Day 180: Unexpected Gems

Sat. 9th February 2013

Iconic beach huts at Brighton beachMyf has a car booked for today and we’re looking forward to seeing some of the sights outside of Melbourne. Our original plan was to go out to the Yarra Valley which is home to some of Australia’s best known wineries (what do you mean, there is a bit of a theme to our activities??) However, after a bit of discussion last night, we decide to switch and go down the Mornington Peninsula instead. (Personally, I’m very disappointed they didn’t call it Mornington Crescent after the Radio 4 panel game). Myf would have to be our designated driver and she has been to the Yarra Valley before but not to Mornington Peninsula.

Sorrento, pretty colonial townAfter all of the small Tassie and NZ roads we’ve been on, it is a bit of a surprise to be heading out of the city on a full on, 6-lane, motorway. We’d nearly forgotten all about those. We are heading south along the east side of Port Philip Bay and we’re hoping to see some great views across The Heads at the entrance to the bay as well as some quaint towns and boutique wineries. It turned out to be one of those days where you just stumble across little gems.

Empty beach, beautiful sand and in the distance a tanker coming into the bayThere is a National Park at the tip of the peninsula and so, after a quick stop for brunch at the pretty colonial town of Sorrento (the first of our gems), we head off there. The car park is about 3km from the very tip – whilst there is a shuttle bus service, we elect to walk and follow the signs for the beach. Can you get tired of deserted beaches with golden sand? More pertinently, as the beach disappears around the headland, can we get through to join the path as it heads up over the small hills? Its not entirely clear whether the tide is coming in or out but all is well and as the beach ends there is a set of steps up to the path.

Old WW2 pillbox - and some random woman!Just off the path is an old concrete pill box gun emplacement, the first signs of the fort and indicative of  the strategic importance of the entrance to the bay. Nearer the tip, the peninsula narrows and we can see the sea on both sides with the surf from the Bass Strait crashing against the cliffs to our left and the much calmer waters of the bay to our right. The mouth of the bay is only a few hundred metres wide and directly ahead of us is Queenscliff and the lighthouse on the other shore. All the time, there is a steady stream of tankers and cargo ships heading up to Melbourne.

The end of the peninsula with the other side in viewFort Napean is an old fort complex that has been partially restored and opened to the public. It reminds me so much of the WW2 fort in Helen’s Bay (where I grew up) which was such fun for a 10 year old boy to clamber over and explore. Here, as there, there are gun emplacements and underground ammunition stores and living quarters. As well as display boards talking about the function and history of the site, there are speakers playing period music, sounds and snatches of conversation to set the atmosphere. Whilst we were expecting to find the fort here it is more extensive and interesting than we were expecting. For example we found out that

  • Interesting to see Aussie war propagandaIt dates all the way back to the 1870s and then was extended repeatedly up until the end of WW2; and
  • The first allied shots of both WW1 and WW2 were fired from here (the only time the guns were ever fired in anger).

The guns that fired the first shots in WW2The day is ticking by and so to save time we get the shuttle bus back to the car park and return to Sorrento to pick up some lunch. The town is now much busier and so we grab some fruit and a snack and head out to the nearby beach for our picnic lunch. It would be easy to laze away the afternoon in the sun but we did want to do some wine tasting. Our wine trail map lists over 50 wineries and we end up picking a couple because we like the way they have written about themselves.

Ready for tasting at VidoniThe first winery, Vidoni, is a very small family run affair and the wines were OK but nothing special. Our second winery, Underground Wines, was a little larger, more professionally run and had some distinctive wines. Myf and Janet both liked the sparkling wine (a little sweet for my taste) but then I liked the Shiraz so everyone was happy and we bought a few bottles.

We just had to pose in front of the Aussie oneBy then, it was past 5pm and other wineries would be shut. Myf did, however, have one more treat for us up her sleeve. “Oh, you’ve got to see the beach huts on Brighton beach”, she goes. “It’s on the way home”. Fair enough, it always was our plan to do sightseeing on the way back. Even at the end of the day, Brighton Beach is busy (and a far better beach than its UK namesake). As promised, the standout attraction are the beach huts painted in all sorts of colours. To complete the cliché, there is even a pair of newly weds having their photos taken in front of and around the huts.

As the sun goes downIt is nearly 8pm by the time we get back in to Melbourne and drop the car off. Our 12 hours with the car were just about up and we certainly had good value from the rental. It has been another day of surprises and of real variety. We’ve learnt a bit more about the history of the Melbourne area, seen some fantastic sights and come back with a few bottles of good wine. We’re tired but feeling good about the day.


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