Mornington Peninsula National Park
Craggy, weather-hewn headlands, sweeping beaches pounded by surf and a unique history as a coastal fortress and quarantine station make this park one of the state’s most intriguing. History buffs, those seeking adventure and families wanting to relax and enjoy the coast’s sun, surf and sand will ﬁnd plenty to occupy them.
From Melbourne via Mornington Peninsula Freeway to Rosebud then Point Nepean Rd; various park access points, including at Sorrento, Portsea and Cape Schanck
Spring to end autumn
95 km south-east of Melbourne
- PV 13 1963
- Point Nepean Visitor Centre (03) 5984 4276
Flinders (03) 5987 3078, 1800 804 009
Portsea/Sorrento (03) 5984 4276
Featured Activities in the National Park
Tour Point Nepean’s historic fortiﬁcations and the quarantine station
Climb to the top of Cape Schanck Lighthouse for expansive ocean views
Take a rock-pool ramble and discover intriguing marine creatures
Walk in Greens Bush with its remnant forest and native birds and animals
A look at the past
The original inhabitants of this area were the Boonwurrung people, and extensive shell middens scattered along the coast are signs of their long occupation here.
An initial settlement by the English at Sorrento in 1803 failed. Pastoralists arrived in the late 1830s to take up land and soon limestone was being quarried and the local she-oak cut down. When an immigrant ship arrived in 1852 carrying passengers struck by typhoid, a quarantine station was set up on Point Nepean. A wander around the old cemetery brings to mind sad tales of some of the victims as well as of early settlers. In the 1880s, the isolated young colony feared a Russian invasion; a fort was constructed and maintained during both World Wars, though only two shots were ever ﬁred. After being closed to the public for more than a century, the area has been made accessible and its fascinating history can be explored. The imposing lighthouse at Cape Schanck, built of local stone in 1859, can also be inspected.
The park occupies a block of bushland (Greens Bush) at Cape Schanck, then a narrow sliver of land facing the wild waters of Bass Strait, and the western tip of the Mornington Peninsula, historic Point Nepean. Along the coastal strip, rugged cliffs front sandy beaches and rocky headlands.
Salt-pruned shrubbery and grasses create a low covering, with hardy coastal tea-tree the most common species, though there are patches of native bush with banksias, drooping she-oaks and eucalypts. At Greens Bush there are lovely ferny gullies and remnant bushland.
Although fairly elusive, bandicoots, eastern grey kangaroos, echidnas, native rats and bats inhabit the park. Greens Bush is the best place for wildlife-watching. The most common birds are silver gulls – often wheeling overhead, or surveying picnic areas for scraps – but Paciﬁc gulls and occasionally petrels and albatross can be spotted. In bushy areas look for honeyeaters, superb fairy-wrens and grey fantails. A rock-pool ramble at low tide will also reveal sea stars, sea urchins, tiny crabs and other small marine creatures. Dolphins and seals swim offshore.
The park is close to many holiday towns and is extremely busy over summer (parking fees are charged at main ocean beaches during this season). Swimmers are advised to swim at patrolled beaches (Portsea, Sorrento and Gunnamatta during summer) or in rock pools, as the ocean beaches are very dangerous. Check with Parks Victoria for operators who run diving tours. Except for the Point Nepean section, the park is open 24 hours.
Beachcombing and bushwalking
Paths, tracks and coastal boardwalks ensure access to various aspects of the park. Cape Schanck Lighthouse to Boneo Road (5 km, one way) heads around Bushrangers Bay, taking in cliff-top views, gullies, ﬂowering banksias and the rugged beach. Baldry’s Circuit (1.6 km or 3.6 km) winds through eucalypt woodland. Fingal Beach Walk (3 km return) leaves from the picnic area. Farnsworth Track (2 km return) links London Bridge carpark to the wild Portsea surf beach. The more energetic can tackle Cape Schanck Lighthouse to Portsea Surf Beach Walk (32 km, one way). There are also self-guided trails at Point Nepean.
There is good rock-ﬁshing along the coast (take care as swells can be unpredictable). Snook, sweep and Australian salmon are the main catches.
At Point Nepean there are interpretive displays and you can tour the old fortiﬁcations, a labyrinth of tunnels, turrets and lookouts (a fee is payable and bookings are recommended). A small transport vehicle takes visitors the 3.5 kilometres to the tip of the peninsula (or you can walk or cycle). You can also visit Cheviot Beach, where Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared without trace in 1967, and sweeping views extend across Port Phillip Heads and the treacherous Rip. Visitors can also cycle around Point Nepean (bicycle hire available) although there are some hills and sharp bends to negotiate.
There are picnic facilities at various places, as well as kiosks at Point Nepean, Sorrento and Cape Schanck.
Diving is popular – offshore from the park is a remarkable shallow reef system with rich marine life, ﬂourishing kelp gardens, shipwrecks and scuttled submarines. Gunnamatta Beach is renowned for its surf though the other beaches also have good breaks.