Phillip Island and Mornington Peninsula 2 Day Road Trip from Melbourne

First trip post pandemic! Here’s one from May, 4 months late. I decided to take it a little easier and set off on a week-long road trip from Melbourne with good friends and my partner. While Melbourne has been one of the top destinations for Singaporeans, I hadn’t been to continental Australia yet, apart from the stopover on the way to Tasmania not long before the pandemic. The road trip looked just like the right way to start traveling again. We landed in Melbourne the day before and picked up our car, a comfortably sized SUV, in the morning. A couple of hiccups along the way but soon we were out of the city and on our way. This post covers the first part of our road trip, from Melbourne to Sorrento, via Brighton, Philip Island and Mornington.

Day 1: Brighton Beach Bathing Boxes

We passed St Kilda and the iconic Luna Park on the way to Brighton. It’s possible to squeeze in a stop at St Kilda to explore but as we had a long day of driving ahead, we headed straight for further south for another iconic sight just beyond Melbourne, the colorful bathing boxes on Brighton Beach. More on St Kilda towards the end of this trip, where I made a day trip from Melbourne.

The Brighton Beach Bathing Boxes have a history dating back to the 1860s. They were built to protect beach-goers modesty during an era where people had somewhat different views of appropriate public beach attire from today. While such modesty boxes are no longer required today, they have became an icon of the area and are celebrated with colorful coats of paint and artwork.

Apart from the bathing boxes, there were stunning skylines of Melbourne from afar to enjoy, as well as interesting marine life and landforms just along the beach.

From Brighton, it was a long drive to our next stop, Philip Island. By late afternoon we were getting a little tired and stopped at the prominently signposted Caldermeade Farm.

Caldermeade Farm

It was a pretty well maintained and welcoming place, and we got to see some cow milking in action. The milking was not a comfortable sight though, and got me thinking a little about my milk intake. There were other farm animals too, which should be fun for kids and the young at heart. As the kitchen had closed, we had some drinks and found them disappointing unfortunately. We also purchased some frozen items for dinner that night, and later found them priced on the high side. Overall a nice spot for a break on the road, but you probably wouldn’t be missing much by skipping it either.

We initially thought we might have time to stop by our Airbnb at San Remo on the way to Phillip Island, or even for the boardwalk at the Nobbies. In the end, we had barely enough time to reach the Phillip Island Penguin Parade before the nightly spectacle began.

Phillip Island Penguin Parade

With the tickets (AUD27.70 per adult) we pre-purchased online, we headed straight for the entrance queue. There was a large crowd queued up to get into the Penguin Parade around the entry time. Past the ticket checks there was a boardwalk which leads around some mounds where other wildlife can be spotted. Photo taking was not allowed from there on to avoid startling the wildlife, which explains why the next photo is all the way later at the restaurant.

Heading straight to the viewing platforms, we looked for any remaining gaps in the crowd to get a good view. Dusk fell, and the tiny little penguins started bobbing their way to shore. From there, they rushed for the bushes, in what seemed like never ending groups appearing from the sea. They came ashore at various points across the viewing area, so everyone would likely have at least a bit of a view of them coming ashore. Soon the surrounding areas were buzzing with penguins at they returned home.

The boardwalks are pretty well placed to see the penguins up close. It was magical seeing them just doing their thing, even if it was just screaming their heads off or violently attempting to mate. After an hour or so, we headed back to the visitor center and had dinner at the on site restaurant. I think the restaurant was decent for the price and place, or it might just have been the fatigue and hunger. With dinner done, we made our way back to the entrance, where there were a variety of stuffed animals on display. Great to see them up close under good lighting after the fleeting encounters outside, though these were noticeably less lively.

Day 2: San Remo

We arrived at our Airbnb at San Remo late at night. Despite being off the intended schedule, our host gave us a warm welcome and showed us around her amazing place. It was the lower floor of a house by the sea, with a kitchen, living room, 2 bedrooms and a toilet. We were pleasantly surprised to find a well stocked kitchen, including a breakfast spread and local produce, all with compliments. After supper and some attempts at astrophotography, we called it a night in the comfortable rooms. We were looking forward to the sea view at sunrise, as there wasn’t much sea to see late at night. Unfortunately, this was all we could see all of next morning:

We took our time with breakfast, hoping the fog would clear, but luck wasn’t on our side. Nonetheless it was an amazing stay and we couldn’t thank our host enough. There seem to be more to explore around San Remo and hopefully we’ll be back some day.

Maru Koala and Animal Park

The fog lingered for most of the morning. Fortunately, our drive was uneventful. Our next stop was Maru Koala and Animal Park, a family run animal park. There was a nice variety of native animals in the park. Some were free to roam such as the kangaroos and wallabies, while others look a little sad in relatively small enclosures, especially the reptiles. Entrance tickets (AUD$30) include a cup of animal feed and entrance to the mini golf park next door.

Overall I think it is a nice place to get to know some Australian wildlife, and probably a great one for kids. Definitely not for those against keeping animals in enclosures. Compared to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, which I visited from Hobart about 3 years back, there seems to be a wider variety of animals here (since Bonorong is focused on animal rescue) and the grounds appear larger than what I remembered of Bonorong, but I think the compounds looked better maintained in Bonorong than at Maru. Price wise I think they’re pretty close.

We spent some time checking out all the animals and probably way too much time feeding the wallabies and kangaroos. As we hoped to spend more time at the hot springs up next, we gave the mini golf a miss. The animal park was quite empty when we arrived but was filling up as we were leaving around noon.

As we left Maru Koala and Animal Park, the fog cleared. It was a beautiful drive along Mornington Peninsula as we made our way to Peninsula Hot Springs.

Mornington Peninsula Hot Springs

Peninsula Hot Springs are a series of mostly outdoor hot and cold pools spread over some hills. It’s a great place to relax in the pools while enjoying the outdoors, and a great way to spend time with friends. Definitely not a place to get away from the crowds though. When we visited in May, the place were pretty crowded and some of the popular spots such as the one on top of a hill had a queue of people waiting to get in. It was shoulder to shoulder in others such as the pool in a cave and the saunas. As for food. there’s an on site cafe/ restaurant with understandably high prices. The range available was sufficient to keep us fueled for a full afternoon till early evening. I kept my camera dry in the lockers so here are some grainy phone shots:

I can’t remember the exact prices we paid, but according to the latest on the website there’s an hour long session (AUD35) and an extended session (AUD70). We knew an hour wouldn’t cut if for us and the price difference wasn’t much so the choice was easy. When booking your ticket, you’ll have to select a specific arrival time. Tickets have to be pre-booked (more than a day before) to avoid a same day booking premium. Towels, bathrobes and lockers are separately charged – towel AUD6, bathrobe AUD15, towel, bathrobe and locker AUD25. Many of the lockers were faulty on the day we arrived, so sharing lockers might save time spent waiting for an available locker. You can access the lockers any time during the sessions. Many of the pools are far from the lockers, so a dry bag may be useful if you have stuff to bring around.

Day 3: Rosebud

We picked an Airbnb at Rosebud for the night as it seemed well-placed for our itinerary the next day. Might had been the timing (most shops were closed), the weather, or the Airbnb that looked slightly worse for wear, that our first impression of Rosebud was that we were glad to just be in for one night.

Nonetheless, we were able to find a decent dinner at the Rosebud Hotel’s restaurant. We also managed to stock up on some fruits and snacks at the ever dependable Woolworths. On the other hand, our experience with the accommodation for the night was a far cry from the night before. Nonetheless, it was sufficient for a night’s rest before a long day of driving ahead.

The next morning, my partner and I decided to checked out the beach just behind our Airbnb. It was empty apart from a couple of joggers. Possibly a great place to relax in better weather, with the beach just a minute or two from the Airbnb. There might be more to Rosebud after all, but we had more in the day ahead. We made breakfast, packed up, and were all ready for the next leg of our road trip.

Sorrento

We arrived at the ferry terminal a little too early for the next ferry across Port Phillip. As the Sorrento Historic Steam Tram Station was just outside the ferry terminal, we decided to check it out. There are some information boards explaining the interesting history behind this place. If time allows, there is more to explore in the western end of Mornington Peninsula, such as Fort Nepean, Point Nepean National Park, and Arthurs Seat.

Sorrento to Queenscliff Ferry

It was a breeze getting tickets via the drive through, though we took awhile to figure out the fares and fumbled with the cash. Awaiting vehicles formed up in a few lines, and staff were on hand to direct vehicles up the ferry. It was amazing to see how long lines of cars, trucks, and even full sized buses all fitted snugly in the ferry.

We parked and got out of the vehicle hold on to the passenger deck. Both the lower and upper passenger decks were great for enjoying the sea and sights along the way as we cruised across Port Phillip. Binoculars were a nice add on for having a closer look at the rocky outcrops and their wild inhabitants.

Up next, getting to the start of the Great Ocean Road!

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