THE Mornington Peninsula offers a feast of opportunities for people looking to escape. Sarah Nicholson reports on the best of the best.
BEST FOR GOLF
FORGET the best in Victoria, or even the best in Australia, the Mornington Peninsula is one of the best places in the world for golf.
While it’s hard to settle on an actual number of courses – locals can’t agree on how many golf clubs sit between Frankston and the Bass Strait breakers, with the count ranging from 18 to 28 – everyone accepts it’s the sandy soil, coastal hinterland, and changeable weather that make it the perfect place to swing a club.
Peter Tate, manager of golf operations at RACV Cape Schanck Resort, describes the region as “a haven for golfers” with some of the world’s best course designers drawn to the area’s private and public compounds.
“Peter Thomson, Greg Norman, Robert Trent Jones Jr and Tom Doak have all designed courses here,” he says. “This whole region is a sand belt, and when a course is based on sand the water drains faster, making for consistent conditions on each hole, and there isn’t another area in the world that has a similar selection of world-class courses so close to each other and so close to a capital city.”
Peter Thomson designed the Open Course at Moonah Links, with the circuit playing host to the Australian Open in 2003 and 2005, and visitors can play holes designed to challenge the best.
The Dunes and St Andrews Beach are two fine examples of natural sand belt links, there are ocean views from 12 holes at Cape Schanck, Flinders is perched on the cliffs above Western Port Bay, and Portsea is ranked 44th on the list of the country’s best courses.
The National Golf Club is one of Australia’s most exclusive and prestigious offerings, and the only one in the country boasting three courses inside a vast boundary – and the Old Course, Moonah Course and Ocean Course are all in the top 40.
BEST FOR GARDENS
Victoria is known as the Garden State, and the Mornington Peninsula is home to generations of green thumbs that have toiled to create captivating outdoor spaces.
The McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park is a 16ha space – half is landscaped to compliment the natural bush that occupies the rest of the block – that’s home to more than 100 permanent works of art.
The casual Langwarrin compound is free and family friendly with lots of spots beside the lake or under the gum trees to picnic between sorties around the grounds to gaze at the inventive creations.
Heronswood in nearby Dromana, home to The Diggers Club and an extensive nursery, is a traditional garden, with the crew maintaining the grounds around the 1860s house planting seasonal displays to show what can be done with the vast array of seeds on sale in the shop.
Another patch of land worth seeing is the Australian Garden in Cranbourne where a spray of natives have been arranged to simulate the landscapes of the continent’s dry heart.
Shoreham is home to Ashcombe Maze & Lavender Gardens, you will find the Enchanted Maze Garden in Arthurs Seat, and those looking for something a little more personal can stroll the Portsea Artists’ Trail – also known as Millionaires Walk – to see what the Peninsula’s wealthiest residents do with the grounds around their lavish homes.
BEST FOR THERMAL WATER
Thermal water bubbles out of the ground in a few places around Australia, but the peninsula is the only place to go if you’re keen to combine a soak in hot mineral water with a visit to a day spa.
Peninsula Hot Springs, an oasis of calm in the paddocks behind Rye, has a thermal spring that feeds a collection of pools and private baths, with the mineral-rich water drawn to the surface from 637m underground.
There are two sides to the Peninsula Hot Springs complex, with The Bath House home to 20 bathing experiences – there’s a cave pool, reflexology walk, Turkish hamam and cascading hot and cold plunge pools – and the more exclusive Spa Dreaming Centre that offers treatments that are inspired by the traditions of Australia’s Aboriginal community.
Therapists use Li’Tya products, based on the principles of bush medicine. One example is Kodo, a restorative full-body massage where the masseur starts a session by conducting a wulima yulu “journey of aromas” before burning lemon myrtle, paper bark and alpine moss in the linj’dta smoking ceremony that helps realign energy flows.
While Peninsula Hot Springs is unique, it’s not the only spa in the region, with more than a dozen dotted behind the peninsula’s beaches.
The Woodman Estate Spa Retreat combines indulgent treatments with luxury accommodations, Maya Spa in Dromana and Red Hill Spa are favourites with the locals, and endota at Moonah Links has long been a haven for golfers fresh off the course.
BEST FOR WINERY DINING
The strip of land between Port Phillip and Western Port bays is home to 200 vineyards, with about a quarter of these estates featuring a cellar door where visitors can taste the fine red and white varieties produced in this corner of Victoria.
But there’s more to the Mornington Peninsula’s wineries than just vino, with a handful of these elegant estates offering a fine-dining experience in a restaurant beside the vines.
Max Paganoni leads the charge at Red Hill Estate – his restaurant Max’s at Red Hill Estate was the first winery restaurant on the peninsula – and his scenic eatery looks across a block of chardonnay and pinot grapes to Phillip Island and French Island in the distance.
“Being the first restaurant at a winery the locals identify with us,” Max says.
“We often get a knock at the back door with one of the neighbours bringing us a box of figs that they collected from the trees in their backyard, and that community spirit is one of the things I love about the Mornington Peninsula.”
Montalto Vineyard & Olive Grove is home to another top-shelf eatery, and while owner John Mitchell potters around the vineyard his wife, Wendy, spends hours in the kitchen garden growing the fresh fruit and vegies chef Barry Davis uses to create the menu.
Ten Minutes by Tractor, Port Phillip Estate, Morning Star Estate, Paringa Estate Winery, Willow Creek and Yabby Lake are a few more options if you’re keen to make a meal a special occasion.
Green Olive at Red Hill serves tapas created from goodies grown on the property, Darling Park Winery and Foxeys Hangout do tasting plates, and Stillwater at Crittenden is a family-friendly option.
BEST FOR PRODUCE
The Mornington Peninsula has always been a provider, since the undulating land between the bays was carpeted with fruit trees and the locals loaded crates of juicy apples on to the train to go to market in Melbourne.
Today, most of the fruit trees are gone, with the orchards replaced by vines, but an army of creative folk has moved in to produce an array of gourmet goodies and continue the region’s tradition as a food bowl.
Cocolates in Flinders and Sorrento, visitors can pick their own fruit during the season at Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm, olives in all shapes and forms are traded at Green Olive in Red Hill, Flinders Farm tomatoes are sold at the farm gate, and Pure Peninsula Honey is home to some industrious bees.
The Hutchins brothers sell the morning catch from a box on the sand at Fisherman’s Beach while the fleet’s other captains offer the fish they catch early every morning at Mornington Pier.
Bess and Damien Noxon are two of the peninsula’s artisan cheese makers, producing 11 varieties from the milk produced by the tribe of goats grazing the paddocks around Main Ridge Dairy, and as well as offering tastings at the farm’s shop – be sure to try capriole, capricous and caprinella – they offer tours into the farm’s milking shed.
“Damien loved goats and goat cheese so, when he was given the opportunity to do something with the family farm, it was an obvious choice,” Bess says. “Cheese and wine go hand in hand, and the Mornington Peninsula is the perfect place to produce both things because it’s such a beautiful spot with such clean air.”
Go2 – MORNINGTON PENINSULA
The Mornington Peninsula is the patch of land between Port Phillip Bay and Western Port Bay, stretching from Frankston to Point Nepean and Flinders, with most of the region’s villages a 75-minute drive from Melbourne along Eastlink and Peninsula Link.
Searoad Ferry operates a car and passenger boat between Queenscliff, on the western side of Port Phillip Bay, to Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula, with several crossings every day. See searoad.com.au
3 WAYS TO DO IT
See: The land that is now the Point Nepean National Park played an important role in Victorian history, serving as a military fort and quarantine centre, with many original structures still standing. (Free entry. parkweb.vic.gov.au).
Sleep: The Flinders Cove Motel, across the road from the foodie haven that is the Flinders Hotel and a stroll from the Flinders beach, is a traditional motor inn with an indoor heated pool and comfortable rooms. (Rooms from $100. flinderscove motel.com.au).
Eat: Order fish and chips to go from The Baths in Sorrento – a restaurant built on the site of the old Sorrento Sea Baths – and find a spot on the sand to dine by the water. (Packs from $12.50. thebaths.com.au).
Drink: The Portsea Hotel is a Mornington Peninsula landmark above the Portsea Pier, and the beer garden occupies some of the region’s best real estate, with views across Port Phillip Bay. (Drinks at pub prices. www.portseahotel.com.au).
See: Tree Surfing is a new ropes adventure – negotiate aerial obstacles, zip lines and a Tarzan swing – set in the scrub of the Sculpture Park at The Enchanted Maze Garden in Arthurs Seat. (Adults $59, children $39. treesurfing.com.au).
Sleep: There are 48 ocean view and premium ocean view rooms at RACV Cape Schanck Resort, with these comfortable accommodations sitting on the side of a coastal hill to provide uninterrupted views across the beach to Bass Strait. (Rooms from $176. racv.com.au).
Eat: Pier Provedore, in the main street of Flinders, is a modest cafe that makes good coffee and French-style baguettes that are the perfect lunch if you’re planning on a fine-dining experience at night. (Baguettes $9.50, macarons $2.50. 38 Cook St, Flinders).
Drink: Spuntino Bar at T’Gallant is the place to “gaze and graze” in the Mornington Peninsula hinterland, with Roman-style pizza the perfect snack to go with a glass of the estate’s best vino. (Pizza from $16. tgallant.com.au).
See: MP Experience’s Danielle Field was born and raised on the Mornington Peninsula and now takes visitors on a private Hidden Gems tour that calls into some of the region’s top gourmet food producers. (From $390 a person. mpexperience.com.au).
Sleep: Tussie Mussie Vineyard Retreat is a Provencal-style estate in Merricks North, with The Vineyard Lodge, The Old Laundry and the Vineyard Cottage offering a choice of accommodations for one couple to 14 people. (From $400. tussiemussie.boutiqueretreats.com.au).
Eat: Pierre Khodja, executive chef at the Flinders Hotel, will make any night a special occasion with his menu at Terminus designed around the fresh ingredients he sources straight from his team of Mornington Peninsula producers. (Two courses $65. flinders hotel.com.au).
Drink: Drop into Port Phillip Estate and enjoy a glass of wine from the cellar door – the Port Phillip Estate, Kooyong or Quartier labels are available – and a sharing plate from the kitchen. (Sharing plates from $21. portphillipestate.com.au).
This story originally appeared in Escape on Sunday, March 17, 2013