Mornington Peninsula is a delightful and scenic break from a Melbourne city stay. Don’t get me wrong. I do love the vibrancy of Melbourne and its many shopping options!! But there is more on offer in the state of Victoria, that you simply cannot miss. On a recent trip, I was so pleasantly surprised by the things to do in Mornington Peninsula. I had to write a blog about it.
I highly recommend a visit to ‘the Pen’ for a bit of RnR (rest and relaxation). This region is within easy reach, about 1-2 hours drive away depending upon final destination. And it offers a bit of everything; beach, surf, hiking, wineries, breweries, dining, shopping and hot water springs. Something for everyone.
My suggestion, if you have the time, is to book a 4-night stay to fully explore the whole region. You won’t see or do every little activity it has on offer. But the four itineraries below will give you a taste of the best things to do in Mornington Peninsula.
If you have less time, choose one or two of the suggested itineraries below that appeal to you the most. Or, pick out your own highlights from each itinerary and create your own.
Where to base yourself?
The one thing I didn’t realise was how close everything is. I based myself in Dromana, as that’s where my friends live. It turned out to be the most convenient and central place to stay as everything we did was within a 30-minute drive.
So, the following four itineraries are based on departing from Dromana. However, you don’t need to stay centrally. All the coastal towns provide easy access to all attractions and sites. You can choose any town as your base, as per the suggestions below that you can check out:
Brooklands of Mornington
"clean, comfortable and walking distance to shops and beach"
Sapphire Shores Luxury Retreat
'dream location with views of bay and cookie surprises"
Stella's Dromana Hotel
"old fashioned pub style accommodation, opposite the beach"
"sitting on a cliff top overlooking the bay. Modern inside"
'old world character with all the mod cons. Great views over the bay"
"immaculate rooms and friendly service. Breakfast included"
1. Bay Trail
The designated Bay Trail you see outlined on the Mornington Peninsula tourist map, basically follows the coastal road from Dromana/Safety Beach to the tip of the peninsula at Point Nepean. You can pick up a paper copy of the map from the visitor information centres at Frankston and Dromana.
This 30km stretch/coastal road is called Nepean Highway. It's quite busy with local and tourist traffic. On one side are views of Port Phillip Bay and its beaches. And the other side is dotted with urban structures. These small townships include eateries, shops and a choice of resorts, holiday home rentals and apartments.
The highway then ends in nature, at the Nepean National Park.
Below is a list of what to expect on this stretch of road.
Dromana is a lovely small community with a small shopping complex. The perfect place to stay if you want to escape the heavy urban lifestyle for a while.
Take relaxing walks along Dromana Beach and the 3.5km long Safety Beach. Lovely calm waters bordered by the iconic colourful beach boxes. Make a stop at Dromana Pier at dawn or dusk if you can. You might be lucky enough to be paid a visit by the two resident stingrays.
I recommend evening walks along the beach, just to view the beautiful sunsets.
Rosebud is your camper and caravan place. I loved their beachside caravan parks, but you are next to the busy Nepean Hwy. You are actually nestled in between the beach and highway.
There is a long row of shops facing along the highway, containing cafes, boutiques and necessities. This is also where you will find the largest shopping centre in the whole area. It contains the big three supermarkets - with Coles, Woolies and Aldi’s.
Again, there are beach side caravan parks on one side of the highway and shops line the other side. Along this thoroughfare, there is a selection of cafes and restaurants to choose from.
There are many foreshore activities to choose from. Swimming, boating, SUPs, coastal walks, playgrounds are just a few to name. Or follow the 200m underwater snorkelling trail, sometimes called the Octopus Garden.
Plus, there is the impressive Rye Pier. It's the longest one on the Peninsula.
My suggestion is to find any car park between Rye and Blairgowrie. Park the car and jump out to explore the shallowest and calmest waters. Anywhere along the Whitecliffs to Camerons Bight Foreshore Reserve is perfect.
You can walk for 100m out in no higher than knee deep water. Pick your little sandbar to sit and relax. It's more sheltered too than Rye town beaches when the sea breeze kicks in.
Just like its namesake in Italy, it’s a more upmarket coastal township. The houses are more upmarket, and so are the people!
The main thoroughfare, Ocean Beach Road, is a gorgeous wide boulevard, lined with beautiful cafes, boutique shopping and ice cream. And home to the famous Continental Sorrento hotel, a beautiful heritage building.
There are swimming spots and walks along Sorrento's Front Beach, but I dare you to check out the Back Beach too. It’s a 2-minute drive behind the town, on the opposite side of the Peninsula. Therefore, it is facing the ocean. What a scenic rocky coastline with small waves and rock pools to paddle in. The water is quite cold but refreshing. In my view, it was the most beautiful beach on the Peninsula.
If you’re a dolphin lover, there are swim tours available early AM or late afternoon. And Sorrento is also the base where the ferries leave from to Queenscliff, on the other side of the bay.
Half Day - Dolphin and Seal Swim
A 3 hour cruise from Sorrento. Subject to conditions, you can swim and snorkel with the dolphins and Australian Fur Seals. Choice of morning or afternoon departure.
This is the richest part of Mornington Peninsula. It’s dotted with mansions with long driveways.
The one street town, is very quiet. It has a resort, one hotel, one café, one tour agency and two real estate agencies.
You must make a customary stop at the famous blue and white Portsea Hotel. A great place to have lunch. They do have reasonably priced food here considering. If you arrive in the mid-afternoon when the meals are finished, ask if you can have a table in the restaurant overlooking the bay for a cool drink.
Other activities include swimming off the pier, boating, fishing and scuba diving. Or you’re just a skip away from the National Park.
Port Nepean National Park
We’ve finally arrived at the very end/tip of Morning Peninsula, the Port Nepean National Park.
Allocate a whole day for this park as there is so much you can do. Activities include hiking trails, mountain biking, rock climbing, trail running, four-wheel driving, cycling, camping and BBQ spots. View all the activities here.
If you’re a history buff, you can also visit the old Quarantine Station inside the park. See where the early settlers spent their first two weeks in Australia.
Self-guided Point Nepean NP Bike Hire
This bike rental includes an audio guide and map, to explore at your own pace. Keep an eye out for the local Echidna's.
2. Flinders Hinterland Drive
Although this itinerary follows the Hinterland Trail in the Mornington Peninsula tourist map, I’ve combined it with stops that include stunning views over water, on both sides of Mornington Peninsula.
It starts at Dromana’s highest peak with breathtaking views over Port Phillip Bay. Then we follow the inland Hinterland Trail. This section will interest the wine and beer enthusiasts. Don’t worry if it's not your thing. The stunning rolling hill countryside makes the drive worthwhile.
Eventually we reach the other side on the peninsula at Flinders for rugged ocean views, before we head back to Dromana via another route.
Located a 5-minute drive from Dromana’s town centre, this is a must-do tourist attraction. It opens at 10am, so it’s a lazy start to the day.
Arthurs Seat Eagle is a 15-minute gondola ride up 314m to the highest peak in Mornington Peninsula. Although it sounds small, it's just enough for commanding views over the coast and Port Phillip Bay. It's the best way to see the different hues of blue along the beaches.
The tickets cost from $22 one way or $29.50 return, per adult. If you have one member of the group who is not phased about a gondola ride, I recommend buying a one-way ticket and meet them at the top.
There is a café and gardens at the top with several easy walking trails through the Arthur Seat State Park. I recommend the circuit walk which brought us to a few lookouts. However, the views are more spectacular from the gondola.
Now it's time to start the Flinders Hinterland Scenic Drive. Get your map out and make your way onto Arthurs Seat Road and head for Red Hill. The town itself is a 10 minute drive away (7.5km). It’s tiny in size consisting of three buildings. But it’s the gateway to the winery regions of Red Hill and Main Ridge that attracts people here.
So ensure you have a winery map with you before you start the day. There are many wineries to explore. Choose one with a restaurant or café for lunch. Here’s a few with a point of difference:
Alternatively, if you’re not a wine person, you could follow the Beer, Cider and Spirits Trail. There are 18 places to visit, around Frankston, Red Hill and Main Ridge.
Continue along the drive until you reach the charming village of Flinders. With a historic feel, the short main street is lined with typical 1850s style shops with wide veranda.
This place also has an upmarket feel about it. Explore the gourmet produce stores, boutique stores, galleries or find a café for afternoon tea or ice cream.
Drive to the end of the main street where there is a lookout over Kennon Cove and Flinders pier. The rugged coastline is quite picturesque. This is where you can go diving to view the seahorses in the marine sanctuary.
Mushroom Reef Marine Sanctuary
On the other side of the headland is Flinders Ocean Beach. At low tide, a mushroom shaped reef reveals itself as it extends from the beach. Hence the name, Mushroom Reef Marine Sanctuary. Wander through the bays and rock pools searching for marine life. The best time to visit is 2 hours on either side of low tide. Check the Flinders Ocean Beach tide times first, as it can range greatly from 8am to 12pm.
Another 5 minutes down the road is Flinders Blowholes. Spectacular rugged coastline. But to see the blowholes in action you need to visit during high tide. Either very early in the morning or in the evening after 6pm. Be sure to check the tide times before you go.
Then keep following Boneo Road back to Port Phillip Bay, terminating in Rosebud. It’s a beautiful drive through rural farm landscapes.
3. Southern Coast and Springs
I've dubbed this little trail as the Southern Coast and Springs. It’s designed more for the adventurous at heart.
It involves hiking, surfing and swimming. Then the day ends with some tantalising relaxation options.
Take Boneo Road from Rosebud across the peninsula to the rugged ocean coastline. Cape Schanck is the southernmost point of the peninsula, which is home to some breathtaking coastline scenery.
From the Cape Schanck lighthouse carpark, there are several hiking trails that lead to lookouts over cliffs. Or find yourself a picnic table for lunch.
Bushrangers Bay Walking Track
About 200m east of Cape Schanck Lighthouse is a small car park, which is the entrance to Bushrangers Bay Walking Track. It is a 5.4km return trip, over cliffs and through scrubs before you descend into picturesque Bushrangers Bay.
For an easier walk, park your car at Bushrangers Bay Parking Area along Boneo Road. A 30-minute walk through the shady banksia groves brings you to the same destination of breathtaking Bushrangers Bay. Flanked by rocky cliffs, this bay is fraught with dangerous waves and lots of March Flies. However, we were lucky enough to see an echidna and two kangaroos on the trail.
Cairns Bay/Flinders Blowhole
If you didn’t get a chance to do the Flinders Hinterland Trail in the previous section, then you could backtrack a little to add a quick visit to Cairns Beach and Flinders Blowhole.
At Cairns Bay, follow the 600m walking track that leads through Tea Tree Creek onto the rugged beach below. If you go at low tide, you’ll be wowed by some beautiful rock pools.
A further 2km east of Cairns Bay is Flinders Blowhole. Some more natural rugged beauty. The blowhole can only be seen during high tide.
Gunnamatta Ocean Beach
If you're into surfing or like to watch surfers at play, then Gunnamatta is the premier surfing beach in this region.
St Andrews Beach Brewery
After your day of hiking, swimming and exploring, finish the day with an ice-cold beer or cider at St Andrews Beach Brewery. Highlighted in orange in the above map at number 92. A unique brewery set inside converted old stables. These prestigious stables were where they trained Melbourne Cup horses, like the three times champion Makybe Diva.
The best apple cider I’ve ever had. They also serve meals too.
Peninsula Hot Springs
Or, for total relaxation of body and mind, I highly recommend a visit to the Peninsula Hot Springs. Located near the town of Fingal, it is the original hot spring bathing place. Highlighted in orange on the above map at number 69.
A new one has opened across the road called Alba Thermal Springs, but it's quite modern in architecture. However, I liked Peninsula Hot Springs for its rustic look, with pools blending into the hills and nature.
There are two ways to experience the hot springs:
- 1Pay for a spa package which includes spa, saunas, massages etc
- 2Bathe in the general pools
We opted for the second option. There are many pools to choose from, with varying temperatures. The highest is 40-42 degrees (which I liked best). There were rock pools on terraces overlooking an Amphitheatre. Saunas and cold plunge pools. Then different rock pools as you walk up the hill, to the spa that has 360-degree views. There’s a pool with a cave, one with spa jets and feet pools. We ended our session walking through ankle deep path lined with different sized rocks - some massaging, some hurting! They have change rooms, lockers, café and spa centre.
And it closes at 11pm! Of course, you don’t have to wait until the end of the day to visit. And why stick to one visit!!
Peninsula Hot Springs on a Morning Express Shuttle
For those that don't have time, this day tour departs from Melbourne. Goes directly to the hot springs to max your time in the bathing experience with an option to add a spa treatment too.
4. Entry/Exit Trail
The sad part of the journey is going home. But instead of taking the direct route on the highway, consider the coastal road instead.
By following the Nepean Highway northwards of Dromana, you have the opportunity to see a couple more coastal towns. Perhaps have a bite to eat or do some last-minute shopping.
Or if you’re lucky enough and it’s a warm day, jump in for one last swim.
Of course, this route can be done in reverse, when you first drive down to Mornington Peninsula. Or at any time of your stay.
Situated right next to Dromana is Safety Beach. A 3.5km stretch of yellow sandy beach and calm turquoise waters. Perfect place for a swim, picnic or rest. Or view some more of the iconic colourful beach boxes.
It’s only a 30 minute drive between Mornington and Dromana. But you do pass through another small coastal village. Mt Martha is suitable for those who are seeking a less commercial holiday location.
Mt Martha is situated on a rocky headland. And so, the Nepean Hwy hugs around the hilly and rocky coastline. Be sure to stop in one of the small parking bays for scenic viewing spots from a cliff top.
Swimming opportunities can be either finding a small rocky alcove containing rock pools in low tide. Or along Mount Martha Beach, where you will find more iconic beach boxes and hidden rock pools.
The main street has a small shopping precinct with designer stores and cafes. Check out the unique shops at the corner shops on Lochiel Ave.
For nature lovers, there is a lovely 2.5km walk at Balcombe Creek Estuary Boardwalk.
Many tourists use Mornington as their base for exploring the peninsula. I can see why, as this coastal town has a lot to offer in one little area.
The main street stretches for two bocks with boutique style shops. Choose from art galleries, plants, local produce, clothing and cafes/restaurants. Wednesday mornings is market day (from 10am to 2pm) and therefore is a hype of activity. The sidewalks are lined with stalls selling mainly fresh produce and local arts/crafts and wares.
It’s a short walk to the mini harbour. Stroll along Mornington Pier and view the coastline from Mathew Flinders Memorial. Go swimming along Mothers Beach (east of the pier). Or travel five minutes further up the road to Mills Beach for swimming without boats hanging around. This is where you can get your first glimpse of the iconic beach boxes.
This coastal town is considered the gateway to the Mornington Peninsula.
Along the main Nepean Highway, are mainly restaurants and cafes to suit all international flavours. Wells Road is the main pedestrian shopping strip.
A walk along Frankston Beach encompasses a pier, nice walkways and boardwalks along the coast, all the way to Olivers Hill. It’s about a 22-minute walk from the Tourist Centre. To save time I drove to the small parking bay at Olivers Hill to take a photo. However, I would recommend its best to walk there as it’s a busy highway. Other activities include SUPs and snorkelling.
Organised tours to Mornington Peninsula
If you're limited on time, or you don’t feel like doing a self-drive holiday or hiring a car, there are several coach tours that depart Melbourne frequently. Below is a small sample of day tours for you to consider.
Ultimate Mornington Peninsula Food & Wine.
Small group of 6 guests.
Mornington Peninsula Wine Region Tour
Mornington Peninsula, Winery & Sightseeing Tour.
Full day Private Mornington Peninsula Brewery Tour
Peninsula Hot Springs Day Trip & Thermal Bathing Entry
Peninsula Hot Springs & Beach Boxes Day Trip
Highlight your things to do in Mornington Peninsula
Whether you follow one of the itineraries outlined above or create your own, Mornington Peninsula will not disappoint. It’s a perfect place for swimming and eating by the sea during summer or a cosy winter getaway.
So next time you visit Melbourne, be sure to put it on your list. One day or one week, it won't matter.
Which road trip itinerary or highlight would you choose first?