19 to 26 November 2019
Melbourne to Rye, 98km
to Blairgowrie, 8km
to Balnarring, 37km
From Melbourne whilst we were in the area, we had really hoped to catch up with our friends from Ceduna, Ros and Al who live on the Mornington Peninsula but they were still on their travels in Western Australia. We headed there anyway and, enjoying some warmer, drier weather, we loved it so much we stayed longer than planned whilst watching the weather for a good window to visit Wilson’s Prom.
The peninsula hugs it way around Port Phillip Bay. At its southern tip, Port Nepean, it almost touches Queenscliff on the eastern side of the bay near Geelong. To the north Arthur’s Seat towers 314m above the water. In between a thin strip of sand stretches all the way along with foreshore camping between the road and the sea. Its perfect seaside location make it as popular a holiday destination as its namesake towns of Sorrento, Rye and Shoreham.
We settled for a few nights in the small town of Rye which stretches lengthways along the narrow beach. If it wasn’t for the turquoise water and lovely sand the bright beach huts could have been straight from a seaside town on the south east coast of England, although I don’t remember there actually being any beach huts in Rye in East Sussex.
The Bay Trail, which follows the coast all the way down the peninsula introduced us to another new tree, the Moonah tree, a type of tea tree. Their twisted, papery bark trunks shaded our entire walk along the shore.
And all along that shore too we found black swans, cormorants, a starfish and thousands of what Stefan dubbed “the invisible man’s pooh”! Internet research later better identified them as the egg sacs of the moon snail.
We felt right at home when we reached Blairgowrie marina and watched the yachts bobbing around. We liked it there so much that after a few nights in Rye we relocated the tent to the campsite there.
Continuing along the Bay Trail from Blairgowrie we came across the site of the first settlement at Sullivan Bay. In 1803, to beat the French to it, the British hastily tried to build a settlement and penal colony but the land was poor for crops and the fresh water supply nowhere near enough for the 301 convicts let alone the officers, marines and other settlers who had arrived with them on the HMS Calcutta. They eventually gave up and headed instead for Tasmania across the Bass Strait.
Looking out into the bay, it wasn’t hard to imagine the ship anchored in the lee of Arthur’s Seat.
Further towards the end of the peninsula passed Portsea we explored the Port Nepean National Park where we found the old quarantine station built to prevent the spread of the diseases that the ships brought in with their human cargo.
New migrants were held and disinfected along with their luggage. The sick were treated in the hospitals and the well vaccinated. The dead ended up in the crematorium or the cemetery.
The isolation fence kept everyone on the right (or wrong) side of infection and the station was used right up until the end of the 20th century when the influenza sheds were built. It was an eerie place even on a bright sunny day.
In Ballarat I promised you more about Harold Holt. It is something of a running joke in more recent years that Australia has trouble holding on to a Prime Minister for long these days but at least they haven’t had one go missing like Harold Holt did off the coast of Port Nepean whilst swimming in 1967. Looking down to Cheviot Beach where he disappeared after only a year in office it wasn’t hard to understand the sea conditions might have been challenging for even a strong swimmer. That hasn’t stopped the conspiracy theories about his having been captured by a Chinese submarine!
From Cheviot Beach we headed further towards the tip of the peninsula, taking our flies with us for the walk. Port Nepean goes straight into the top 5 of places in Australia with the most flies and we had left our nets in the car!
Port Nepean was fortified from 1878 but at Fort Pearce the gun battery is from 1911. The concrete bunkers reminded us of Albania.
Fort Nepean right at the tip of the peninsula and the entrance to Port Philip Bay holds the dubious honour of being the place from which the first Australian shot of WWII was fired. Within minutes of war being declared in 1939 a German merchant ship tried to quickly leave the bay. When her crew ignored signals to stop, a warning shot was fired across her bow from the fort.
The thin causeway to Fort Nepean offers views on one side into the Bass Strait and the other into Port Philip Bay
and demonstrates just how important the protection offered by the peninsula from the ocean.
But the view of the peninsula is at its best from the top of Arthur’s Seat and when we finally made the trip to top (in the car, not by the cable car or foot) the view was as clear and blue as it could be.
Whilst the weather was warm and sunny it was very windy. One day it was windy enough for the kite surfers to come out in force. We watched their acrobatic display from the safety of the beach until Stefan needed to rush to the rescue of a couple battling against the wind to get their sunshade up!
And the strong winds were still battering Wilson’s Prom so we headed to kill some more time on the opposite side of peninsula at Balnarring. From the bush campsite it was a very short walk to the beach through the tunnel of trees. We took a drink to sit beside the sea but the wind was so strong we retreated to the protection of the campsite.
The wind was still howling the following day when we visited Cape Schanck and we decided against taking the boardwalk right out to the tip.
From Balnarring beach we had a view of Phillip Island. Still waiting for a good weather window to see Wilson’s Prom we decided to go there. It would have been a short crossing in a boat but was a 112km drive all the way around Western Port Bay…