80km (50 miles) S of Melbourne
The Mornington Peninsula, a scenic 40km (25-mile) stretch of windswept coastline and hinterland, is one of Melbourne's favorite day-trip and weekend-getaway destinations. The coast is lined with good beaches and thick bush. The Cape Shanck Coastal Park stretches along the peninsula's Bass Strait foreshore from Portsea to Cape Shanck. It's home to gray kangaroos, southern brown bandicoots, echidnas, native rats, mice, reptiles, bats, and many forest and ocean birds. The park has numerous interconnecting walking tracks providing access to some remote beaches. You can get more information on this and all the other Victorian National Parks by calling tel. 13 19 63.
The Mornington Peninsula is a popular wine-producing region. The peninsula's fertile soil, temperate climate, and rolling hills produce excellent wine, particularly pinot noir, Shiraz, and chardonnay. Many wineries offer cellar-door tastings, others have excellent restaurants.
Along the route to the south, stop at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, Dunns Road, Mornington (tel. 03/5975 4395; http://mprg.mornpen.vic.gov.au), to check out the work of well-known Australian artists (Tues-Sun 10am-5pm), or visit the summit at Arthurs Seat State Park for glorious views of the coastline. At Sorrento, take time out to spot pelicans on the jetty or visit the town's many galleries.
If you are traveling with kids, stop in at Australia's oldest maze, Ashcombe Maze & Water Gardens, Red Hill Road, Shoreham (tel. 03/5989 8387; www.ashcombemaze.com.au). Mine loved it. As well as the big maze, there are extensive water and woodland gardens, and even a rose maze made out of 1,300 rose bushes. There's also a pleasant cafe with indoor and outdoor dining. The park is open daily from 10am to 5pm, except Christmas Day; admission is A$17 for adults, A$9.50 for children 4 to 16, and A$45 for families of four.
For fabulous wildlife viewing, take a night tour of Moonlit Sanctuary, 550 Tyabb Tooradin Rd., Pearcedale (tel. 03/5978 7935; www.moonlit-sanctuary.com), at the northern end of the peninsula. The sanctuary is open daily from 11am but the best way to see Australia's nocturnal animals is on a guided evening tour, from 8:30pm October to March (8pm Apr-Sept). The bushland tour will enable you to see animals such as the eastern quoll, the red-bellied pademelon, and the southern bettong, all of which are extinct in the wild on Australia's mainland. Day admission is A$14 adults, A$8.70 children, and A$50 families. Night-time admission and guided tour is A$27 adults, A$16 children, or A$90 for a family of five. With transfers from Melbourne city hotels, the cost is A$109 adults or A$99 children.