Mornington Peninsula travel guide and things to do: 20 reasons to visit

1. TASTE WITH BREWER'S SNOOP

New brews on the peninsula include a reclaimed racing stable, which is the home of St Andrews Beach Brewery, just shy of six months old and already with a cult following for its salume platters and Golden Ale. Meanwhile, Jetty Road Brewery in Dromana doesn't bat an eyelid at your high-vis gear (it is set in the industrial estate), but there's nothing shabby about its polished former factory or its pale ale. It joins brewers in Mornington, Red Hill, Mr Banks in Seaford and Dromana's Hix Brewery on the brewery trail. See standrewsbeachbrewery.com.au, jettyroad.com.au, visitmp.org/BCSTrail

2. FLY LIKE AN EAGLE

Those who holidayed on the peninsula as children will remember one of its great landmarks, the chairlift that climbed up to Arthur's Seat from 1960. The new Arthurs Seat Eagle replaces the open-air seats with enclosed "gondolas" modelled on European ski lift designs, making the dramatic climb up over the treetops accessible to all. The serene journey lets you listen to the birdsong as the views of the peninsula unfold beneath your feet. Take a stroll and coffee at the new cafe at the top before your descent. See aseagle.com.au

3. FIRE-UP AMERICANA

The refined air of Red Hill is now scented with hickory and brown sugar for a smoky, sticky, meaty sweetness, and since the word is out, Redgum BBQ, a southern American barbecue joint, can't cook fast enough for the appreciative crowds. Using family recipes, pitmaster Martin cooks his cuts by hand over wood, and marries the meat with southern sides, hand-cut potatoes, his own range of sauces and Victorian craft brews. See redgumbbq.com.au

4. SAY AAAH, SPAA

No moss grows on this rolling stone: the Peninsula Hot Springs' new Fire & Ice experience includes an ice cave and Deep Freeze, which drops the temps down to minus 25 degrees. It is balanced by new 50-degree wet and dry saunas, with more plunge pools, more outdoor geothermal pools, and a new cafe and amphitheatre, all added to the existing public and private natural thermal-mineral-water pools all set amongst bushland. The $13 million extension expands the springs' wellness offerings and rituals, drawn from around the world. See peninsulahotsprings.com

5. STROLL IN A SCULPTURE GARDEN

Enjoy a day of sculpture sightseeing starting with McClelland Sculpture Park + Gallery, in Langwarrin, at the beginning of the peninsula. It offers Australia's richest sculpture prize, valued at $100,000. Next on the sculpture trail are the rolling Red Hill vineyards of Montalto Estate, studded with sculptures drawn from its annual prize, and the striking Point Leo Estate, looking out to Western Port Bay. Follow the path around the 50-plus sculptures, then stay for lunch in its two-hatted restaurant, Laura, recently voted Australia's best new restaurant in the 2019 Good Food Guide Awards. See mcclellandgallery.com, montalto.com.au, ptleoestate.com.au

6. PADDLE AROUND SHARK BAY

The peninsula's most family-friendly beach used to be called Shark Bay – happily, its modern name, Safety Beach, reflects its calm, gentle waters. Worthy for a revisit is its IGA supermarket (really), now the group's flagship, which boasts a sushi servery, a serious cheese spread and a health food section that will have visiting coeliacs weeping with delight. Along the beach, keep an eye out for the pink Cafe del Sol caravan serving turmeric lattes or the white Dromana Bay mussels van. Take a detour for a bag of beans from Little Rebel roasters in the nearby Dromana industrial estate. See cafedelsol.com.au, provincia.com.au, littlerebel.com.au

7. STAY AT AN OLD FAVOURITE

Channelling the vibe of smart country house, Lindenderry Estate has ditched the red tartan and re-established itself as a serious player in the peninsula's upmarket accommodation stakes with a multimillion-dollar makeover of its 40-room property. A long-term resident, its tenancy on Red Hill shows in its refined restaurant and established vineyards, which yield a small, tidy range of wines including a top sparkling. The cellar door also doles out hot pizzas, open to all comers. See lancemore.com.au

8. CATCH THE KOALA NIRVANA

On Victoria's largest coastal island, koalas outnumber the human population at 50:1 (there are about 100 permanent human residents on French Island). Get there via the passenger ferry from Stony Point on the Western Port side of the peninsula, in 15 minutes. Take an eco-tour on the island, which is off-grid for water and electricity, hire a bike or hit one of the day walks to discover its history as a hunting ground, chicory farm, holiday spot for Kylie Minogue and even a prison. If you want to stay longer, camp it up in the bell tents at French Island Glamping or stay at the Eco Inn, which plans to open the island's first pub in December. See frenchislandinfo.com, naturalistetours.com.au, tortoisehead.net

9. ADMIRE JACKALOPE

You haven't heard about the luxury 46-room Jackalope hotel in Merricks North? Keep up! Talking points include its next-level design aesthetic, the hatted restaurant Doot Doot Doot and its art-installation cocktail bar Flaggerdoot, located in a reworked 19th-century homestead. Jackalope has just celebrated its first birthday.   It is set amongst rolling vineyards – complemented by commissioned sculptures and the black infinity pool – which yield its own wine label, Willow Creek. If you can't afford a stay in the hotel, book a table at Rare Hare, its more laid-back restaurant and cellar door. See jackalopehotels.com

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10. PICNIC SPECTACULAR

Picnic amongst the vines and sculptures with a designer picnic laid on by various wineries: top picks include Polperro, who will lay on cheese, charcuterie and olives, all from the peninsula. Glasses, blankets and baskets are included. For DIY picnickers, fill the basket at spectacular Provincia deli in Safety Beach, the Epicurean Red Hill and DOC Pizza & Mozzarella Bar in Mornington, Green Olive at Red Hill and Main Ridge Dairy, both in Main Ridge, or order a basket to go from Merricks General Store. See provincia.com.au, theepicurean.com.au, docgroup.net, greenolive.com.au, mainridgedairy.com.au, mgwinestore.com.au,

11. TAKE A COASTAL WALK

It is 26 kilometres on the Two Bays coastal walk from Cape Schanck lighthouse to Anthony's Nose in Dromana. Breathe in some the cleanest air in Victoria while walking well-maintained trails, pausing at dramatic lookouts: can you spy wallabies or echidnas? For a shorter, invigorating walk in Point Nepean National Park, park at Gunners Cottage and follow the road three kilometres to the ruins at Fort Nepean, from where the first Australian shots were fired in both World Wars. See parkweb.vic.gov.au

12. CHECK OUT THE OUTBACK ART

Hidden down a dirt lane, you will find one of the peninsula's great galleries. Specialising in contemporary indigenous Australian art, the mother-and-daughter team of Susan McCulloch and Emily McCulloch Childs are curators and authors of the authoritative McCulloch's Contemporary Aboriginal Art guide, and their family home and artist hub, Whistlewood, holds regular exhibitions and afternoon art soirees. Eclectic exhibitions feature paintings from the APY lands, weaving from the Tjanpi Desert and ceramics, perhaps by a local potter. Barks, baskets, landscapes in oils – no medium is ignored. See mccullochandmcculloch.com.au

13. TASTE TUCK'S RIDGE

One of the peninsula's original vineyards, Tucks Ridge has been revamped with a light-hearted touch to its cellar door, with interactive wine tastings, a rolling lawn in front of the vines where you can order the rotisserie of the day, and easy-drinking wines and tunes. See tucksridge.com.au

14. TOUR PINOT NOIR AND FRIENDS

Chin-chin, you're in pinot noir territory now. The notoriously fickle grape varietal has been nurtured and coaxed into award-winning shape by some of Australia's top winemakers: the discerning drinker would make for Paringa Estate and Oceans Eight cellar doors. "Montalto's Tuerong Block pinot noir is a personal favourite," adds Sally Cope of Ultimate Winery Experiences. But keep an eye out for the new kids on the block – friulano and savagnin (mistakenly planted as the Spanish varietal, albarino) are just two rare birds, championed by two of the region's senior winemakers, Kathleen Quealy and Gary Crittenden. See paringaestate.com.au, oceaneight.com.au, montalto.com.au, ultimatewineryexperiences.com.au

15. SAIL HIGH SEAS FOR HIGH TEAS

One of the most fun things to do on the peninsula can be the actual getting there: sure, you can gun it for an hour down the M1, but if you're coming from Geelong or the Bellarine Peninsula, jump the Queenscliff-Sorrento ferry and time your visit to take high tea on the high seas. Regular high teas are offered every Sunday, with themed events during school holidays, from $55/adults. See searoad.com.au

16. BLEND THOSE SPIRITS

Gin snobs seeking oneupmanship should take a two-hour masterclass at Bass & Flinders Distillery to blend a bespoke grape-based gin, and tuck a 500ml bottle in your bag for bragging rights. The distiller will even keep the recipe on file for reorders. For an equally showy dinner party trick, pull out its truffle-scented gin or the earthy Angry Ant gin, flavoured by Australian botanicals and the pheromones of (very social) ants. The Red Hill distiller is moving to Dromana's industrial estate in early December, hooking up with Jetty Road brewery, gluten-free brewers Two Bays, and newcomers Jimmy Rum and Mr Little Cider to create a little craft booze posse that's one to watch. See bassandflindersdistillery.com, jimmyrum.com.au, twobays.beer, mrlittlecider.com

17. BEACH YOURSELF

Kid-friendly or wild side? For sandcastles and shallows, take toddlers to the appropriately named Mothers Beach in Mornington or the long stretch from Safety Beach up to Rosebud, which has few rivals amongst the calm, port-side beaches. On the rougher ocean side, learner surfers should head to Point Leo and perfect their technique at Gunnamatta Ocean Beach, while nearby St Andrews Beach wins for the best winter beach: accessorise with chunky knits and a pair of matching Weimaraners.

18. GET SWEET ON CHOCOLATE

The Yarra Valley and Great Ocean Road's Euro-chocolatiers are coming to the Mornington Peninsula, weaving their sweet brown magic in Flinders. Opening is flagged for Boxing Day, with their famed housemade ice-creams and a brownie bar on offer alongside favourites such as Rocky Road and designer truffles. The French-Belgian chocolatiers will also be running kids' chocolate classes. See yvci.com.au

19. VISIT THE LEGENDS

Crittenden Estate  has reinvented the cellar door with personalised, guided tastings in its Wine Room. Official peninsula legend Gary Crittenden planted his first grapes here back in 1982, and the vines weave around the well-regarded Stillwater at Crittenden restaurant and the three little 4½-star villas overhanging the estate's duck-filled lake. His son Rollo is now winemaker, and having fun with sangioveses and sparklings, as well as the Peninsula standouts – chardonnay and pinot noir. See crittendenwines.com.au

20. SOAK UP CAPE SCHANCK

Lovers of that new hotel smell should make a beeline to the RACV Cape Schanck Resort, which reopened recently following a 2½ year, $160 million rebuild. Set on the southernmost tip of the peninsula, the new, glossy curves jut over bushland, affording 180-degree coastal views and over the 18-hole championship golf course for which the resort is renowned. The complex includes three cafes and restaurants and its One Spa, open for guests and day visitors. See racv.com.au

See traveller.com.au/mornington-peninsula

Belinda Jackson was a guest of Lindenderry Estate, The Eagle, Peninsula Hot Springs and Crittenden Estate. 

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