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Window on the Mornington Peninsula

Brought to you by the letter G.... 


....grapes galore, gourmet goodies, a glass sculpture gallery, golf courses....

.......even this ginormous jumbo! It's all here, in the Eden at Melbourne's back door.

Where are we?

On a map, the Mornington Peninsula looks like the eastern 'claw' of a pair of crab-like pincers almost entirely encircling Port Phillip, the bay on which Melbourne is located. The western 'pincer', the beautiful Bellarine Peninsula, is also easily reached, so read on to find out how you can do this too.

After just over 45-minutes zipping down the freeway from the city to Frankston, the northern entrance, you can feel the mood changing as glimpses of the bay and farmland appear. Ahhh! Short-break territory at its best, here we come.

We arrive hungry, but the peninsula is used to that. Well-fed, coffee-conscious Melburnians (city-folk) need to be assured of their high expectations being met at meal times, and the locals have got that point well and truly sorted.

First stop is brunch at The Holy Bean Cafe in Rosebud, a beachy bayside suburb. The vibe is relaxed, with the sort of food you want before a day of sight-seeing and wine-tasting (well, that's what we had in mind, anyway).


The menu is gently Asian with a health twist (granola, sourdough bread, vegetarian, gluten-free) with brekkie staples of smashed avo and corn fritters. There are three roasts of coffee to match the cafe's name. Oh, and they pack hampers if you want to breakfast in style on the sand or out on your boat.



The tasty hinterland

Not all the action happens on the beachfront, though. Red Hill is the epicentre of much of the enticements drawing visitors to the peninsula. Today, the phrase 'a weekend in the Mornington' conjures up visions of wine and food, galleries and relaxation in a scenic, hedonistic hinterland packed with artisan producers, orchards, wineries and vineyards. Basically it is pretty correct.

Small cafes are often the best place to eat as they are less crowded than busy beach ones, and this bakery is one of two in the area, selling (as the name suggests) its own magnificent breads.

This large mural on a wall in Red Hill underlines the fact though, that in the beginning of European settlement in the early 19th century, this was a hard-working area, the land covered with she-oaks (a type of casuarina)  which was quickly cleared to make way for farmland and orchards.

A passenger train still runs to Frankston and across to Hastings but, if you like a touch of history with your travel, there is a heritage railway running 45-minute steam or heritage diesel tours each Sunday, from Moorooduc to Mornington and return.

The peninsula's small communities are connected by a web of smaller roads, some unsealed. Getting (a little) lost is just part of the fun of exploring, but keep a map handy or use your GPS, if time is limited, as it can get a bit 'Alice in Wonderland' and you may find yourself back at the beginning by mistake!

The Mornington's true Mediterranean climate means that dairy products, berries, fruit, and wines are of the highest quality and are easily available - some even from the roadside in the right season. On the coast - never more than fifteen minutes' drive away - watch out for freshly caught fish, mussels and other seafood as well.

Nothing is very far away from anything else, and the mix of drawcards extends to all interests: taste wines, ride horses, pick-your-own berries. It's all on offer.

Because fresh produce is seasonal, do your homework before you come, and check whether the produce you want to pick or buy is in season. The beauty of regional food is that it obeys the elements, and no matter how much we love strawberries, for instance, they only ripen to perfection when the sun and rain says so!

If you miss out on one treat, there are plenty more. Pick up a Mornington Peninsula brochure to locate all the other option. You'll discover breweries, cider-makers – pear and apple - providore shops, regional markets, farmgate sales - including U-pick, as well as local producers of honey, orchards, berry farms, olives, cheese-makers, bakeries sand more. There is even a Wine Food Farmgate trail with enough things to set your head spinning - or maybe to make you book in for another few days!



Or did you just want to see the beaches?

Rosebud is just one of a long string small beachside communities facing westwards. Ideally-located for sunset viewing over Port Phillip, by day it gathers water sports' lovers. For family fun each summer there are sand sculpting exhibitions from Boxing Day at Frankston, the main northern centre.

But we were drawn to the beach when we saw giant colourful 'commas' punctuating the sky over the bay. It seemed there were hundred floating above us and into the far distance, and it was a mesmerising experience.

SEE MORE on this lovely video>>>


The long sandy beaches are ideal for great kite surfing (which, of course is what we had seen, above) surfing, SUP, swimming with dolphins or fishing charters. Further south at Rye, a bunch of seagulls were staying close, eager to clear up food scraps  - or better still a beach fisherman's catch.

And in case you fear that the only fare in the area is F&C or hamburgers, the good news is we discovered this lovely French-owned cafe, Sacrebleu, serving crepes, pastries, pates and salads just across the road from the beach.

A feature of Port Phillip's bayside beaches are these bathing ‘boxes’ . Count yourself lucky if you know someone who has one of these brightly-painted, privately licensed little cabins, as they make a great base for a day at the beach. These are at Dromana and it is easy to see the pride families take in them.

Not everyone knows that the first European settlement in Victoria was in 1803 at Sorrento, almost at the narrow tip of the peninsula. It predated Melbourne's colony in 1835 by over 30 years. Begun by free settlers and convicts it was shortlived, due to a lack of adequate water.

Today's Sorrento, shaded by huge Norfolk pines, is a scenic and casual place to relax before heading on around the toe of the peninsula, or else inland to Red Hill.

Portsea, long coveted as the most upmarket address on the peninsula, is just beyond Sorrento. It was in 1967, at nearby Cheviot Beach, named for a shipwreck eighty years earlier, that Australia's Prime Minister, Harold Holt, disappeared when swimming. His body was never found.

Nearby, the tips of the two peninsulas almost meet at the entrance to the bay, and the area is well-known as hazardous for swimmers. Unsurprisingly this stretch of water is known as The Rip.


If you have time, it is worth driving through the Mornington Peninsula National Park. There are magnificent coastal views, hiking trails and the opportunity to see native flowers, birds and animal life.

Take a look at this map and decide carefully what you might do here. Notice it encompasses four walks, each of which would be a good workout, but the map also advises that you can string them together for a hundred-kilometre (gulp!) continuous 'walk'. That's not as bad as it sounds, though, as you can also see on the map where there are places available to stop and eat and relax to really enjoy the magnificent surroundings.

At the furthest point south on the peninsula is Cape Schanck LighthouseBuilt in 1859, the second lighthouse in the state, this was essential in the early days of settlement as it marks the division between the restless waters of Bass Strait to the west and the calmer Western Port to the east. 

It's a bleak shoreline here and from the tip of the peninsula the next-stop Tasmania across the wild waters of the strait.


If you keep driving on along the coastline, you will find yourself now on the eastern edge of the peninsula, soon to pass through small and beautiful Flinders and then arrive at Merricks and its beach.

Merrick’s General Store – the name does not do it justice. It is so much more: a restaurant and cafe, food and wine seller, and gallery with exhibitions of local art.

So, have you been wondering about that elephant at the top of the page?

This is where you'll find it, in the garden beside the store, adjoining The Verandah, the ideal place to relax with a coffee and a muffin, or breakfast.

Inside the store there are shelves and fridges groaning with the wealth of local produce from the area. Come here for wines, oils, olives, jams, condiments, cheeses .....oh, just get here and see for yourself the variety and high standard of products, all from this tiny part of Victoria.



Other places to put on your list:
  • A little further north you can glimpse French Island in Western Port. It is a cute little eco-island accessible by ferry from Crib Point. The island has basic accommodation, a large number of koalas, echidnas, native birds and flora.
  • Enjoy extensive views from the peninsula's highest point, Arthurs Seat. Take the Arthurs Seat Eagle cable car gondola to the base station in Dromana or travel up from Dromana to the summit at 304 metres.

And, yes, people live here too. This fun picture had us wondering which came first, the people or the street?



Wine, wonderful wines

If you were lured to the Mornington Peninsula by the dream of a few days of solid wine-tasting, you must have been wondering when we would get to this - the star attraction. After all, for many people this may be all they know about the area. Fear not! The wine industry is alive and well, and there is much to see.

Check this for a comprehensive overview....

Looking for details of a particular winery or cellar door? Click on the link.

Vine planting and wine-making began in late 1970s. In Australia, we often forget how young many of the major wine regions are. Now there are around 200 small-scale vineyards with 60-plus cellar doors, specialising in great pinot noir as well as fin chardonnay and pinot grigio. Most cellar doors open on a daily or weekend-only basis for tastings and sales, but out of tourist season it is a good idea to check first.

Some have unusual names - like this one which is a vineyard also offering accommodation.

Driving around the coast line of the peninsula is fairly simple: basically just keep the water on the same side of you! However, once you start exploring the wine region, things get a little trickier. The central cluster is hilly and there is a web of tiny roads, so do yourself a favour: equip yourself with a good wineries map, or use your phone.

The Visitor Information Centres in Frankston or Dromana have extensive maps, and many wineries and cafes have brochures too. Or why not take one of several winery tours available?

Apart from cellar doors, many wineries offer places to stay and dining options. Lindenderry at Red Hill is an upmarket boutique hotel, set in a vineyards that produces top chardonnays and pinot noirs.

Again, check the internet or local information for accommodation at B&Bs, boutique hotels, as well as golf resorts in the area - or simply spend a relaxing few hours at Fingal's Peninsula Hot Springs spa. It seems the region has made it their business to ensure there is no excuse for anyone simply to drive down here for a few hours. They would like us all to stay longer - and so we should!

The scenic undulating countryside means that many vineyards have been planted on slopes. Great for the vines, they also lend themselves to ideal positions for restaurants, such as this one, the elegant Max's Restaurant Red Hill at Red Hill Estate.

Red Hill Estate is best known not only for pinot noir and chardonnay, but also pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc.

At nearby Montalto Estate, beautifully sited on hillsides that dip down to a small river in the valley (picnic anyone?)......

....there is yet another reason to visit - apart from the award-winning Montalto Restaurant, or Piazza Cafe overlooking the kitchen garden, and the nearby cellar door.

This vineyard has installed massive sculptures as part of its landscape and drawcard.

T'Gallant, has been making wine since the 1990s. A favourite of ours (could that be because of their pinot noir, maybe?) we also like the ambience.  Another specialty of the winery is pinot gris.

Even though T'Gallant's relaxed Baracca Restaurant is popular, on this visit we were running late and chose something light from the cute little Spuntino Bar - with some prosecco, of course. 

There's a pizza oven, but we chose a share platter of breads and dips. Luckily there was a generous pile of breads as those dips (especially a creamy artichoke one) were magnificent. We ate it all. Well, we couldn't be seen to be unappreciative, could we? 

Of course we chose to eat outdoors with that amazing side-order of a vineyard view across the valley.

More details on local wineries....



How does Mornington's garden grow?

Very well, thank you! With a climate that helps some of Australia's best vines grow to perfection, it is no surprise that gardens thrive here.

In season there are open gardens, as well as a couple of mazes such as this one Ashcombe Maze at Shoreham, planted with more than 1000 cypresses, clipped to a height of about three metres, and threaded by several kilometres of pathways.

The maze also has a lavender garden.

If you have a green-thumb then you should head for Heronswood House and GardensNot only will you find a vast range of Diggers heritage seeds, but the gardens are delightful to explore before relaxing in the restaurant which sources many of its ingredients from the garden.



Artisans and artists

Do you ever find a shop so inviting that you would like to actually 'live' in it? This amazing place affected me like this. Gordon Studio glassblowers at Red Hill is outstanding. 

It is inevitable that the art of creating fine wines also attracts other artists. Galleries and shops are dotted throughout the peninsula and local boutiques often have examples of creative work for sale.

And while most of us would expect to keep fine hand-blown glassware in a safe place indoors, here the garden is dotted with beautiful...

....and sometimes wacky works.

In the cottage gallery, with its wide views across adjoining wineland, the real action is here in the glassblowing studio used by several members of this hugely talented family.

But please don't imagine that the display is only outdoors. The showroom inside displays some of the finest glass creations you will find anywhere in the world. Many of the techniques and concepts have been uniquely created by the artisans of this studio, and it is a must-see, especially if you are looking for a really beautiful memento of your visit to the Mornington Peninsula.



Would you like to go further?

For an easy and scenic return to Melbourne, take the Searoad car ferry (40 minutes each way – car and passengers around $80) to Queenscliff on the western side of the bay then drive back to the city. 

Or, if you just want the fun of a trip across and back, leave the car in Sorrento and pay $22 for each passenger.



Finally, after a few busy days it was time for us too to leave this lovely remote-yet-so-close escape. 

We had discovered whether you stick to the coast and its fun activities....

....or spend time in the wine region, sooner or later, it will be time to use another 'g' word, the most difficult of them all.

Goodbye (for now).

I know we'll be back, for sure!


Learn more about the Mornington Peninsula.....



©Words and photos: Sally Hammond

©Video: Gordon Hammond

Gordon and Sally Hammond stayed and travelled independently in the Mornington Peninsula.


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