I have read so many articles about the Mornington Peninsula, the food, the wine and the beautiful scenery. A charming place to while away the hours, eat, drink and walk off all the calories you’ve just endured.
After a busy six months it was time for Wayne and I to head off for a little break to relax and unwind. Not a big holiday, not weeks away from home but a short break, enough time to relax and still have some fun. Of course when Wayne and I holiday we usually just go, go, go so we don’t miss anything but this trip was more about chilling and taking it easy.
After a few days in Melbourne we headed to the Mornington Peninsula in our hire car. We stayed off the freeways and toll roads and slowly meandered along the coast through Port Melbourne, South Melbourne, St Kilda and the coast (along the Nepean Highway) to the Mornington Peninsula.
We arrived on the Monday afternoon of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend so it was pretty quiet. We liked that! Yes we missed all the long weekend activities and festivals but that is not why we were there. This was our time to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of this wonderful area.
We arrived at Mornington Cottage (refer my reviews for more information) to be greeted by the lovely Lora. She had us settled in no time and was happy to give us some ideas of what we could do over the next few days and where we could go for dinner.
Mornington is a delightful town with all the amenities you could want and locals who are oh so happy to have a chat and give you a few ideas as well. There are too many shops to count (but never enough to shop in!), restaurants aplenty, cafes, bars/hotels, supermarkets and a weekly market right on Main Street every Wednesday. Our accommodation was an easy five minute walk from the main street so we could and did walk to the shops and dinner. It was the perfect spot for our holiday.
So after a walk on Main Street, a short drive around to acquaint ourselves and a booking for dinner we headed back to our room to relax, unwind and of course plan the next days activities. Although there was a chill in the air it was a lovely night to walk around to the Manhattan in Mornington (www.manhattaninmornington.com.au) which was only a couple of blocks from Mornington Cottage.
We entered a warm and cosy restaurant with friendly staff, were seated and given menus and the specials. With a glass of wine and beer in hand we perused the menu which had your normal Italian café/restaurant style meals (garlic bread, pasta, pizza, seafood, chicken and steak) and decided on a couple of mains and a salad. Wayne ordered the Mare Monte which consisted of fettucine topped with fresh seafood (prawns, calamari, mussels and a ½ Morten Bay Bug). According to the menu this is the signature dish and I can truly say the seafood was cooked to perfection as was the pasta. The dish was light and fresh with chilli, garlic and tomato rounding it off. Very tasty, very fresh and just warming enough for a cool night. I ordered the Eggplant Parmigiana which again was light and fresh. It was a baked dish of eggplant ricotta, mozzarella and tomato with the ricotta making the whole dish light and airy (not heavy and stodgy). We went away feeling full but not stuffed, happy and all warm inside. Ready for a sleep and a new day!
So day two dawned and was looking a bit cool and cloudy with a few drops of rain but not enough to stop us from exploring. We drove to Red Hill and Arthurs Seat stopping along the way at a few wineries. The weather was a bit wet and it was the Tuesday after a long weekend so there were a number of wineries and attractions that weren’t open and some of the wineries do charge a fee for tastings. I don’t have a problem with this as they take the charge off your purchase, but as we were travelling from interstate we weren’t likely to buy anything on the spot.
Next stop The Pig & Whistle Tavern (www.thepigandwhistle.com.au). What a charming spot. Nestled in amongst trees on Purves Road at Main Ridge sits this pub with a beer garden nestled outside the front door. But as it was a cool day we headed inside to have a quick cold one. We entered into the front bar and were surrounded by memorabilia, mugs, pictures, signs and even pigs hanging from every wall. The fire was going and the beer was cold.
Now satisfied and ready for a drive to Arthurs Seat for a quick look. No walk today as it was a bit rainy and windy but we could still have a look at the view and see what we were in for when we went back later in the week for a walk. More on that later.
Another day down another meal out, this time at Soy on Main Street Mornington. There are just so many restaurants to choose from and many different cuisines so Asian it was and if I do say so myself it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary but it was good.
The sun rises again on day three and after a leisurely breakfast we walked in to Main Street to check out the Mornington Wednesday Markets. The markets run up and down the main street (on the footpath outside the shops). There was food, clothing, bags, candles, nuts, spices, jewellery, crafts and so much more. A great way to spend the morning but the day was to only get better.
Next stop Point Nepean National Park and a walk out to Fort Nepean. We drove in and parked at Gunners Cottage which is the last point for parking as past this point it is walking or taking the hop on hop off shuttle (for a small fee of $10.00). The history of the area is quite telling and gives an insight into life as far back as 1852. It’s interesting to see how the coast and the bay were protected, where Harold Holt disappeared and the beauty and ruggedness of the area with such a contrast from one side of the being a windblown Bass Strait and the other a more protected Port Phillip Bay.
So after having a look around Gunners Cottage and taking a short walk through Point Nepean Cemetery along the track to Observatory Point where parts of the old cattle jetty remain (the beach here is sandy with views across Port Phillip Bay) we headed to Cheviot Hill then along the road to the Harold Holt Memorial. On this day the wind was blowing, the clouds had rolled in and you could see how easily it would have been to get caught in the waves and swept away.
With so much to see and learn here make sure you take the time to look, read and most importantly take it all in. We continued on to Fort Pearce which was established in 1911. You can see where the guns were held (they must have been huge) and what the outlook would have been for the brave men who protected us. Continuing on is Eagles Nest which was a gun emplacement and battery observation post built in 1889 and Pearce Barracks where the troops were accommodated.
Finally we reach Fort Nepean. The main entrance leads you to the tunnels and the many gun emplacements, then out to the parade grounds where you will see two massive gun barrels both of which played significant roles in World War I and II and down the hill you will find the Engine House which powered the searchlights.
From Gunners Cottage to Fort Nepean is approximately 2.6 km but take your time, make sure you take detours and see as much as possible as it is a wonderful place to explore.
After a long day of walking, exploring and learning we thought a night in front of the fire with a platter of goodies was on the cards. And speaking of cards, we sat in front of the fire with wine and beer, platter of food and games. What a great night.
Day four, into the car and off to check out the towns that make up the Mornington Peninsula. Mount Eliza, Mount Martha, Dromana (with its very long jetty), Tyabb, Rosebud, Sorrento, Portsea and Flinders. If you like shopping you won’t run out of quant little stores full of homewares, clothing, accessories, books, antiques and really anything you want. And as shopping usually makes you hungry and thirsty there are any number of cafes and restaurants to choose from.
One of my favourite towns was Flinders. The small shopping strip was clean and the people were very friendly but most important of all there is a chocolate shop. Make sure you stop in and grab a couple of your favourites at Mornington Peninsula Chocolates. They are pricey but you just have to treat yourself when you are on holiday! There is also a jetty (a good fishing spot) and at West Head there is a gunnery range where we could hear the firing of the guns when we were out walking.
Now, yet another walk and a bit more exploring, so off to Cape Schanck and the lighthouse which was built and became operational in 1859. This lighthouse, overlooking Bass Strait, was built of limestone blocks atop an 80 metre cliff to keep the shipping lanes safe. You can do tours of the light house and grounds at a cost but we decided to take a walk towards Pebble Beach on the Cape Schanck Boardwalk.
The views are spectacular so make sure you take your camera. The track leads down to Pebble Beach and on the way you will see Pulpit Rock arising from the water and waves. The black rocky beach reminded me of some of the beaches I saw in Hawaii with their black lava rock. The views over Bass Strait and Bushrangers Bay are the scenes you see in expensive paintings in the best art galleries. On the walk back you look up towards the lighthouse, which is quite majestic high up on the cliff.
Now the appetite has kicked in so time to head to Sorrento for a bite to eat. And where better than the heritage listed Continental Hotel (www.continentalhotel.com.au). Set in an the Iconic limestone building built in 1875 using locally quarried limestone it is the only four storey limestone structure in the Southern Hemisphere. This building has had numerous uses such as a general store in the early days as well as a hairdresser, a pharmacy and a tobacconist. Now they are serving lunch to us at 2.30 in the afternoon. Can’t complain about that!
It was a quiet day, of course most of the lunch crowd would have eaten long ago, but the staff were happy to have us and seated us at the window so we could watch the comings and goings of Sorrento. Wayne and I both ordered fish and chips which came to us hot and crisp. Served in a red basket on a wooden board, it was a mixture of old and new trends but who cares when the food is fresh, the batter light and crisp and served with the sauces you want. The only thing missing was vinegar. Wayne asked if we could have some and the waitress was only too happy to oblige and reminisced with us about days gone by, fish and chips served wrapped in paper and drenched in salt and vinegar. Ahhh, the good old days!
Lunch finished and a walk through the main street (had to look in yet more shops!) ticked off the list so it was time to head back to Mornington along the coast. But not before yet another short walk at Sorrento beach, Coppins Lookout and Sphinx Rock. And again a stop at Dromana just as the sun was setting. We pulled over into a parking area and headed towards the beach next to some bathing huts to watch the sun go down. What a beautiful sight it was.
One more day and its home time so let’s make the most of it. And that we did! Time to check out a couple of breweries and some cheese and that walk at Arthurs Seat we hadn’t done yet. The sun was shining so it was a good day for a beer and a walk.
We arrived at Red Hill Brewery (www.redhillbrewery.com.au), grabbed a tasting paddle and proceeded to the outdoor patio with our tasting notes and a thirst for beer. Red Hill Brewery is a small batch brewery making handcrafted European style beers. The tasting paddle was $12 and included Golden Ale (light, crisp and nice amount of hops), Wheat Beer (fruity with the taste of banana), Pilsner (Very hoppy in taste and aroma) and Imperial Stout (creamy with a real coffee flavour).
Beer done, now it must been cheese time. Main Ridge Dairy (www.mainridgedairy.com.au) has a number of goat cheeses well worth tasting. We arrived to find a few goats in the paddock and the sun shining. We ordered a tasting plate (they range from $10 to $50) which consisted of the days available cheeses and tasting notes to help us through the 8 or so cheeses set out on the slate tile. The variety ranging from soft, fresh, creamy to harder stronger flavoured styles was fantastic. We learned there are about 400 goats on the property of which around 200 are milked twice each day. They each produce about a litre of milk at each milking and the remaining goats are off having kids and rotated every two years (from milking to giving birth).
Cheese done, time for our last walk. We drove back to Arthurs Seat, parked the car and walked to Kings Falls and Seawind Gardens taking in views over Port Phillip Bay, walking through bushland and sometimes almost rain forest areas to a small waterfall then onto gardens where we found the local wildlife chilling out in the sun.
There are numerous walks including the Arthurs Circuit walk (1.8km), King Falls Circuit Walk (1km) and Lookout Hill (1km). Well worth a look as the scenery and views are spectacular and you get to meet the locals (wildlife).
Our time is now almost over so it is time for one last drink and one last meal. Mornington Peninsula Brewery (www.mpbrew.com.au) provided us with a local brew but don’t expect to find it in the main street. It is located in the back streets of the industrial/commercial area of Mornington tucked away between buildings. Very unique and worth a look.
And dinner then would have to be at the pub in Main Street, The Grand Hotel. A heritage listed building built over 100 years ago. Quite a big building featuring a restaurant, gaming area and sports bar. The food was good pub meals, the staff very friendly and the beer cold. Not a bad way to say goodbye to a wonderful little holiday in a wonderful part of Australia. We will be back!