The beautiful Cape Schanck boardwalk © Emma Sparks
With dramatic beaches, divine hot springs and dozens of wineries to enjoy, Australia’s Mornington Peninsula has long been a favourite with frazzled Melbournites, but remains pretty off-radar for international travellers.
After flying to Australia with my boyfriend for a friend’s wedding near Melbourne, we extended our stay to catch up with old friends and colleagues in the city, before borrowing an old banger from my old boss (thanks/sorry Seb!) and setting off on a road trip.
Mornington Peninsula is just an hour’s drive from Melbourne, but feels a world away from Victoria’s capital. Here’s why you should add it to your Australia itinerary.
Our Red Gum BBQ feast © Emma Sparks
1. The food scene is seriously good
From affordable fine dining to lip-smacking fish and chips and Melbourne-style brunches (flat whites and avo-toast a go-go), there’s no shortage of options when it comes to eating out on the Mornington Peninsula.
Want a serious feast? You won’t find shrimps on the barbie at Red Gum BBQ, Australia’s largest craft beer and BBQ joint, but they do serve the best Southern-style BBQ this side of the equator. It was so good we went twice – and I’m a vegetarian! Seriously, their bean chilli and mac n’ cheese dishes are delish (the pulled pork looked insane too).
Where to eat in Mornington Peninsula
- The Boss’ Daughter, Sorrento – hip, friendly cafe
- Village Cafe and Wine Bar, Flinders – perfect for brunch or a boozy lunch
- Flinders Fish and Chips, Flinders – World Record holders for the world’s biggest vanilla slice
- Red Gum BBQ, Red Hill – go hungry!
A glass of Polperro’s Fumé Blanc (which had a hint of jalapeño!) © Emma Sparks
2. Vineyard hopping is easier than ever
Often eclipsed by its neighbour Yarra Valley when it comes to enotourism, compact Mornington Peninsula is home to 50 wineries and is known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
How you go about enjoying Mornington Peninsula’s wineries depends on your interest level and capacity for downing glass after glass of the good stuff. I was lucky enough to have my own designated driver, so was chauffeured from cellar door to cellar door for tastings...*hic* . Hardcore wine lovers might like to book tasting menus and winery tours, or even sleep over – I was eyeing up the boutique boltholes at Polperro with envy when I realised I needed an afternoon nap.
Where to drink wine in Mornington Peninsula
- Tucks and Montalto, Red Hill South - sister sites with beautiful grounds
- Pt. Leo Estate, Merricks - with a stunning restaurant and modern sculpture park
- Cup’s Estate, Fingal - a cosy restaurant with panoramic views of vine-strewn hills
- Polperro Winery, Red Hill - come for the wine, stay for the yoga
3. Two words: spa heaven
Peninsula Hot Springs was one of the attractions that convinced me to book our Mornington Peninsula trip. It’s like a water park for grown ups! Its beautifully sculpted landscape is peppered with thermal pools, ice cold plunge pools, trickling waterfalls and hot tubs – and their spa treatments are second to none. The hilltop pool is where you want to go for that Instagram-perfect pic, but you’ll need to get there early for a clear shot – it’s a popular spot!
We booked the Unwind spa treatment which included a muscle-melting massage and access to the Spa Dreaming Centre, a sanctuary within a sanctuary (ie. even more tranquil spaces to explore, and no children!).
Old military fort in Point Nepean National Park © Emma Sparks
4. You can get a glimpse of the past
The western tip of the Mornington Peninsula is packed with history. Home to a 19th century quarantine station and numerous military forts, Point Nepean National Park makes for an interesting day out; visitors can cycle or walk between attractions along the windy coastal track.
Fort Nepean is where the first shot of the British Empire in WWI and the first Australian shot of WWII were fired. Multimedia exhibitions help bring the eerie old buildings to life. Further inland you’ll also find the Harold Holt Memorial overlooking Cheviot Beach, where the Australian Prime Minister was swept away to sea in 1967, never to be found.
Cape Schanck boardwalk © Emma Sparks
5. Easy-to-access hikes
There are some fantastic trails here, and the relatively mild climate and close proximity to the sea means you’ll often be accompanied by a refreshing breeze. You could head to the summit of Arthur’s Seat; spot echidnas and take windswept selfies on the boardwalks at Cape Schanck; or even tackle the 100km Mornington Peninsula Walk.
Top hikes in Mornington Peninsula
Discover more Mornington Peninsula walks.
Portsea Surf Beach © Emma Sparks
6. The beaches
Whether you want surf breaks or child-friendly bays, facilities galore or secluded sands, Mornington Peninsula’s coastline has you covered. MP’s size means you can easily visit a handful of exquisite beaches in one day.
My favourite beaches in Mornington Peninsula
- Sorrento Ocean Beach – plenty of parking, feels secluded
- Sorrento Front Beach – family friendly, close to shops and restaurants
- Point Leo Beach – wild surf spot with nearby camping
- Portsea Surf Beach – popular surf beach near Point Nepean National Park
- Gunnamatta Beach – another wild and windswept surf spot
7. It’s road trip heaven
Getting around by public transport is possible on Mornington Peninsula (you’ll need a Myki pass), but it’s limited and doesn’t cover the hinterlands. If you want to experience the best the peninsula has to offer, you’ll need a car.
With quiet, scenic roads and at just an hour’s drive from Melbourne, Mornington Peninsula is what day trip dreams are made of – but chances are you’ll want to stay longer.