Mornington Peninsula On a Budget
The last three months of our Australian Working Holiday were spent on the Mornington Peninsula just south of Melbourne. If you've never heard of it, don't worry. It's most well-known among native Melburnians as being a beach/wine escape for weekends and public holidays. We had a job working at a caravan park as a receptionist (me) and groundskeeper/cleaner (Emmett). The work was decent and the pay was... also decent but we had a very complicated relationship with the whole place. Overall, I'm glad we did it but I was also stressed to the point of tears on nearly a weekly basis. And that's all I'll say publicly about the job.
But hey! At least our stressful jobs allowed us to explore a lovely area. Mornington Pen is definitely known for being a place to splurge but we managed to see quite a lot of it for a very small amount of money on our precious days off from work.
Without further ado: I present to you the best things to do on Mornington ranging from free to a small expense to "worth the $$ for the memories."
1. Chill Out on the Beaches (Free)
The Peninsula is chocker-full of excellent beaches. You can spend your days photographing the cute boatsheds, SUPing the calm waters of Phillip Bay, trying to catch a glimpse of Arcto the resident seal in Dromana, or jumping from cliffs in Mount Martha or at Sorrento back beach. Essentially: there are endless beach days to be had here.
2. Get a Dose of Aussie History at Point Nepean National Park (Free*)
At the furthest end of the Peninsula, you will find Point Nepean National Park which is home to an old Australian Army base as well as more gorgeous coastline and beaches. Best not swim on the Point's Eastern side, though, that's how they lost a Prime Minster back in the '60s.
*Entry to the park is free but you do have to have some sort of wheels to get there. Unless you're a very avid walker!! In our case, we took the local bus line heading south for Portsea. Point Nepean is the last stop and it only cost us a few dollars each using our myki cards.
At the start of the park, you'll find the barracks, hospital, and quarantine areas of the old army base. We pretty much walked straight through that bit, spending most of our time at the picturesque narrow end of the peninsula. That's where you get underground in the old fort and take a respite from the hot, hot sun and all the overly-friendly flies in the park.
3. Cape Schanck (Free*)
Again, like Point Nepean, entry to Cape Schanck National Park is free but you have to get there somehow. We caught a ride with our boss and his family who had never been - unfortunately it's not on the local bus line.
If you have wheels (or a friend with wheels) and you're trying to decide on either Cape Schanck or Point Nepean, pick Cape Schanck! It's so beautiful and the area around the lighthouse is very walkable.
4. Mornington Main Street Market (Free*)
Every Wednesday morning on Main Street in the peninsula's namesake town of Mornington, you can find a bustling crafts & food market. A highlight for us were some of the produce stalls selling delicious fresh fruit from the nearby Yarra Valley. We visited the market during cherry season and ate all the cherries that same day - they were that good.
*It's free only if you can't resist buying anything from one of the stalls. And again, you've got to get there somehow. We caught the local bus bound for Frankston and spent less than $2 each on our myki cards to get there.
5. Wine Tasting! (Approximately $10 each)
Mornington Peninsula is famous for it's wine production, so you can't miss an opportunity to try some yourself while on the Peninsula. We chose to visit what is perhaps one of the most well-known wineries in the area, Crittenden Estate. Our wine tasting cost only $10 each and our sommelier, Vanessa, was incredibly helpful and kind. She explained each wine's origins and flavor in a way that made each taste memorable. We ended up splurging $34 on a bottle of their Los Hermanos Tempranillo wine because we both liked it so much. 10/10: We would definitely go back again.
If you are super on a budget and want to spend a little less, Red Hill Estate is also well-known and wine tastings there are just $5 per person.
6. Arthur's Seat Eagle ($17.50 One-Way/$24 Return)
A breezy gondola ride on the Arthur's Seat Eagle is the perfect way to spend a summer afternoon on the Peninsula. If the weather is good, you'll be granted views of the entire peninsula. Not only that but, when you get to the top, you can take a walk around Arthur's Seat State Park. I highly recommend walking through the gardens at the top of Arthur's Seat but I also suggest that you take some of the side hiking trails. Not ten minutes away from the well-kept lawns of the Seawinds Garden, on the Kings Fall Circuit, we stumbled upon kangaroo after kangaroo in the bush. They didn't seem to mind us being just a few feet away and were actually quite close to the trail. One little joey eating grass even stopped as if to pose for us - see for yourself! And that's how I ended up with one of my favorite pictures from our time in Australia.
7. Take a Few Days on Phillip Island or The Great Ocean Road ($$$)
From the Peninsula, you can easily take day trips (or multi-day trips!) to two of the Melbourne area's biggest attractions: Phillip Island and the Great Ocean Road. Phillip Island is a native wildlife paradise (penguins, koalas, wallabies, oh my!) and the Great Ocean Road is peppered with iconic Australian views. Neither of these can be missed when in the area, so why not head there next?
To visit Phillip Island, you can catch the ferry from Stonypoint on the Peninsula's Eastern side or rent a car and drive for one & a half hours (estimated time to drive from Mornington, VIC).
To visit the Great Ocean Road, you can drive/walk onto the ferry from the Peninsula's southernmost town of Portsea bound for Queenscliff, just before the Road's start. Or, like we did, you can rent a car in Frankston and drive all the way to the end of the road and back!