The Mornington Peninsula

 

A place of sand-sculpted dinosaurs, ancient mazes and secluded beaches, it’s easy to see why the Mornington Peninsula is a popular holiday destination for Melburnians. Curving around the eastern arm of Port Phillip Bay, the peninsula is studded with peaceful seaside towns. There are colourful beach huts at Rye, multi-million dollar mansions at Portsea and surf beaches at Western Port Bay. Frankston is the gateway to the peninsula and the site of the annual sand sculpting championships. Sorrento is reputed to have Victoria’s best vanilla slice. If you’re in the mood for a swing, head to Flinders and play on a coastal golf course.

From a gentle paddle at Blairgowrie to adrenaline-pumping surf in the wild swell off Gunnamatta Beach, the Mornington Peninsula is the place to come if you like getting wet. The basalt cliffs and historic lighthouse at Cape Schanck make for a pleasant walk, and once you come away from the coast there is a vast hinterland of vineyards, orchards and narrow country roads to explore.

 

Pete’s Primo Pastimes

 

Whoever thought getting lost could be so much fun? Head to Ashcombe Maze (15 Shoreham Rd, Shoreham) and immerse yourself in Australia’s oldest hedge puzzle, as well as the world’s first circular rose maze. With thousands of lavender bushes set in twenty-five acres of gardens, you’ll want to get lost over and over again.

www.ashcombemaze.com.au; 03 5989 8387.

 

The peninsula has a maritime climate and cool valleys – ideal conditions for grapes to thrive. There are over fifty cellar doors in the area to go wine tasting. The Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association has a website that lists vineyards as well as tour operators. For a top tipple log onto www.mpva.com.au

 

The highest point of the Port Phillip coast is Arthur’s Seat (314 metres). At the top is the Enchanted Maze Garden (55 Purves Rd) which features a five-acre sculpture garden, a Japanese garden, a Christmas garden and a fantasy garden; there are 20 different themed gardens in all plus an indoor 3D maze and two tube slides where you sit inside donut shaped tubes and fly at high speeds down a giant slide run. There are also walks and great views. info@enchantedmaze.com.au.

 

Ever wondered where Australia’s most frisky koala’s live? On French Island they’re over run with the leaf-suckers – so much so that they’re stripping the island bare. With less than seventy human residents, this place may soon be taken over by the tree-huggers – perhaps this is why over 200 are redistributed around Victoria every year. Fortunately the koalas don’t like mangroves, wetlands, salt marshes and orchids, otherwise they’d be nothing left. No cars are allowed on the island and mountain biking and walking are the main activities here. Take the passenger ferry from Stony Point. Call 03 9585 5730 to make a booking and to get the latest information on ticket prices and crossings. You can hire bikes on the island. Alternatively, call the French Island Tourist Information Centre on 03 5980 1241

 

Cape Schanck offers more than just an historic lighthouse. Once you’ve climbed its winding staircase you can hike along the coast on the Bushrangers Bay Nature Walk (12km, four hours return) or, if you’re up for something a little longer, the Two Bays Walking Track (a 26km hike from Bushrangers Bay to Dromana). Contact the Peninsula Information Centre on 03 5987 3078 for more details. For a walking map, check out www.visitmorningtonpeninsula.org.

 

Western Port Bay has some prime surfing spots. Beginners can catch gentle waves at Crunchie Point. Point Leo caters for all-comers with seven surf breaks, while experienced wave-riders can tackle the ominously named Suicide Point.www.pointleo.com.

 

If you don’t have your own gear and fancy a dive, snorkel, horse ride or sea kayak, then head to Portsea and check out Bayplay Dive Resort (3755 Point Nepean Rd). www.bayplay.com.au; 03 5984 0888.

 

Point Nepean is the pearl in the Mornington Peninsula National Park’s oyster. Formerly the site of a military fortress and a quarantine station for immigrants, this area has a network of tunnels to scuttle around in, as well as old fortifications. Cheviot Beach is the site of Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt’s mysterious disappearance in 1967. Some say suicide, others cry conspiracy. The park entrance is about a kilometre from Portsea. www.parkweb.vic.gov.au

 

For those who are bonkers about berries then you can’t come down this way and not check out the Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm (244 Shands Road, Main Ridge). From November to April you can pick your own strawberries for just $8 (price includes 500g of strawberries). You must be able to close your punnet otherwise you’ll be charged for the extra strawberries. www.sunnyridge.com.au. Ph (03) 5989 4500.

 

You’ve seen it in the movies: the sun’s low in and the sky and our hero is riding along an isolated beach. Chances are he’s on his way to visit the folks at Gunnamatta Trail Rides who offer a variety of rides for novices and experts alike.

Rides trot and canter along St Andrews Ocean Beach, wind along bushland tracks and traverse sand dunes. Depending on which ride you choose you’ll spend between 50 minutes to three hours in the saddle. Experienced riders can opt for an all-day ride (five hours) which includes lunch in the stables. During summer, watch the sun skirt the horizon on a Twilight Ride (from November to early April). They also offer a Hot Springs Ride and Bathe package where you relax in the Peninsula Hot Springs once the hero’s journey is complete. www.gunnamatta.com.au Ph (03) 5988 6755.

 

Hi-ho sailor, jump on the starboard bow and pass me a glass of sparkling, there’s a good chap. Ever wanted to own a luxury 40-foot catamaran? With Sorrento Sailing Tours you can pretend that you’re cashed up with a Sunset Sails Saturday night trip where you’ll sup sparkling, nibble finger food and lounge in a large saloon. There’s even a trampoline, although it’s probably best that have a go on that before visiting the licensed bar. They also offer seal watching and dolphin spotting tours on other days of the week. Bookings are essential. Phone 0418 374 912, email: info@adventuresails.com.au; and check them out at www.adventuresails.com.au

 

Grow your sideburns and drive your lady (or your mates) to the Dromana Drive Inn (133 Nepean Highway, Dromana) to watch the latest blockbuster releases on three giant screens. Don’t forget to drop into Shel’s Diner for 50s style burgers and fries. Open all year round. Ph: 03 5987 2492; www.drivein.net.au

 

The Stand Up Paddle School isn’t a crash course for kayaking comedians, rather it’s your chance to learn how to stand up on a paddleboard and glide alongside inquisitive dolphins and seals. They offer beginner lessons, bay and coastal tours (bookings essential), downwind paddles, introductions to stand up paddling in the surf, and fitness workouts. Lesson locations depend on prevailing weather conditions. They operate out of Rye, Blairgowrie, Portsea, Flinders Ocean Beach, Flinders Pier and Shoreham. Call 0448 563 339 for bookings; for

further information email: info@psups.com.au or log on to www.psups.com.au. Ph (03) 59 864 557.

 

If you’re short on time or like it when someone else takes control, Bunyip Tours runs one-day Morning Peninsula excursions. Packages include winery tours on horseback, a dolphin and seals adventure and a visit to the Peninsula Hot Springs. To check out their full tour list log onto www.bunyiptours.com or call 1300 286 947

Don't forget to drop in at the Moonlit Sanctuary to see all the aussie animals under the sun! Open daily 7 days a week, and also for night tours! (Bookings essential for night tours)

www.moonlit-sanctuary.com. Ph (03) 5978 7935.

 

Where to crash

 

Fairhaven Beach Camp Site – French Island; Ph 13 19 63

This free campsite is one of three on the island. This is a cosy site with shade and is 4km from Tankerton Jetty; there’s no vehicular transport to the campsite. You can also sleep in an old gaol, which is now an organic farm. www.parkweb.vic.gov.au

 

Sorrento Beach House YHA – 3 Miranda St, Sorrento; Ph 03 5984 4323

This place is close to a surf beach and the Port Nepean National Park. www.yha.com.au

 

Bayplay Lodge – 46 Canterbury Jetty Rd, Blairgowrie; Ph 03 5984 0888

Set on an acre of land and just 500 metres from the beach, this lodge has eight bed rooms and sleeps up to thirty-eight people. There’s a pool and loads of activities on offer.

www.bayplay.com.au

 

Continental Hotel – 1-21 Ocean Beach Rd, Sorrento; Ph 03 5984 2201

Located five minutes from the beachfront, has a restaurant and a night club. Not only that, but

you’re minutes away from the best vanilla slice in Victoria. Yum yum!

www.continentalhotel.com.au

 

Which way, cobber?

 

Public Transport

From Melbourne, catch the train to Frankston where you can connect with bus services to

Mornington, Dromana, Sorrento and Portsea (Portsea Passenger Service). Peninsula Bus

Lines have services to Flinders via Hastings. Check out Metlink at

www.metlinkmelbourne.com.au.

 

By car

For a scenic route, take the Nepean Highway from Melbourne and follow it along the coast and

on to the B110. For quicker access, get off the Nepean Highway at Aspendale and take the

Moorooduc Highway. To get to the back beaches on the peninsula it is advisable to get a map.

 

Diving in Port Phillip Bay

 

Port Phillip Bay, has some of the best temperate diving on the planet.

 

With over one hundred dive sites, chances are you’ll be sticking around for a while to check

out the multicoloured reef that clings to Lonsdale Wall, the spectacular limestone erosions

in rocks all around the bay, and the Ship’s Graveyard where over fifty vessels have been scuttled.

 

The newest wreck in the bay is the HMS Canberra. This 4,100 tonne, 138-metre-long

missile frigate comes to within eight metres of the surface, although to see most of the

main deck and the structure you’ll have to dip below eighteen metres; the wreck itself

goes down to thirty and you can swim along the entire length of the ship.