Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula offers cuisine, produce and sights that cater to any palate.
The famed Mornington Peninsula to Melbourne’s south has long been viewed as a hedonistic summer playground. This lush region has a tempered climate and is bordered by three bodies of water, the expansive Port Phillip, Westernport Bay and the notorious Bass Strait to the south. Whilst the bay and ocean beaches are spectacularly inviting in summer, the peninsula provides a destination through all seasons with its multitude of wineries, local producers and coastal walks.
The wineries range in scale from the modest to the grand. The opulent design of the largest restaurants harks back to the 1880s’ boom when lavish hotels were developed in Sorrento to cater for the steamers heading down the bay from Melbourne. Recently the peninsula has witnessed the construction of several expansive winery restaurants and hotels.
Yet the peninsula provides a plethora of options for a low-impact visit. The skinny end towards Point Nepean offers you spectacular views across the ocean and bay as you walk or bike ride through the old Quarantine Station to the tip overlooking The Rip and across to Point Lonsdale. We paddled off in sea kayaks from Portsea’s Fisherman’s Beach in the good hands of the knowledgeable Bayplay guides. Once on a kayak you can observe the iconic craggy limestone coves of the southern peninsula across the shimmering water. And if you wish to seek out the rare weedy sea dragons it’s possible to arrange snorkelling tours with this guiding group.
Coming away from the water, you can sate your appetite by heading back up the peninsula towards Main Ridge. Options include the dramatic Point Leo Estate with its sculpture park framed by Westernport Bay and Phillip Island in the background. Then there is the megalithic abstract form of Port Phillip Estate designed by Wood Marsh Architecture. The winery restaurant and operations are situated below the ridge and provide incredible views over its rolling vineyards. Montalto Estate up the hill from Shoreham serves up a cosy dining experience in another marvellous setting in the midst of an abundant vegetable garden. In Balnarring, Quealy vineyard offers a low key and charming setting for wine tasting. Our pick was The Cups Estate, a discreet winery and cellar door tucked in amongst the calcareous dunes behind Tootgarook. We lunched on Mediterranean fare in a classic Umbrian setting of vineyards and olive groves.
Further north past Red Hill is the Jackalope Hotel. The interior design by Carr Design Group is bold and transformative, juxtaposing the laid back rural setting with an extravagant bar and accommodation overlooking the vineyard. The mythical Jackalope – conjured by a creative taxidermist – transcends the setting. A kitchen garden, devotedly tended, provides imaginative fresh produce including ice plants, lettuces, various basils and mints, chives, rhubarb, eggplants, artichokes, beans, fennel, dill – the list goes on!
Local producers abound on the fertile soils of the peninsula. In Red Hill South the fourth generation Mocks family biodynamically produces a variety of apples for the wholesale market. Additionally cider is fermented and fruit is freeze-dried for end users.
Main Ridge Dairy nestles in the hills and, as the only commercial dairy on the peninsula, produces a range of delectable hand-crafted farmhouse cheeses from their goat herd. Visitors can view the processing and maturing rooms in the cheese factory designed by architects Noxon Giffen. Down in the flats near Hastings, Jessie Curtis-Griffiths has delved into her science knowledge to launch her business, Mushroom Forestry, and has passionately created a range of fungi including Oyster, Shiitake and Lion’s Mane for the savvy chefs on the peninsula and beyond.
The Mornington Peninsula offers a vast range of activities and indulgences. A visit in any season is enlightening. Avoid the holiday hordes and head down in the cooler months or mid-week to wash away the city grime. The local fare and vistas are sure to settle the soul.