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It’s always good to revisit a place with fresh eyes after a long interval of being there. In my case it had been at least forty-five years since I visited the Mornington Peninsula, south-east of the Victorian capital, Melbourne. For campers and caravanners there aren’t many places where you can camp on the foreshore of the beach. This is what I loved the most about our three days on the Mornington Peninsula. Beachside camping!!!
Only just over an hour from Melbourne or 76 kilometres, the Mornington Peninsula has been a summer vacation favourite of Melburnians for decades. The peninsula is flanked by Port Phillip Bay, Western Port Bay and the open waters of the Bass Strait.
The southern inland part of the Mornington Peninsula is renowned as a quality cool climate wine region. Plus there are orchards, berry farms, olive groves and gourmet food producers. So it really is a big food bowl.
With it’s European flavour, colourful beach bathing boxes, old limestone homes and buildings, Millionaires row between Portsea and Sorrento, private and public piers and golden sandy beaches, is there any wonder it’s such a popular spot?
From the shoreline of Dromana, right down to Sorrento, there are literally hundreds of camp sites available on a seasonal basis. The season runs from 1 December to 30 April in the majority of the camping grounds. Most sites are situated amongst shady trees and offer power, water and amenities. They are all located between the road and the beach, so are just a stone throw away from the sandy shores of Port Phillip Bay.
On the the other side of the Peninsula in Western Port Bay there are more foreshore camping places at Shoreham, Somers, Crib and Stony Point.
I’ve already mentioned that the Mornington Peninsula has some of the most iconic beaches from an era gone by. I’m talking about Dromana, Rosebud, Rye, Sorrento and Portsea. Names that are etched in my memory from when I was a child.
However there is so much more to the Mornington Peninsula than just the beaches. It exudes old world charm and a bounty of nature’s gifts.
During my three days on the Mornington Peninsula I set off in my car to visit the following points of interest:
Point Nepean, right on the southern tip of the Mornington Peninsula, from a historical point of view is interesting and educational. However apart from the Quarantine Station it offers spectacular coastal scenery and vegetation, coastal walking tracks through Moonah Woodland, sweeping beaches and the place where former Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt drowned.
I took a stroll around the old Quarantine Station with a self-guided walking map that was at times emotive. Imagine the poor immigrants arriving to our shores after a long and treacherous voyage upon a ship, being stripped naked, belongings confiscated, sprayed with disinfectant, and then quarantined in confined quarters?
The station was used to quarantine people arriving in Victoria as far back as 1852 to prevent the spread of diseases such as typhus, dysentery and measles. It closed in 1980 and has since been used by the army and as refugee accommodation.
For more historical landmarks it is worth grabbing a guide to the heritage sites scattered across the Mornington Peninsula. There are grand old homesteads, halls, churches, lighthouses, piers, gardens, kilns, museums and monuments to be uncovered.
Some of the places I visited included Dromana Pier, Heronswood House and Garden, Sorrento Museum, Watts Cottage and gardens, McCrae Homestead, McCrae Lighthouse, Cape Schanck Lighthouse and Lighthouse Keepers Cottage, St Mark’s Church, and Hastings Fish Shed and Pier.
Feast your eyes and tastebuds and set off on a farm gate trail into the hinterland of the Mornington Peninsula. There is plenty of peninsula grown, grazed and gathered fresh produce to tempt you. Orchards of apples and cherries, market gardens with fresh veggies, mouthwatering strawberry farms, home cooked preserves, jams and chutneys, sweet natural honey and glorious flower farms.
If delicious farm fresh produce isn’t enough then polish off the day with a tour of some of the Mornington Peninsula wineries. You can once again grab an official wine touring map and set off to explore Australia’s “Pinot Coast”. Alternatively, take a stroll through the vineyards on a Winery Walk, or there are guided tours such as Grape & Graze, MP Plunge Wine Tours or Wine Compass.
During my stay I managed to visit the exquisite Point Leo Estate and the oldest winery at Merricks Estate. Point Leo Estate does have the added bonus of having an incredible outdoor sculpture park overlooking the vineyard and sea, that you can stroll around.
An absolute must do on the Mornington Peninsula is to soar aloft in The Eagle gondola for an eagle’s eye view across the bay and beyond. My journey commenced from the bottom of the hill to a height of 314 metres, up to the summit at Arthurs Seat. The views were to die for!
Once I reached the summit I took a stroll around the various lookouts and viewing platforms. I was also drawn to the sprawling Seawinds Gardens that consists of 34 hectares of exotic gardens. Here there are a network of walking trails where you may see native birds and animals. Artwork such as the William Ricketts sculpture can be found amongst the bush setting as well.
Further along the summit are the Enchanted Gardens natural attraction. Here I discovered over 20 gardens in a bushland setting, a grand hedge maze, lawned picnic areas and a beautiful ornamental lake. Additionally there are 6 mazes, giant puzzles, bushland obstacles, a canopy walk, 6 downhill tube slides, Big Zip zip-line and tree surfing. It’s definitely worthwhile if you’re visiting the Mornington Peninsula with kids.
One of the big attractions of the Mornington Peninsula that I was dying to photograph were the colourful and brightly painted Beach/Bathing Boxes. They are scattered everywhere along the beachfront. There are actually 1300 boatsheds and bathing boxes on Mornington Peninsula.
Originally these boxes or sheds were built to house boats. Now they are used as beach boxes for shelter from the sun, wind or rain, and as a place to store beach craft such as surfboards.
Probably my favourite thing that I did during my stay on the Mornington Peninsula was the scenic Millionaire’s Walk along the cliff top between Portsea and Sorrento. This 2 kilometre walk gives priceless bay views, passes by some of the most elite beach homes and is part of the Sorrento Portsea Artist’s Trail.
You can start the walk from either end and traverse through the backyards of some of the rich and famous, with majestic views over their own private jetties and boathouses. On a clear day you can see the Melbourne city skyline and across the bay to Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula.
The resort-style town of Sorrento certainly reminded me of its namesake on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. This historic village has retained much of its heritage with beautifully restored historic limestone buildings that line the main street. It was developed as an upmarket holiday destination for the elite from 1870 and still has an opulent air about it.
If retail therapy is your thing, the main street is lined with fashionable boutiques. There are also a number of galleries with original artwork, an antique shop, homewares stores, toys, jewellery, books, surf shops plus more.
The iconic Continental Hotel takes pride of place, built in 1875, and at the other end of the main street is the Sorrento Museum and Watts Cottage and Gardens. There are restaurants and cafes aplenty. I decided to lunch on the Esplanade at Itali.co, an Italian restaurant housed in an old limestone building.
The Sorrento to Queenscliff ferry runs a regular service from here across the bay to the Bellarine Peninsula, and is a must do during your stay on the Mornington Peninsula.
A short drive across to the other side of the peninsula brought us to Sorrento Back Beach. This stunning beach boasts turquoise waters, wonderful rock pools and rock ledges that can be explored at low tide. There are also a number of walks here, one up to a scenic lookout.
We chose to stay in Dromana, a lovely seaside town set at the foot of Arthurs Seat, with its historical pier and beach boxes lining the beach. The beach is extremely family friendly with shallow and calm waters. Safety Beach that is just north of Dromana is also a family favourite. We were able to stroll right along the beachfront on designated pathways and swim off the end of the pier.
The town is equipped with a great shopping centre, a pub where we enjoyed an afternoon coldie, restaurants and cafes overlooking the bay, and lovely parklands fringing the beach.
Heronswood House and garden is located in Dromana and is worth visiting. This breathtaking historic property is situated on two hectares of formal gardens. It is the home of the Digger’s Club – Australia’s most respected gardening organisation.
On the peninsula’s rugged side, where the Bass Strait and Western Port Bay meet, is Cape Schanck. On our drive across the peninsula we discovered vast farming land, undulating hills and the very unique RACV Cape Schanck Golf Resort.
We headed for the Cape Schanck Lighthouse Reserve where I was immediately met by a large echidna rummaging in the bushes. The coastal scenery here is amazing and can be observed from two great walks. There is the Bushrangers Bay Nature Walk (allow two hours), or a walk to the tip of Cape Schanck to see Pulpit Rock and spectacular basalt cliffs.
The dressed limestone and sandstone lighthouse was built in 1859. There is also the lighthouse keeper’s cottage and the Lighthouse Museum open to the public.
On the other side of Mornington Peninsula is the bay called Western Port. We spent a day exploring some of the Western Port beaches and towns. These include: Flinders, Balnarring, Merricks, Point Leo, Shoreham and Somers beaches.
We discovered Flinders Beach and pier and took a stroll out to the end. It is a popular snorkelling and scuba diving site known for its weedy sea dragons, fish and octopus. There is also a wreck at the end of the pier. We watched some of the scuba divers emerge out of the waters and fishermen fishing off the pier for a while.
Renowned as being one of Mornington Peninsula’s best surf beaches, Point Leo does have that surfie hamlet vibe about it. The town consists of nothing more than a general store, a surf shop and a surf club. There are many holiday homes scattered around the town and camping reserves that were full of school children on the day we visited.
Nearby is the famous Point Leo Estate winery, restaurant and Sculpture Park. It is one of the must see things on the Mornington Peninsula with its rolling vineyards and ocean views.
Further along the drive we came to Merricks General Wine Store. It is basically a providore, cafe, wine cellar and art gallery all rolled into one.
The small town of Balnarring was timely as we were hungry after spending the morning walking and exploring Western Port. The Red Hill Baker was our choice for lunch and we did not come away disappointed. The small village is renowned for having a large number of gourmet stores and quality restaurants.
On the coast Balnarring Beach, also known as Tulum Beach, lies at the mouth of Merricks Creek and overlooks Phillip Island. It’s a very safe beach for swimming and has been named “the cleanest beach in Victoria”.
Somers was the place I spent with my aunt, uncle and cousins during the Christmas school holidays in their caravan when I was a small child. It brought back wonderful memories of that time where I swam in the ocean, ate icecream from a cone, and salty fish and chips out of newspaper.
The beach at Somers is also calm and safe for swimming with some rock pools for exploring. The village has only one general store/post office/fish and chip shop. Coolart Wetlands and Homestead is located at Somers and is open to the public for viewing, plus great for bird-watching.
We packed a lot into our three days on the Mornington Peninsula experiencing the most perfect summer weather. We could not have asked for more from a tourist destination because The Peninsula, as it is known, has so much to offer weekenders and holidaymakers alike.
Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 6 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now in her early 60s. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Kathy enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, photography, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.