"Spectacular and often breathtaking coastlines, bushwalking, rockpooling and exploring the rich history means there is a lot to do down here."
Victor Teoh, Ranger-in-Charge, Mornington Peninsula National Park.
The southern extremity of Port Phillip Bay is a narrow, curving finger of land that divides the big bay from the sometimes fierce waters of Bass Strait, and points directly to “The Rip,” the confined bay entrance where tides running against each other can be so treacherous as to test the most expert of sailing skills.
Aside from the atmospheric contrast between the wild ocean side and the calmer bayside scenery, there are hundreds of fascinating reasons why Mornington Peninsula National Park is Victoria's most visited National Park.
Over two million visitors a year make the trek down to the diverse playground of parklands because there is just so much to see and do.
Within the 2680 hectare Mornington Peninsula National Park, Ranger In Charge Victor Teoh speaks of places of sheer spectacle. There are breathtaking coastal views along the ocean side that include high cliffs and wide rock shelves “for rock pool rambling.” Between Flinders and Point Nepean. Gunnamatta and Rye Ocean Beach, like the dramatic dunes of Portsea Back Beach are enticing surfing venues.
"I'm often taken aback by the dynamic, dramatic aspects of the ocean scenery," says Victor.
Also within the Mornington Peninsula National Park is Greens Bush, where Victor says, not only do you find the largest local populations of Eastern Grey Kangaroo, but at 500 hectares it is also the biggest remnant of the Peninsula's native vegetation. "You can walk through lovely peppermint and messmate forest filled with grass trees, wet tree fern gullies and banksia woodlands."
It is a place that showcases the natural world: Victor talks of the Little Penguins and dolphins that can sometimes be seen at Ticonderoga Bay, off the beaches at the 470 hectare Point Nepean National Park.
On a clear day, from the vantage point of the 305 metre high Arthur's Seat summit, a widescreen panorama of land and bay opens up in a view that can often see all the way back to Melbourne's city skyline.
Arthur's Seat was significant to the Bunurong (Boonerwrung) Aboriginal peoples who lived along the coasts for 40,000 years and whose middens are reminders of their long occupation. They called the mountain “Wonga.” It was the maritime explorer Matthew Flinders who climbed it in 1803 and gave it a new name.
Flinders' visit foreshadowed the commencement of European occupation of the Port Phillip District and indeed, it was at Sullivan Bay, near present day Sorrento, that the first permanent settlement this part of southern mainland Australia was attempted in 1803.
Lieutenant-Colonel David Collins transported 400 convicts and their overseers to this quiet corner of the Bay. Within seven months and due to poor drinking water and poorer soils, the encampment was abandoned. But not before Victoria's “wild white man” William Buckley, had made his escape to live for 32 years as the sole white man among the tribal peoples of south-eastern Australia.
Four graves and the site markers of the Sullivan Bay tents and buildings are all that remain of a very significant historic site.
But there are many other places of historic significance in the Peninsula parklands that tell a rich and layered story:
"Not only can you tour but you can stay overnight at the Cape Schanck Lighthouse built in 1859. The elevated boardwalk out along the spine of the Cape, the southernmost point of the Peninsula is incredibly spectacular," says Victor.
At Point Nepean, from the late 1850s, a Quarantine Station was established to protect the fledgling city of Melbourne from shipborne diseases. From the 1880s, and because of its strategic significance, Point Nepean became heavily fortified.
Victor Teoh says visitors can walk or take the transporter tour to discover whole networks of fortifications in the form of gun emplacements, powder magazines and tunnels. Their construction and purpose is explained in an interpretative sound display that, he says, "really helps you to imagine what it was like as a defensive landscape."
Aside from exploring the history of settlements, the parklands provide wonderful venues for coast and bush rambling, swimming, picnics and for horse-riding and bike-riding.
Victor is especially keen to emphasise the scope for both longer and shorter walking in the parkland of the Peninsula.
The 26 kilometre “Two Bays” Walking Track links Arthur's Seat with Bushranger's Bay and Cape Schanck. There is some fantastic bushwalking, ranging from one to 9 kilometres, to be enjoyed in Green's Bush area as well as along the Bass Strait coast.
For further information on Mornington Peninsula National Park please contact Parks Victoria email@example.com or visit our website: www.parkweb.vic.gov.au.
For Mornington Peninsula accommodation visit rentahome.com.au
Parks Victoria wrote this article