Mornington Peninsula Cruise Port

Port of Mornington Peninsula: An Overview

Magnificent Mornington Peninsula bounds Port Phillip Bay on one side and stretches into Western Port and out to Bass Strait on the other. The area is studded with towns, villages, vineyards, gardens and golf courses. And, of course, beautiful beaches ranging from wild ocean surf beaches to calm white sandy strips edging the bay.

The area starts at the city of Frankston and ends down the coast at the town of Portsea. To get an idea of its size, it is useful to understand the peninsula is divided into the northern peninsula (Mount Eliza, Mornington and Mount Martha) and the southern peninsula (Dromana, Rye, Sorrento and Portsea).

On the other side of the hinterland is the western port area, which includes Hastings, Merricks and Shoreham. All of this means that if you want to see the areas outside the town of Mornington, it's best to take a shore tour or arrange for private transport.

Being only an hour's drive from Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, the town of Mornington is a popular holiday and weekend destination for city folk drawn by the beaches and wineries.

The original residents were the Boonwurrung/Bunurong people until Europeans arrived in the 1840s seeking timber and pastoral land. Back then, the area was called Schnapper Point for the spot that now holds the pier. In fact, the township wasn't declared Mornington until 1861.

Within a few decades, it was discovered by holidaymakers who arrived by steamers that called at the jetty. Today, they are still drawn by the natural beauty of the landscape, the village atmosphere of the town and the picturesque foreshore.

Hanging Around

The pier and timber fishing wharf are set on the edge of a large, public park. Wander up the hill, and you'll find play equipment for the kids, shady trees, barbecues and restrooms.

If you stand on the wharf and gaze toward land, you'll see a family-friendly beach, complete with a handful of the peninsula's iconic bathing boxes -- private huts where owners store beach equipment.

For other facilities, you need to make the 15-minute walk up the hill and along Main Street, the town's shopping precinct.

If you want tourist information, you'll find the Mornington Courthouse Visitor Centre on the corner of Main Street and the Esplanade. It's easy to recognise the quaint white building set on an expanse of lawn, the Australian flag fluttering on a pole next to it.

Built in 1860, the courthouse was the first public building on the peninsula and as a result, it is an important part of Victoria's heritage. The building was the scene of many courtroom dramas until it was decommissioned in 1988.

Today, it's operated by volunteers who are keen to make visitors welcome. They can answer questions about attractions, direct you to particular shops or give you an insight into the area.

Don't Miss

Mornington: You can effortlessly ease through a day exploring the town of Mornington. The beach is attractive and ideal for a cooling swim, and Main Street boasts a generous array of cosmopolitan boutiques, cafes and restaurants, along with several buildings of historical significance. Pick up a "Heritage Walk" brochure from Mornington Courthouse Visitor Centre. The brochure identifies important buildings, such as the Commercial Bank (62 Main Street), built in 1890, and Grand Hotel Mornington (124 Main Street), built in 1889, with its landmark central tower and steeple. Mornington is also home to Victoria's longest-running street market, held every Wednesday and often on days ships are in port. Peruse stalls offering arts and crafts, homemade treats and assorted goodies.

Arthurs Seat State Park: This park offers the highest viewpoint on Mornington Peninsula. It rises above the town of Dromana, off the Mornington Peninsula Freeway. The 314-metre summit is reached by road. If you have time, try the one-hour circuit walk to Kings Falls. The lookout provides spectacular views of Port Phillip Bay.

Coastal Towns: The charming coastal towns of Sorrento and Portsea are located on the southern end of the peninsula. They feature uncrowded bayside beaches, jetties, boats and marine life alongside magnificent cliff-top mansions, relaxed shopping and historic buildings. Sorrento has a bay beach at one end and a surf beach at the other. On the streets between, you'll see some of Australia's oldest limestone buildings along with galleries, boutiques, day spas, cafes and restaurants. Portsea is located farther along the tip of the peninsula. The town's relaxed vibe, natural beauty and combination of calm waters and rugged ocean beaches attract Melbourne's rich and famous. Browse the main street or drop in for a cooling beverage at the landmark Portsea Hotel, which was built in 1927.

Peninsula Hot Springs: If you yearn to unwind in natural hot springs, head to Peninsula Hot Springs, an award-winning spa at Fingal, toward the tip of the peninsula, near Rye. If you are travelling independently, you'll need to provide your own transport options, such as a taxi. The facility is built over a source of hot geothermal water and offers a several bathing experiences, such as the Turkish steam bath, the hilltop pool, cave pool and a family bathing area. There is also a reflexology walk, underground sauna and massaging thermal showers. Treatments include indigenous Australian-inspired full-body massages along with mud and salt wraps. (Springs Lane, Fingal, near Rye; +61 3 5950 8777; open 7.30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Sunday)

Horseback Winery Tour: If you enjoy wine and want more than your average vino tasting, consider taking a tour that combines a vineyard with horse riding. During a horseback winery tour, you ramble through bush, past farmland with grazing cows and alongside rolling hectares of vines. Suitable for inexperienced and experienced riders, these tours include a wine tasting and lunch at a vineyard. (356 Shands Road, Main Ridge; +61 3 5989 6119)

Snorkel With Sea Dragons: It's not often you get the opportunity to snorkel with sea dragons. Portsea is home to a colony of weedy sea dragons. While these fascinating creatures are found right along the bay, most people will need to snorkel with a guide to spot them. The sea dragons survive by being camouflaged to look like sea flora. Tours take about two hours and the minimum age is 6. (3755 Point Nepean Road; +61 3 5984 0888; departs 10.30 a.m., 1.30 p.m. and 3.30 p.m. daily)

Getting Around

On Foot: If your cruise line doesn't offer a shuttle service up the hill to Main Street, you can walk. If you take your time and enjoy the exercise, it's a pleasant experience and you will be there with 30 minutes, including short breaks to enjoy the view. If you are fit, you can easily reach the road within 15 minutes.

By Bus: Buses run between towns. For guidance, drop into the Mornington Courthouse Visitor Centre (2 Main Street).

By Taxi: You could call a taxi to the pier or find taxis along Main Street in Mornington. Taxis are metered, and most drivers use satellite navigation, which means they will be able to find your destination. They can also give you an estimate of the cost of the fare.

Beaches

Local beaches suit people who want to swim, relax and sunbathe as they all line the edge of the often tranquil Port Phillip Bay.

Closest Beach to Port: You will see Mornington Beach from the wharf. It's within walking distance -- about 10 minutes -- although it's uphill. Your cruise line may provide a shuttle bus to the main street, in which case you'll be on the sand within minutes.

Calmest Beach: The mostly calm water is usually crystal clear. It's a reasonably long stretch of sand, so you should have no problem finding a place to set down your towel. There are also public facilities handily placed at the beach, and across the road you'll find cafes for lunch, coffee or to treat the kids to ice cream.

Lunching

Mornington's cosmopolitan vibe and relaxed beachside personality mean there are lots of cafes and lunch spots, mostly lining Main Street. The smattering of hipsters and artistic types who live in the area, or escape their urban homes for weekend away, means you'll find great coffee, excellent gelato and gluten-free and vegetarian options served in most eateries.

The city also offers fish and chip cafes, including a couple within an easy walk of the beach. So, wander up Main Street, grab some battered fish, prawns, calamari and chips -- don't forget the tomato sauce -- and take it back to the park, or find a spot on the sand. Several spots along the Esplanade (the main road that clings to the coast) serve lunch with the bonus of a water view.

Kirks on the Esplanade: Part of Kirkpatrick's Hotel, it offers a stylish bistro with superb views of Port Phillip Bay. The cuisine includes aged grain-fed steaks, wood-fired pizzas, pastas and seafood. (774 Esplanade; +61 3 5975 2077; bistro open noon to 9 p.m. Sunday to Monday)

Royal Hotel: Built in 1857, the elegant Royal Hotel is one of Mornington's oldest and most iconic buildings. Guests have included royals such as Prince Edward who abdicated and became the Duke of Windsor. The menu offers staples like burgers and barramundi fish and chips, as well as more exotic dishes, such as a barbecue duck and crispy noodle salad or Japanese crumbed pork with wasabi potato salad. You can also enjoy bar food and a beer garden. (770 Esplanade; +61 3 5975 8555; open Monday to Sunday).

The Boyz 4 Breakie: This is one of the first places you'll see on Main Street. With a few outside tables and a generous interior, the restaurant offers family friendly "munchkins meals" along with all-day grazing. Great for breakfast, it also offers lunch options based on seasonal menus and house-made desserts. Try the Black Angus steak sandwich, gluten-free prawn curry or Moroccan beef wrap. If you want coffee and something sweet, it's impossible to resist their trademark Vanilla Slice. (1A Main Street; +61 3 5977 2888; open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 8 a.m. to late-ish Friday to Saturday)

D.O.C. Pizza & Mozzarella Bar: This venue will keep all generations happy. This stylish but bustling restaurant serves award-winning pizza and features a deli with Italian and local produce. The eatery sells the usual range of pizzas, pastas and calzones. The pizzas are delivered with a thin and crispy base, and there are even sweet options, such as the popular Nutella calzone. (22 Main Street; +61 3 977 0988; open 9.30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. Monday to Sunday)

Merc's Bier Cafe: This one is for fans of the movie "Strictly Ballroom" and those who like their meat and beer. Merc's Bier Cafe is owned by Paul Mercurio who starred in the film. As well as being an actor, dancer and celebrity, Mercurio has made a name for himself as a chef who brews his own beer. He's the author of "Cooking with Beer," a passion reflected in his cafe. The venue has a brasserie vibe and offers free Wi-Fi along with craft beers, tapas and hearty meals, such as lamb ribs, Merc's Mighty Meat Platter and mussels "straight from the bay" cooked with an Asian twist. (25 Main Street; +61 3 5973 6372; open 9 a .m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Sunday)

Where You're Docked

Your ship will most likely anchor off the Mornington pier, at the end of Schnapper Point, and tenders will bring you ashore.

The immediate area consists of the main wharf and a picturesque timber fishing jetty. A charming older style wharf facility also houses two eateries. At ground level, you'll find Schnappers, a casual, family cafe that serves takeaway as well as eat-in meals. Think fish and chips, burgers, toasted sandwiches and soup.

Venture around the side of the building that faces the water and you'll see stairs that take you to The Rocks Mornington, a more sophisticated option for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Specialising in modern seafood, it offer superb views of the pier and coastline and keeps you out of the wind on blustery days. (1 Schnapper Point Road; +61 3 5973 5599)

Watch Out For

Mornington is generally a safe and peaceful community, so you can wander the streets freely. However, always be aware of your personal belongings. Don't leave valuables unattended on the beach while you are swimming. Also, be aware of your wallet, purse or mobile phone when you are dining in cafes or walking through crowds, such as at street markets.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

If you need to top up on cash, you'll find major banks with ATMs on Mornington's Main Street. The same banks also have ATMs in Morning Central shopping mall (78 Barkly Street). Keep the water behind you, walk up Main Street and take the first street on your left. Currency is the Aussie dollar. Visit www.xe.com or www.oanda.com for exchange rates. Major credit cards are accepted at most retail and food and beverage outlets.

Language

Australian English is the most common language.

Best Souvenir

Mornington and its namesake peninsula doesn't boast a particular souvenir. However, 200 vineyards are nestled between the fertile wooded uplands and the coast, producing renowned chardonnay, pinot noir and shiraz. If you take an excursion to a winery, buy a bottle to share with family and friends when you return home. If you opt for other ways to spend your time in port, you can find samples of Mornington Peninsula wines at Liquorland, in Mornington Central shopping mall, (78 Barkly Street; 61 3 5975 2355).

The Main Street retail strip of Mornington is home to an abundance of resort-style clothing boutiques along with homewares stores selling items to decorate upmarket beachside retreats. These stores are perfect for adding that special item to your cruise wardrobe or buying a scented candle that you can light at home to remind you of the relaxing day you enjoyed in Mornington.

For More Information

On the Web: Mornington Peninsula Tourism

Cruise Critic Message Boards: Australia and New Zealand

IndependentTraveler.com: Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific Travel Guide

--By Toni Eatts, Cruise Critic contributor

--Photo: FiledIMAGE/Shutterstock

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