Australia isn’t short of beaches, wildlife or fine wine, but it’s rare to find all three in the same region. Enter: the Mornington Peninsula, just 50km from Melbourne, where you can indulge in a winery lunch and watch wild kangaroos, before relaxing by the sparkling seaside to watch the sunset. Flanked by Port Phillip Bay on one side and Western Port on the other, the Mornington Peninsula has more restaurants, vineyards and activities than you can fit into one visit.
Despite being a firm favourite of domestic tourists, the area is yet to receive much international attention and, like much of the country, has felt the effects of the recent bushfires – particularly with smoke levels and a drop in tourism. Fortunately, the region sustained minimal damage and remains open for business.
Wine and dine across the Mornington Peninsula
These days, the Mornington Peninsula is known as one of Victoria’s most exciting wine regions, but in viticultural circles, it’s still very much an up-and-comer. While vines were first planted on the rolling valleys of the peninsula in the 1800s, factors such as economic decline and changing consumer preferences left local wines out of favour and the practice came to a halt. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that the region experienced a winemaking revival.
The area is best known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with quality Pinot Grigio and Shiraz also available to sample. For an unrivalled tasting experience, visit Stonier, one of the peninsula’s oldest wineries. Local favourite Polperro offers a cellar-door experience complemented by exquisite food made from its kitchen-garden, while Montalto is the ultimate long-lunch destination, where you can eat, drink and be merry, before wandering the 31-piece sculpture trail.
Get up close to wildlife
If you’re looking to meet some Australian animals, the Mornington Peninsula will not disappoint. With more than a dozen national parks and reserves, the area is a haven for all sorts of native fauna – from koalas to kangaroos and, if you’re lucky, echidnas. Your best chance of spotting wildlife is on a walk through the Mornington Peninsula National Park. Head off the beaten track at Green’s Bush to see hundreds of wild eastern grey kangaroos congregate at dusk. For a closer encounter, visit the Moonlit Sanctuary to feed and learn about the fascinating creatures that call Australia home.
The peninsula has ample to offer below the surface, too. Visitors can swim with brown fur seals at Chinaman’s Hat in the southern channel of Port Phillip Bay, or dive at Flinders pier, home to one of the ocean’s most unique creatures: the weedy sea dragon.
Eat farm-to-table cuisine
While the Mornington Peninsula isn’t short of attractions, its main draw is undoubtedly its produce. The region’s fertile soil and sublime growing conditions, nurtured by its maritime climate, culminate in some of the best fresh fruit and veg in the state. There’s also plenty of space, meaning farmland dominates the undulating landscape.
Whether you prefer to feast at a cafe or sample ingredients straight from the source, the peninsula’s winding roads are dotted with endless places to shop local. If you’re after farm-fresh produce, stock your pantry at Torello or pick up award-winning, first-press olive oil at Hart’s Farm. A quick detour to Main Ridge Dairy is a must for cheese lovers, while Johnny Ripe’s buttery pastries will delight even the fussiest eater. Finish your foodie adventure with a spot of berry picking at Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm, or treat yourself to a dessert from the cafe.
For a hearty meal, you can’t go past Merricks General Wine Store, a Mornington Peninsula institution serving up local produce in every sip and bite, right down to the coffee from nearby Little Rebel.
Sunbathe along the coast
The Mornington Peninsula is home to dozens of golden beaches, where you can enjoy a dip and bask in the afternoon rays. Come summer, Rye Beach is the stretch of choice for holiday-makers, while Portsea Ocean Beach attracts large crowds of strong swimmers. Safety and McCrae beaches are strong contenders for most photogenic, with their colourful bathing boxes, but those looking for quieter stretches should visit Canadian Bay in Mount Eliza, or Mornington’s Mothers Beach.
Unlike the balmy waters off northern Australia, Mornington Peninsula beaches are typically brisk, so prepare for a refreshing swim.
Where to hike on the Mornington Peninsula
The peninsula is home to almost 100 walking tracks, with lengths and difficulties to suit all visitors. Ease yourself into exercise with a leisurely coastal stroll along the Safety Beach Bay Trail or enjoy spectacular views across to the Bellarine Peninsula on the Millionaire's Walk.
For something a little more difficult, consider the 6km Bushrangers Bay Walking Track, which finishes at the iconic Cape Schanck Lighthouse. Those looking for a real challenge can tackle the 26km Two Bays Walking Track, from Dromana to Cape Schanck, and earn some serious bragging rights.
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