Williamstown was one of the most important points during the European colonisation of Melbourne. Sheltered between what would become Port Phillip Bay and Hobsons Bay, it offered excellent anchorage during both the gold rush and the wool boom. Plus, during the second half of the 1800s, it was home to Victorian Railways main workshops. Today, Williamstown offers a little something for everyone, from splashing on the beach to excellent gourmet and retail therapy in the suburb’s shopping precinct. And if you’re into maritime history, there’s plenty to explore. Here, we’ve come up with a beautiful walk that takes in many of the best aspects of this beautiful suburb, one of the oldest in Melbourne.
With our long, hot summer days setting in, there’s no better time to pop your swimsuit, towel, sunscreen and holiday read in your bag for a bit of relaxing time on the sand. This wide stretch of sand is great for kids, since the foreshore features a park and picnic area and the water is generally calm. The best place to swim is at the western end of the beach, near the baths, where there are surf club patrols. At the other end of the beach is the pier, where people sometimes fish. It’s also a great place to start our walk. Once you’ve had enough sand and sun, head along the waterfront to Point Gellibrand.
This is the site of Victoria’s first permanent European settlement and seaport. As you approach it on your walk, you’ll get some excellent views of Port Phillip Bay and the skyscrapers of Melbourne’s CBD. Many of the historical aspects have been protected and can be viewed – there are also a number of information boards to help fill you in on all the major events and sights. Fort Gellibrand was built during the Crimean War in 1855 to protect Melbourne against a Russian invasion. There are still some old cannons there, left from that time. You can also check out the time ball tower, which was built in 1849 as a lighthouse. Then, between 1858 and 1926, a large ball at the top was dropped at exactly 1pm each day so that ship captains anchored in the bay could correct their chronometers. Now it’s time to head up Nelson Place.
You’ve likely worked up something of an appetite by now. Stop at cool, casual General Food Co on Nelson Place. The all-day menu includes eggs any way you like, healthy nourish bowls, salads, steak sandwiches, fried chicken burgers and irresistible home-baked muffins and scones. The coffee is top notch and there are milkshakes for the kids. Grab a table shaded by an umbrella if the weather is beautiful.
Across the road from the cafe, you’ll find this extraordinary site. It’s a working deep-water port and, depending on when you’re visiting, you could see a tall ship berthed or one of the Sea Shepherd vessels when they’re not patrolling the Southern Ocean protecting whales from Japanese fishing fleets. It’s also home to the Maritime Museum (open Friday to Sunday, 11am–3pm), which has exhibitions dedicated to the First Fleet, prison hulks and the Colonial Navy. If you’re ready to quench a thirst, the Pirates Tavern is an atmospheric spot to enjoy a cold beer or glass of wine and watch the ships coming and going. It’s open Wednesday and Friday to Sunday.
Everyone loves a pier and this is one of the busiest in Melbourne, as well as important part of Williamstown history. If you’re hungry again (or still) grab some fresh prawns from the Gem Pier Seafood barge. The folks who run it are fifth-generation fishermen who sell their catch direct to the public. Permanently moored at the pier is HMAS Castlemaine. This Australian-built Bathurst Class corvette served during World War II and has been restored by volunteers, a task that took four decades. Now open from 11am to 5pm on weekends and public holidays (and every day from Boxing Day until the end of January), the ship is somewhere visitors can explore and imagine what it was like to live a life at sea. You can check out the guns, ring the bells and use the voice pipes to send a message to another part of the ship. Guided tours are also often available.
Keep walking along Nelson Place then turn left at the Williamstown Cenotaph into Ferguson Street. This is Williamstown’s main shopping precinct, and you’ll find all types of stores and boutiques along its length. You can pick up the latest fashions at Witchery, Trenery and Fancy on Ferguson, which also stocks skincare products and jewellery. One particularly good spot if you love beautiful clothes and accessories from small labels is Poppi Williams. Enchanted Years is perfect for kids’ clothes, books and toys, and Britt + Bec is a hot spot for gifts and homewares. No doubt, you might be ready for some afternoon tea or another coffee, so stop at Crowded House. Owner Luke Houli has lived in Williamstown all his life and his cute cafe has a huge outdoor courtyard. If you haven’t had enough shopping, take a detour down Douglas Parade for even more retail delights.
When you’ve crossed the railway line, turn left into Railway Crescent and follow it for about 800 metres to Giffard Street. Turn right and you’ll find yourself at the entry to the beautiful gardens. There’s a formal avenue of New Zealand cabbage trees, a lake inspired by William Guilfoyle’s work at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, and plenty of early tree plantings, many dating back to Edwardian and Victorian times. Stroll along the paths, find a shady spot to read a book or let the kids run around on the sweeps of lawn. Exit through the gates at the Esplanade and you’re nearly back where you started. For one last treat before you head back to Melbourne, head to Shelly’s Beach Pavilion, a restaurant on the beach. It’s open all day, has uninterrupted views of Williamstown Beach and serves a seasonal menu of seafood dishes, pizzas and more. In all, you’ll have covered about five kilometres and taken in a lot of what this wonderful suburb has to offer.
Ferry Williamstown Ferries departs from Berth 1 at Southgate and arrives at Gem Pier about 50 minutes later. Check the website for departures.
Train Take the Werribee line to Newport then change to the Williamstown train.