A different direction

Belinda Jackson discovers there is life beyond the Mornington Peninsula.

There are two camps in Melbourne: those who holiday on the Mornington Peninsula and those who holiday on the Bellarine Peninsula. And never the twain shall meet.

I confess, as one whose family has had a holiday home on the Mornington side since the early 1950s, I'm firmly in the Mornington camp.

But this time I'm heading over to the prettiest little town on the Great Ocean Road, lovely Lorne. Not quite Hunter S. Thompson's iconic road journey, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, where he packs his attorney, two bags of grass, mescaline, acid and a salt shaker half full of cocaine, I'm packin' my mum, some nectarines and a swimsuit in the hope that the water in Lorne's Loutit Bay, aka Bass Strait, isn't going to freeze my blood.

Lorne locals reckon they can gun it in 1½ hours from the West Gate Bridge but the 140-kilometre journey takes us two hours, including a brief hiatus when a hire car of tourists stops dead on the highway for a photo shoot beneath the sign announcing the start of the Great Ocean Road.

Lorne knows I'm coming and turns on the sunshine. The grandly named main drag, Mountjoy Parade, is lined with pine trees and window shoppers stopping for coffee. The beach on the other side of the street hosts a class of novice board riders at surf school.

We pull up at Moons cafe for a simple, spectacularly executed ham, cheese, basil and tomato pide and some history. Lorne was named for the Marquis of Lorne in 1870 and the first tourists arrived just 10 years later, followed by churches and the temperance movement.

Now, the town has just shy of 1000 permanent residents, though in the summer holidays that swells tenfold for a brief annual blooming. For my money, off season's the time to head to Lorne.

Locals reckon the best surf is in winter, when a south-west swell kicks in, and autumn is clear and cool, perfect for hikes through the Otway rainforest to the single, dramatic drop of Erskine Falls, or koala spotting at the local beauty spot, Teddy's Lookout.


Dinner on our first night is at one of the town's four bars, Cuda.

After we knock through a massive porterhouse and swordfish served with avocado prawn mousse and grilled tomatoes I use the bar's internet, as my USB can't find a signal out here in the wilds.

"What you doing in Lorne, you yuppie?" blasts a Melbourne lawyer friend on my Facebook status. Ah, you snob, I think, though I do note the Lexus four-wheel-drive and the Daimler with L plates on our way home to bed at La Perouse B&B.

"Sure, it's wealthy but Lorne's not pretentious," our B&B's owner, Laurel, says the next morning. The wealthiest person here has a pair of shorts on and a hat and is riding a bicycle."

Laurel's little three-room French-style B&B is more your romantic couples' getaway than a mother-daughter deal but the Gant bedlinen, L'Occitane toiletries and magpie dawn chorus keep us content.

Today, we've planned the perfect day: breakfast of pear and pecan danishes and earl grey tea in Laurel's sunny kitchen, a pre-lunch shop, a walk and a massage or pedicure and then dinner.

Lorne punches well above its weight in the retail stakes. We ogle hand-stitched duvets and snap up a little cotton cardi among the tastefully ethical Indian curios of Annie McMahon's 35 Elephants and flowing baby-doll dresses and cute bikinis at neighbouring Midi Boutique. Beachhouse Gifts could kit my home out in chic nautical style and Tastes Lifestyle in more serious chic, hand-designed homewares. The door of Lorne Beach Books rattles constantly as we browsers coo over coffee table books, the armchair travel selection and a decent biography section.

We recharge with lunch at The Bottle of Milk, which is what holidays are about: walking straight off the beach to long trestle tables beneath umbrellas. It has good vegetarian options, including some tasty lentil patties, and my monster, the Hell Yeah burger, brings on the pineapple, beetroot, home-made mayo and tomato relish.

Working up an appetite for dinner is tough: I could walk the pier, though with gusting winds. In the end, we choose to spa ourselves into hunger. At Endota Spa, set in the 1920s Erskine House - now a Mantra hotel - I pass out under the warm, firm hands of an accomplished masseuse and Mum ends up with toes painted a cheery coral hue named "Canberra".

That night, our sparkling feet take us to Ba Ba Lu, a fine-dining icon without the fine-dining pretension - it somehow successfully mixes Latino and Moroccan food, vibes and decor.

One warning: don't expect to get a taxi home. There's only one taxi in town, so chances are someone's beaten you to it. However, the chances of the restaurant's chef or a waiter dropping you home seem much higher. And everything is so close, you could probably walk it.

"We walk from the beach to our house up the hill after nippers on the weekend," says Ba Ba Lu's macro-energetic chef-owner, Sacha Meier, in between yelling in Spanish for more mushroom croquettes, lobster, ceviche and rare lamb chops bedded on robust lentils.

We're not walking home to the Japanese-style tree houses we're sleeping in tonight, at Qdos, set amid the forest a couple of kilometres out of town. Serene and beautiful, each perfectly Zen little cottage was designed by its potter-owner, Graeme Wilkie. His vision has transformed his property into an artist's workshop complete with a massive firing kiln that takes 10 days to stack with wood, a series of exciting musical events from Indian table masters to Noel Coward tributes and a delicious little cafe.

Catching the ferry between Queenscliff and Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula, we compare the two peninsulas: I still love the vineyards and gelateria on my side but Lorne is infinitely younger, the scene less genteel and, I admit, way more hip than its cross-channel mate. Thanks, Lorne, the heart is now torn.

Belinda Jackson travelled courtesy of the Lorne Business and Tourism Association.


Getting there

Lorne is 140 kilometres from Melbourne on the Great Ocean Road.

Staying there

La Perouse B&B rooms from $200, 26A William Street, laperouselorne.com.au; Qdos Arts treehouses from $200, Allenvale Road, qdosarts.com; Lorne Bush House Cottages from $170 a night, Deans Marsh Road, lornebushcottages.com.au.

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