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Road trips: Mornington Peninsula
Advice

Road trips: Mornington Peninsula

Melbourne is Australia’s culture capital with its wonderful theatres, art galleries and museums, but it wouldn’t be at the top of any one’s list for great beaches.

The good news is golden sands and beaut swimming spots are just a short drive away on the Mornington Peninsula.

But the Mornington Peninsula offers far more than a summer swim – which is handy because the weather isn’t always co-operative down south.

On the Mornington Peninsula you’ll find great food and wine, lovely villages to while away some time over a barista-made coffee, stunning views and beautiful bushland reserves for recreation if you’re feeling more active.

THE DRIVE

Look at a map of Melbourne and you’ll see it sits at the head of Port Phillip Bay. The arm that stretches down to the right (to the south-east) and ends at Point Nepean National Park is the Mornington Peninsula.

Getting there from suburban Melbourne these days is pretty straight forward. Get on to the Monash Freeway to Eastlink, then hop on to Penlink and choose your exit point from there.

There are two obvious driving routes from that point onwards. You can follow the Port Phillip side through Mornington, Mount Martha, Dromana, Rosebud, Sorento and Portsea. This is more built up with bustling shopping centres and calm bay beaches.

Or you can follow the less-developed Westernport Bay route. This takes you through small towns including Somerville, Hastings, Balnarring and Flinders, where the views sweep out to Phillip Island.

The alternative to following either coast is the meandering road through idyllic Red Hill and Main Range in the centre of the peninsula. It’s beautiful here with its green rolling hills and delightful hidden valleys.

SOMEWHERE TO EAT

When it comes for a meal on the Mornington Peninsula, the variety of choice and budget is mind boggling.

There are exclusive dining experiences such as Laura at Point Leo, Port Philip Estate at Red Hill and Doot Doot Doot, which is part of the extraordinary Jackalope complex in Merricks North.

More affordable trattorias and cafes abound; the Rocks in Mornington provides seaside views up the bay, Ciao Bella in Balnarring serves one of the best pizzas you will find on the peninsula in an authentic Italian atmosphere, the Portsea Pub is legendary for its summer beer garden views and meals.

There are plenty of wineries at which to sample a tipple and many also have restaurants that serve beautiful food as well. There’s a wine and food tour driving map available online (https://www.visitmorningtonpeninsula.org/Portals/0/Publications/WFFG2020/2/), but bags not being the driver.

If your taste turns to the amber ale, there are a variety of boutique breweries to check out at St Andrews, Red Hill and Dromana, just to name a few.

Or you could simply buy take away fish and chips from a shopping strip such as Rye and eat on the beach, while watching the big container ships and luxury liners make their way to and from Port Melbourne.

THINGS TO DO

If you’re headed for the Mornington Peninsula in summer, the beaches offer a huge variety of choice. On the Port Phillip Bay side of the peninsula they are generally calmer and better protected.

The best of them are at Mount Martha, where the waters are shallow and family friendly. Beach boxes add to the festive atmosphere. Be warned though, in summer it’s jam-packed along here, especially between Christmas and mid-January.

It’s less crowded on the Westernport Bay side, where the water is deeper and the surf can work into nice little breaks at places like Shoreham. You might even spot a Dolphin or too if you’re lucky.

Further south are wild and treacherous surf beaches open to the sea including Gunnamatta and Cheviot, the latter where Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared in 1967.

Back on dry land the Mornington Peninsula has some beautiful walking tracks. A highlight is the 23km trek across the peninsula from spectacular Arthurs Seat overlooking Port Phillip Bay, all the way to Bushranger Bay. Exposed to Bass Strait, big seas can crash into its massive cliffs.

Along the way you’ll walk through an area known as Greens Bush, a remnant piece of natural bushland where, with a little luck, you’ll spot a Koala or two. You won’t have any trouble spotting a Kangaroo as they are very common.

This is a great place for a picnic. There are carparks nearby and shorter walking routes, so you don’t have to do the whole trek to enjoy this beautiful spot.

WAIT, THERE’S MORE...

In recent years the Mornington Peninsula has become a hotbed for cycling, both on- and off-road.

The challenging haul up Arthurs Seat is a rite of passage for road riders. The rewards are spectacular views all the way up Port Phillip Bay to Melbourne’s skyscrapers.

For those wanting a little less exertion, the Eagle chairlift provides brilliant views without the sweat.

Nearby is the trailhead for the Red Hill mountain bike park, with 30km of tracks that vary from beginner friendly to experts only.

Perhaps the nicest, most relaxing ride of them all is at Point Nepean National Park. You can cruise through here on dedicated bike paths checking out the old quarantine station and the gun emplacements put in-place in the 1880s.

But most of all, like the rest of the Mornington Peninsula, it’s the scenery that’s really special. At the trail’s end you can almost reach across and touch the Bellarine Peninsula on the other side of the water.

All this just an hour or two from Melbourne. Enjoy the drive!