I recently took a road trip in my trusty pop-top camper van, Dixie Jane, to explore the Mornington Peninsula. A short drive from Melbourne, the peninsula is known for gourmet food, hot springs, and pastoral views. Our goal was to spend a lot of time hiking and exploring the beautiful parks and coastlines of the peninsula. To keep the budget low, everything we did was free!
The one paid attraction we thought we would spring for was the Peninsula Hot Springs. A girls’ trip with some nice spa time sounded like the perfect way to face the arrival of cool autumn weather… but unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Our trip overlapped with Aussie school holidays, meaning we would pay peak prices ($45 for general entry) and deal with big crowds. We decided it wasn’t worthwhile. In the future I’d like to go to the hot springs and take advantage of the earlybird savings: $25 for general entry if you arrive before 9am during non-peak times.
We were bummed when we realized the hot springs were a no-go, but we ended up having a great trip and saw some stunning spots!
Day One: the Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne
Even after walking for a few hours we did not have enough time to fully explore the Royal Botanic Gardens. I was impressed that entry was free to such extensive and lovely gardens. We learned more about local flora and even spotted a bandicoot!
After we finished at the gardens, we headed to our campsite for the night just in time to catch an extraordinary sunset over Port Phillip Bay.
Day Two: Point Nepean National Park
After hiking to the summit of Arthur’s Seat in the morning, we decided to visit Port Nepean because we wanted to hike out to the tip of the peninsula, where you can see the narrow entrance into Port Phillip Bay. First we explored the park’s historic highlights, including the old Quarantine Station– a beautiful spot in addition to being historically significant– and the old military forts.
After we finished at the historical exhibits we started our hike from the carpark at Gunner’s Cottage to the tip of the peninsula (about 6km return). Along the way we passed by Cheviot Beach, which is where former Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt vanished while swimming in 1967.
Swimming is not allowed at Cheviot Beach due to the rough waters. As we watched the surf crash against the rocks below it wasn’t hard to imagine how a swim could end poorly there. While Holt’s disappearance was tragic, I’ve noticed that many Australians find some dark humor in the fact that their country lost a prime minister… they have honored his memory by (somewhat ironically) naming a swimming center after him.
Eventually we reached the tip of the peninsula and watched the sunset. It was gorgeous!
As ships sailed by, the sunset cast warm pinks and yellows over the churning waters of the Rip, the narrow, often-treacherous entrance to Port Phillip Bay. We hiked back in the dark before heading to our campsite for the night.
Day Three: London Bridge
The London Bridge rock formation is the main attraction here, but the surrounding beaches and rock formations are all beautiful as well.
We explored the tide pools beneath the arch, finding sea stars, anemones, crabs, chiton, and limpets. I got really nerdy when I found two sea stars fighting an epic battle with a crab.
We found an incredible groove in the natural rock walls that was the perfect spot to sit and meditate, just listening to the waves roll into the shore.
We did not take the guided tour of the lighthouse since it was not free. Instead we decided to walk to the seaside. Sadly I didn’t have my nice camera with me… the views were stunning! We walked down a long boardwalk staircase to the bottom of a small peninsula, where we scrambled over rocks and watched the tide come in.
Day Four: William Ricketts Sanctuary
On our last day we left the Mornington Peninsula to drive back north and stopped by the William Ricketts Sanctuary on our way. I’d already been to the sanctuary once before but I wanted to share it with my friend.
Tucked away beneath towering eucalyptus trees in a ferny glade in the Dandenong Ranges, the sanctuary is a tranquil place. Ricketts’ intricate sculptures are half-hidden among ferns and fit perfectly into their natural surroundings.
I’ve never seen anything quite like these sculptures– they look like they were carved from wood, but they are actually clay.
Ricketts himself was a fascinating character. He spent time living with aboriginal communities in central Australia and believed that all Australians should adopt Aboriginal philosophies, respecting the spirituality of the natural world. Most of his works depict Aboriginal people and stories; himself and his connection to Mother Earth; and his feelings on the white man’s takeover of Australia.