trip ‘down the Bay’ from Melbourne was a great delight. The wealthy purchased land and encouraged their professional friends to follow suit. Sorrento, in particular, made the most of this wealthy occupation, and continues to do so. Queenscliff also attracted the wealthy, but remained a fishing village offering safe anchorage for visiting yachts.

Boat shed and Queenscliff Pier

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Queenscliff Harbour

In 1914, these peaceful, romantic destinations were to enter the annals of war.

At midnight GMT on the night of August 4, declaration of war was made in Europe. As news of war reached Australia twelve hours later, a German steamer, the Pfalz, was rushing to reach the Heads and open sea. Not being fully coaled up, the Pfalz was approaching Sorrento when the order was given to halt the German steamer. The captain of the Pfalz ignored signals from Fort Nepean to stop until a shot was fired across the vessel’s bow – the first recorded shot of WWI.

SS Pfalz

History has a habit of repeating itself, and so it was to happen again, though less dramatic, at the beginning of the World War II.

On September 4, 1939, a small Bass Strait freighter, the Woniora, attempted to enter Port Phillip Bay without responding with a code word of a friendly ship. A warning shot was fired – the first official Australian shot of WWII. The Woniora quickly identified itself and was allowed to proceed through the Heads.

Peace returned and Queenscliff went into a state of dormancy as the popularity of the motor car opened up new holiday destinations further and further from Melbourne. This resulted in preserving the 19th century atmosphere of the unique fishing and maritime hamlet – its greatest asset.
Rather than slumbering, Sorrento took a short nap during this car invasion. Being populated mostly by wealthy land owners, the car took on a new role. The relatively short drive from Melbourne meant Sorrento was to become the ‘weekender’ haven.

The pleasure still remains in capturing the unique relationship between these two guardians of Melbourne’s ocean gateway. Both an easy ninety-minute drive from Melbourne, or alternatively, train to Frankston then bus to Sorrento or Train to Geelong and bus to Queenscliff. A car ferry operates every hour during daylight hours between Queenscliff and Sorrento. The forty-five minute drip is comfortable, scenic and quite often accompanied by playful dolphins.

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The Searoad car ferry on the water and at Sorrento

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Queenscliff Station was once on a branch line from Geelong.
It is now run by volunteers operating a tourist train to Drysdale and the popular Blues Train.

Both Queenscliff and Sorrento have a range of accommodation to suit any budget. Some of the old hotels are restored to their original grandeur and offer excellent weekend deals.

Dining is one activity that blends the locals with visitors. This is more evident in Sorrento. Here, meeting your neighbour for coffee or having an alfresco lunch on the sunny sidewalk with weekend guests is the norm.

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Queenscliff dining is more indoors. The wide streets are more for traffic than eating. A reflection of the fact that this is still a working village. But dining here is no less an experience. In fact, the elegant grand hotel dining rooms offer an ambience that absorbs you into the regions historical significance.

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Hesse Street, Queenscliff and The Queenscliff Inn

People on both sides of the Bay are at peace with their minds and their stomachs.



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Queenscliff Maritime Museum


According to the 2011 Census, the Mornington Peninsula had grown to 144,608 residents made up of 39,201 families and 83,526 private dwellings. The Bellarine Peninsula (including the Surf Coast) falls well short with 60,584 residents, 16,524 families and 38,065 private dwellings.

Posted by DenOS.08 21:12 Archived in Australia Tagged churches boats trains melbourne victoria restaurant cruises museum dining transportation seaside sorrento peninsula car_ferry queenscliff alfresco port_phillip_bay pilot_boats Comments (2)

Transport in Thailand

Trains, planes, boats and more…

View Clogs, beanie and boardshorts on DenOS.08's travel map.

No matter how you plan to travel around Thailand, up-market, budget or just take it as it comes, there’s a way and a means for everyone. You can plan and book ahead or have the freedom to go where you want and when you want and there will be some form of transport to get you to your destination.

My plan was to spend most of my travels in the northern parts of Thailand. I had a list of locations I needed to visit, not as a tourist, but as part of a project I was working on, so time and budget was restrictive. The result was an insight into the movement of a population for a multitude of reasons, from transporting large bundles of wares to business reasons or just plain visiting and which at first appeared a frenzy of casual confusion until I realised the system is well oiled and reasonably reliable.

I’d like to take you with me as I start in the capital, Bangkok, the throbbing heart and the transport hub. A city that is in rapid growth and in a hurry to catch up as I noticed the express rail link to the new Suvarnabhumi International Airport is still under construction and well past its deadline. But never fear for there are taxis for around 300THB ($10 and 45 minutes) and buses for 120THB ($4 and 60 to 80 minutes depending on stops) to deliver you to your accommodation.

The Bangkok main station is Hua Lamphong for long-distance and local trains and a terminal for the new fast, clean, cheap and efficient underground MRT rail network that connects at several points with the convenient and atmospheric Skytrain.

Hua Lamphong main station and MRT underground station.
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The underground MRT line connects with the Skytrain (Silom Line) at Si Lom. From here you can take the Skytrain north, or south to its terminal station, Saphan Taksin on the Chao Phraya River.

Bangkok Skytrain
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At Saphan Taksin you can take a ferry, a tour boat or a free shuttle boat to experience the hectic activities on the river as everyday working vessels, some appearing too monstrous for the river, ply their trade as high-rise apartments and international hotels peer down from both banks.

Traffic on the Chao Phraya River
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As much as I would have loved to stay longer in Bangkok I needed to head north, to Udon Thani and the fastest and least expensive way was to fly with the Thai Airways discount airline NOK. If you book well ahead, the hour plus flight can cost as little as $30 (which includes all taxes and charges) and you can pick where you sit. Even if you book the day you fly the cost is still cheap at around $65. Of course this is a no frills airline but it does prepare you for the less luxurious transport to come.

NOK air
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From Udon Thani I took a bus further north to Nong Khai on the banks of the Mekong River. It is here that I quickly learnt how important the bus network is in Thailand. An endless stream of buses of a varying degrees of standards and disrepair cover all regions. First impression is one of confusion, but after purchasing my ticket from a helpful attendant I settled down for an hours wait before my transport arrives. During this hour I come to the pleasant realisation of the unpretentious organization the Thais have in place. Though there are moments of utter frenzy with the arrival of each bus as hordes of taxi and Tuk-tuk drivers converge on the dismounting and weary passengers for their custom.

Udon Thani bus station
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From Nong Khai it’s a short distance across the Friendship Bridge to Vientiane in Laos, but this time I’m staying on the Thai side as having been to Vientiane on a previous visit. Here that I have time to slow down, go where I want to with ease, hop on and hop off at will and enjoy the river and the flat terrain – I dined on the river, left a wake in the muddy water and hired a bicycle.

More relaxed forms of transport
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The process is repeated as I fly NOK Air from Udon Thani to Chiang Mai ($77) and take a bus to Chiang Sean and the Golden Triangle. The trip takes four hours to Chiang Rai and another hour to Chiang Saen, so I opt for some comfort and a first class bus (about $8) with air-conditioning, free water, a snack and an on-board stewardess.

Chiang Mai, being Thailand’s second largest city, has an equally larger bus terminal but the waiting is still prevalent with two and a half hours for my VIP transport, though there is a saving of an hour in travel time. This extra long vigil further educates me in the culture of Thai travel. Spuiking is loud for last minute ticket sales as buses prepare to depart. Food of all sorts is purchased and devoured or kept for the journey. I had time to shop for some band-aids to cushion my blistered feet. Backpackers, from all corners of the globe, looked the same as they did in the 70’s in their ethnic, soiled clubber as Monks in their pristine orange garb headed to their special, reserved seats in front of an altar, possibly to prey for the quick arrival of their bus. Patience is a requirement of travel, not only in Thailand but all over the globe.

Chiang Mai bus terminal
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At Chiang Saen I take a tuk-tuk the nine kilometres to Sop Ruak and the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Ruak Rivers, the so-called heart of the ‘Golden Triangle’ and where the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet. Sop Ruak is a small village so transport is less frequent with a blue mini bus (about every 20 minutes) the only way to get back to Chiang Saen or maybe the occasional truckie passing by with a load of bamboo may give you a lift. But the Tuk-tuk remains the most common form of local transport. With its colourful driver, the shrill tuk-tuk of the 2-stoke engine and the tight manoeuvrability on three wheels, the ride can be either pleasant or a terrifying thrill. And remember, before entering a taxi or Tuk-tuk, negotiate a reasonable fare in a cheerful manner.

Tuk-tuks and and other carriers
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But, the ‘Golden Triangle’ is an attraction and like most attractions, they attract tourists in large numbers. Groups that can be confused and easily lost, so, how better to make sure they can find their own transport among the dozens of double-decked, diesel-guzzling beasts than to give each its own bright and colourful personality.

Tour buses
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Well, that pretty much covers transport in Thailand. Planes, trains, buses, riverboats and 2-stroke three-wheelers make traversing this country exciting, interesting and totally suitable. But, apart from the obvious omission, your own two feet, the only other form of transport I have left till last is the soft-striding, gentle, nature-loving elephant.


The colour of a country is enhanced by the culture of its ability to move about and Thailand offers all the colour and efficiency at a very reasonable price. The added prerequisite of patience can only help to further observe and understand a land and its people. My journey had ended and I depart on my last form of transport, on a wing and a prayer that soon I’ll return.

Suvarnabhumi Airport departure gate
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Posted by DenOS.08 15:10 Archived in Thailand Tagged transportation Comments (0)

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