Mornington Peninsula & Surrounding Bays
Queenscliff began life as a shipping village but developed into an elite resort in the late 1800s. Fort Queenscliff, built in the 1880s as a defence against a feared Russian invasion, was once the most heavily fortified British outpost south of the Equator. Today it is a military staff college with a museum and guided tours. The township has several very grand hotels. Elegant and beautifully restored, they include the Vue Grand Hotel, The Ozone Hotel and Mietta's Queenscliff Hotel. Attractions in their own right, they offer fine cuisine and accommodation in opulent surroundings.
Need some where to stay? Check out our Mornington Peninsula Accommodation list.
The road continues to Geelong, Victoria's second largest city on the shores of Corio Bay, part of Port Phillip. More than $150 million was spent in the 5 years to June 2000 on the Waterfront Geelong project to upgrade and develop its pier and beachfront area, which offers safe swimming, casual and fine dining. The project has spread to the Geelong Customs House with extensive landscaping in front of the building, which was erected in 1856 and fully restored in 1982. It even led to the rediscovery of a mineral water spring at Eastern Beach, which once again produces extremely pure, sparkling water that bubbles from the spring without need of a pump. The waterfront from Rippleside to Limeburners Point is decorated with 100 large wooden bollards, painted over several years by local artist Jan Mitchell to represent aspects of life in the city and some famous locals. From small groups of lifesavers to lone figures, these tall round poles were used originally to tie boats to wharves and many have come from old piers in the district. They are colourful and fun, and add a lot of interest to a stroll along the shore of Corio Bay.
Geelong houses the National Wool Museum, has a performing arts centre, and hosts a string of sport, entertainment and cultural events throughout the year - mainly in spring and summer. These include the Australian International Air Show at Avalon Airport, The Geelong Speed Trials for classic cars and motorcycles, and the annual Waterfront Festival.
The Geelong Peninsula was the largest wine growing area in Victoria with 116 vineyards in the 1870s, developed mainly by Swiss vignerons from the 1840s. Most vineyards were uprooted about 1880 to prevent the spread of a root aphid infestation and banned from replanting for 15 years. Despite a few attempts to revive it, the wine industry remained in a coma until the late 1960s. The oldest 'new' winery, Jindalee Estate (originally Idyll) was established only in 1967. Other pioneers were Mount Anakie and Mount Duneed. They are among 6 open regularly for tastings and cellar door sales. Nine others can be visited by appointment and there are 9 vineyards that simply grow grapes.
Popular tours near Melbourne include a circle trip around the 265km shoreline of Port Phillip Bay taking in the seaside suburb of St Kilda with its long beachside esplanade, Frankston and the towns of Mount Martha, Dromana, Sorrento and Portsea in the east and then south along the Nepean Highway. This area is known as the Mornington Peninsula and is one of the prettiest areas close to Melbourne. About 60km from the city, Mount Martha is a prime out-of-town residential area and a seaside resort town. The granite and stucco Glynt Manor, also known as Glynt by the Sea, is an exquisite ivy-covered country manor house set in a hectare of glorious formal gardens and the major landmark at Mount Martha. Built by the Buxton family, descendants of Victoria's first white settlers, it was their country retreat until 1980 when it was acquired by Mark Callan and William Gilchrist and fastidiously renovated as a country hotel.
A short drive from Dromana, Arthur's Seat rises 300 metres to provide sweeping views of the bay and surrounding countryside. A chairlift operates daily from September to May and every weekend the rest of the year. Nearby Red Hill is the centre of the Mornington Peninsula's wine industry. Some of the 38 wineries open to visitors have gourmet restaurants, generally open Fridays and weekends. Many of the winemakers are small and don't produce enough for their products to reach far past Melbourne. Victoria Winery Tours runs full day wine tasting tours from Melbourne with visits to 4 or 5 of the leading wineries with morning tea at Arthur's Seat and lunch at either Red Hill or Dromana Estate.
The peninsula separating Port Phillip from Bass Strait is less than 20km wide and it is well worth the short drive to it southernmost point, Cape Schanck, where the rugged coastline overlooks the pounding ocean. Tours of the 140-year-old lighthouse and its museum are available.
The Mornington Peninsula hooks west to Sorrento, which began its development as a summer retreat for Melbournians back in the 1870s, when they crossed the bay in a paddlesteamer from the city. The town has fine old buildings of local limestone, galleries, boutique shops, sidewalk cafes and restaurants. Bottlenose dolphins are common in the bay, which is a popular swimming and boating area.
Portsea is almost at the western tip of the peninsula and at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. It has an excellent bay beach and another on the ocean side. Portsea is home to some of Victoria's very wealthy who have built mansions overlooking the water. A retreat for Melbourne's gentry, it has several fine old hotels including the imposing Delgany of Portsea, classified by the National Trust and known as The Castle on the Hill. Another is the rambling country-house style The Portsea Hotel near the tip of the Peninsula.
A modern car ferry crosses the mouth of the bay from Sorrento to Queenscliff on the south-western shore of Port Phillip Bay, known as the Bellarine Peninsula. A few minutes drive south is Port Lonsdale, which overlooks the narrow and treacherous entrance to the bay, The Rip. The view of rough seas is awesome, its waters are an ever-present challenge to shipping. (Ferries stay well clear of this area).