Melburnians love taking day trips or weekends away down the Peninsula. There are wineries aplenty, beautiful beaches, rolling hills, first-class food and a peaceful escape from the hubbub of Melbourne, just an hour away.
Hang on a second – are we talking about Mornington Peninsula? Or the Bellarine Peninsula? Both have spectacular views and gorgeous beaches. Both are foodie hubs and wine destinations. And both are an easy drive from Melbourne, making them the perfect place for a day trip or weekend away.
Herewith, we pit Peninsula against Peninsula to see which 'Ninsh comes out on top.
Tuck's Ridge features hearty, produce-driven food, lawn chairs and picnic rugs, and a range of wine whose recommended consume date is right there in the name: Now. The best seat in the house is the tree swing, which could comfortably seat four, but two will have plenty of space for their wine and food. And you definitely want to make space for both. Food is simple, for the most part, allowing premium ingredients like slow-roast pork shoulder and hot-smoked salmon to shine. Kids can get their energy out running up and down the hill while adults savour their meals.
Decades ago a professional cyclist called Basil Halsall decided to buy a stretch of land on the shores of Swan Bay, using the land to grow various crops. Basil has moved on, but his farm continues to thrive as a winery and paddock-to-plate café. On a sunny day, regardless of season, visitors can be found spilling out of the café and onto the sprawling, green hillside while enjoying lunch, coffee or just a glass of wine. The menu here draws – wherever possible – from the farm’s own vegetable garden, which you can walk through freely.
Pt Leo Estate would be a billionaire’s folly were it not for the fact that the billionaire in question, developer John Gandel, has pulled off an audacious, multi-pronged venture encompassing vineyard, cellar door, sculpture park, bistro and restaurant. In dining terms, Laura is the Estate’s pièce de resistance, where the glassware goes from the bistro’s very respectable Riedel to a featherweight Zalto, where the tables are wrapped in leather, and everything is just as it ought to be. It’s embedded in a rare sense of place, the latter thanks to exec chef Phil Wood, a shining light in Neil Perry’s empire lured south (one presumes) by the enticing prospect of a blank canvas.
Igni might be a little hard to find, but it’s probably the most exciting restaurant to open in all of Victoria since Brae. Like Brae, it’s degustation-only (five or eight courses) and a bit of a culinary mystery tour, although they’ll ask your preferences – if you’re in the pro- or anti-marron brigade, for example, or if you swing savoury or sweet. It’s a tight operation, from the pacing to the amount of information they give you about each course, and the wine list, which veers off the food’s locavore mentality by packing a world of choice (quite literally) into two exquisite pages.
Montalto is set on a hillside, with gentle undulating terrain as far as the eye can see. At the base of the hill is a bird sanctuary, and watching birds wheel and soar over the vines is a pretty great way to spend an afternoon. Montalto is also famous for its yearly sculpture prize. New sculptures are installed in the winery's sculpture gardens every year, and visitors can wander through the art and enjoy each piece. Make sure you stop at the cellar door to taste Montalto's range of cool-climate wines. The winery specialises in pinot noir and chardonnay (both fantastic), but it also makes tempranillo, shiraz, rosé and sparkling cuvée.
It’s hard to imagine the Bellarine wine industry without Scotchmans Hill, as the vineyard is one of the biggest and oldest on the peninsula (it was established in 1982). What started as a single stainless-steel tank and five barrels has grown into an operation spanning 1000 barrels, 600 tonnes of fruit and an 8000-cubic-metre barrel hall. Inside the cellar door is warm and inviting – no doubt the large central fireplace and healthy number of lounges have something to do with it. It’s too easy to curl up by the window with a glass of Scotchmans finest, but if you’re serious about your wine, book in for a proper wine tasting.
In a primo Mornington Peninsula location, Foxeys Hangout is a chilled-out winery with absolutely delicious produce. It specialises in pinot noir and chardonnay, as well as a positively fluorescent (and completely moreish) rosé. Sparkling wine is also a big focus here – and you don't need to wait for someone else to do it. Foxeys Hangout runs a make-your-own sparkling class, where the winemaker will teach you about how sparkling wine is made and show you traditional methods of riddling and disgorgement. You can design your own sparkling with your own preferred dosage (sugar) level, and you get to take home your very own labelled bottle.
Any winery that greets you with two friendly dogs is a winery we can get around. Curlewis Winery is home to the oldest pinot noir vines on the peninsula, dating back to the early 1980s. The Curlewis Winery team is small, and the cellar door is only open on weekends. But what a cellar door it is. Outside it looks like a barn; inside it looks like a hunter’s cabin got the Queer Eye treatment. Wine tastings aren’t served in glasses but in test tubes, which (while a little unorthodox) makes it simple to compare and contrast each wine. The vines at Curlewis are hand-pruned and picked, and their winemaking process leans on old-world techniques like basket pressing.
Things to do
At Peninsula Hot Springs, you can spend hours enjoying the naturally healing waters of the property’s thermal pools and indulging in a day spa treatment. If you’re there with a partner, then book in for a Kodo massage, a treatment inspired by traditional Aboriginal techniques and complemented by a range of native aromatic oils to leave you totally relaxed. The pools range from hot to extremely hot, and there is also an ice cave for a bit of cryotherapy. You can also sweat it out in the sauna and steam room to banish those toxins. The café upstairs is good for a light, healthy meal.
Adventure Park is the place to go when you want some waterside fun. There are plenty of waterslides, kids' rides and family activities like go-karting or mini-golf. For the thrillseekers (or the foolish), there is the Tornado which opened in late 2017. The biggest and longest waterslide of its kind in the state, this beast will drop you down from the 24-metre tower through the snaking slides. You'll even experience moments of zero gravity weightlessness.
You can feed kangaroos and wallabies, pat koalas and get up close and personal with birds, reptiles, dingoes and other animals during the day at this sanctuary. But as the name suggests, Moonlit Sanctuary really comes alive at night, when you can go on a guided lantern tour through the sanctuary to meet numerous nocturnal animals, including feather-tail gliders, a nightjar, quolls, Tasmanian devils, owls, possums, squirrel gliders, bettongs and potoroos.
Jirrahlinga is a sanctuary for Australian native wildlife as well as a zoo, so there is a hospital section for treating injured animals. At Jirrahlinga you can see lots of Australian native fauna, including kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, birds, reptiles, dingoes, echidnas and more. Keepers are knowledgeable and friendly, and if you're lucky they'll let you pat a koala, hold a snake or have an up-close encounter with a lizard. Numerous birds have been donated to Jirrahlinga after their owners die, and there's a lot of enjoyment to be had talking to them, as many of them talk back. Look out for the bird near the office that does a perfect imitation of the office phone ringing, followed by, "Hello, Jirrahlinga?".
Where to stay
This cutting-edge, ultra-luxe hotel is what you might expect to find in New York's uber-hip Meatpacking District, not set among rolling hills and gently swaying vines. Staff are very attentive, showing you to your room and familiarising you with all the whiz-bang accoutrements and luxurious touches therein. Many rooms have as their centrepiece a deep, black stone bath, which staff will draw for you on request (it takes about half an hour to get it to the right level). If you do indulge in a bath, make it extra special with a few spoonfuls of Jackalope's bespoke bath salts, made with grapes from the property.
Talk about boutique accommodation. This luxurious retreat comprises just seven suites and can fit a maximum of 16 adults (children are not permitted on the property, to ensure a peaceful stay). There is a mineral pool for you to soak away your stress, as well as a rain shower, a bath big enough for two, luxury bath products and a breakfast hamper. There is private beach access, along with plenty of walking tracks and stunning views to the lighthouse, ocean, lakes and golf course. Take time out to relax at the spa for a facial, massage or body treatment.
Inside the Lindenderry, it feels like one big, glam country house: there’s all of the space and elegance with none of the kitsch. Dotted throughout the winding corridors are semi-secluded nooks stuffed with plush lounges and often an open fire – perfect for some reading, no? Book yourself a balcony suite, where you can stretch out on the ample bed, in an armchair by the fire or with a glass of the estate’s wine on your balcony while pretending you’re lord or lady of the manor.
The Nest's self-contained pods are made out of recycled materials, use filtered rainwater and are powered by solar during the day. But don’t be fooled into thinking the Nest is the kind of place where the sheets are hemp and the mini-bar snacks all vegan (they are all complimentary with your room, though). Think plush carpeting, spa and an oh-so-comfortable king bed. Ditch your bags as soon as you get in and dunk yourself in the outdoor spa. Sunk into the back porch, it’s the perfect spot to relax with a glass of bubbles while watching the sunset – or the friendly family of cows next door.