The Mornington Peninsula has long been the easy getaway spot for Melbournites. It’s close enough to the city and you can catch a train as far as Frankston, about half way down. You’ll need to allow at least a couple of days to explore this beautiful region south-east of Melbourne. Melbourne is sited at the top of Port Phillip Bay and the Mornington Peninsula curves down the eastern side to the narrow opening to Bass Strait in the South. This opening, between Point Lonsdale and Point Nepean, is overlooked by a lighthouse in the west and the old Fort Nepean on the Eastern side.
The waters of the bay are very clean and clear and safe swimming beaches line the coast. Some of the popular spots are found at St Kilda, close to the city, Brighton and Rosebud. We recently spent a couple of days checking out some great spots in the southern end of the peninsula, all good examples of what’s on offer.
A gondola ride up the hill
Our first stop was in Dromana at the base station of the Arthurs Seat Eagle. The Eagle replaces an earlier chair lift which has operated on the site for many years. The new gondolas will take up to eight in a cab on a smooth ride up to Arthurs Seat, which marks the highest point (302 metres) of the Mornington Peninsula.
Look down the beautiful state forest and on cars and cyclists as you pass above the road, or even hardy walkers. Walking either way is a good option if it’s not too hot. You can stop at any of the lookouts on the way for a panoramic view of the coastline.
There are many walking tracks in the Arthurs Seat State Park and you can enjoy a cuppa or meal in the cafe before you descend.
If you started at the top, or have a car waiting, you can head inland through the many country roads to visit other points of interest in the area, including wineries, golf courses and beaches.
Relax with a fancy lunch
From Arthurs Seat, we headed east towards Merricks North, where we stopped for lunch at the Jackalope hotel in Balnarring Road. We were also given the opportunity to check out the accommodation options before lunch, definitely an experience for a special occasion stay. The hotel is surrounded by the scenic grounds of Willow Creek winery.
We enjoyed a degustation lunch at the Doot Doot Doot fine dining restaurant. Apparently the name of the restaurant refers to the head of the jackalope, a seven metre high statue of which meets you at the entrance. Wikipedia defines the jackalope as ‘a mythical animal of North American folklore described as a jackrabbit with antelope horns’.
Degustation simply means appreciating delicious food served in small quantities, over multiple courses. They’re often offered with matched wines. While two of us opted to enjoy the matched wines, this writer enjoyed a glass of Willow Creek Chardonnay which went well with everything. They also have non-alcoholic choices for those who would like to match the food with a drink.
Degustation dining doesn’t come cheap, but it’s a lovely way of enjoying well prepared and presented food in a lovely setting. Perfect for a special occasion and be assured, you will feel satisfied and pampered, but not ‘too full’ even with multiple courses.
If casual dining is your preference, hop across to the casual eatery Rare Hare. You can also do a wine tasting in their Barrel Room and take home some lovely Willow Creek wines. The AUD 5 charge for tasting is redeemable against any wine you purchase.
Visit a winery and sculpture park
Not too far from Jackalope is the Point Leo Estate in Merricks, a winery with a view over the waters of Western Port Bay to Port Phillip Island. You can enjoy wine tasting or a meal, but a highlight is a walk around their ever-evolving Sculpture Park. This is the private collection of the owners and shows the works of Australian and international artists across the large park.
The park covers over 19 acres and is open daily from 11:00am to 6:00pm. The sculptures show off works in a variety of media including wood, metal and ceramic tile. One display to catch the imagination is the floating birds in a pond. A work by German/Australian artist Inge King greets you at the entrance, framing a Queensland King bottle tree.
Make some chocolate
The Mornington Peninsula Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery in Flinders is the owners’ third outlet, opened at the end of December 2018. They also have branches in the Yarra Valley and along the Great Ocean Road.
This is a great place for adults and children alike to experiment with chocolate making in a private Chocolate Discovery Class. First up, you’ll learn about the different types of chocolate and cocoa. Did you know there’s even a pink chocolate? There really is. Sometimes there are pink beans in the pod and these make…. pink chocolate!
You will watch the art of chocolate making, learning from the European chocolatiers who will tempt you with their chocolate creations. You get to make some chocolates to take home and you get to taste the lot! If that’s not enough, there’s plenty of free chocolate and ice cream tasting in the showroom outside. Over 250 different chocolate varieties and chocolate inspired gifts are available in the shop tempting you to ‘take me home’.
Have a soak in hot springs
After all this, how does a soak in hot spring water sound? Grab your swimwear and head for the Peninsula Hot Springs in Springs Ln, Fingal. Their spa dreaming centre is exclusive to guests 16 years and over. It’s open until 9pm and the cafe is a great place to enjoy your dinner, wrapped in a bathrobe. How relaxing is that?
The bath house is open until 10pm and the natural hot mineral spring water flows downhill into different pools. The 50ºC water comes to the surface in the top thermal pool, attracting the most hardy. This is a good place to enjoy the sunset. For the less hardy, you can start high and work your way down until you find a pool that you’re comfortable with. There are hooks for your towel or robe. Sink gently into the pool and let your mind and body be calmed by the steam and the sound of running water.
Do be careful after dark. The paths can be slippery and the lighting is low. Bring a torch and hold the ropes as you walk. Now who would want to rush back to the city after such a relaxing evening.
After relaxing at the Spa, we were more than happy to lay our heads on the comfy pillows at the Flinders Hotel, on the corner of Cook and Wood Streets in Flinders. The hotel is just down the road from the Chocolaterie. Established in 1889, the Flinders Hotel has seen a lot of life. Colourful locals and devastating fires are in the history of this iconic country pub, now expanded and renovated into a modern multi-purpose venue noted for its restaurant offerings.
The hotel is well set up to cater to guests with a disability and the elderly with a number of rooms fitted with appropriate facilities in the bathrooms.
We opted to go for breakfast on the opposite corner of our road at Georgie Bass Cooking school. Their website has a comprehensive list of cooking classes on offer, but if you just want to eat, don’t worry. Their a la carte breakfast had a good range of healthy and hearty choices to choose from and seems to be a favourite with locals, always a good sign.
Want to stay longer?
Extend your visit to Victoria by heading eastwards to Gippsland, Phillip Island or Wilson’s Promontory, or head across the bottom of the bay on the Searoad Ferry from Sorrento. This is the quickest way to travel between the Mornington Peninsula and The Great Ocean Road and Geelong. Jetstar and AirAsia X fly in to Avalon Airport / Avalon International Airport near Geelong.
If you’d like to visit the earlier mentioned Fort Nepean, it’s certainly worth your time. The Point Nepean National Park is open every day and entry is free. You only have to pay to ride on the hop on-hop off bus, not a bad idea as it’s quite hilly. The closest town is Portsea and the public bus stops at the entrance to the park.
Self drive and public transport offer viable options, though public transport may need more organisation. It may not go to all the places you want to visit, so taxi / ride share options or a tailored tour may be another option. The Visit Melbourne website has links to a number of options, including those mentioned above.
Economy Traveller travelled as a guest of Visit Victoria and Malindo Air.