In the inevitable Melbourne versus Sydney debates among residents – past and present – of each city, beaches are seemingly the one aspect where Melbourne can’t compete. Some people believe you have to travel miles down the Great Ocean Road to find a decent stretch of sand or a great break. And while it’s a good excuse to head that way, there are extraordinary beaches much closer to the city. It takes just over an hour to reach the northern end of the Mornington Peninsula from Melbourne, and this spectacular region is blessed with 192km of coastline.
Whether you’re looking for a place to float away your cares, duck beneath the waves or explore critter-filled rockpools, here’s where you’ll find them, whether you have just one day or a whole week. Jump in your rental car and head to the best beaches on the Mornington Peninsula.
The Mornington Peninsula has three coastlines: one faces Port Phillip Bay on the western edge; the east-facing beaches overlook Westernport Bay; then there’s the southern beaches directed towards the open ocean.
If you want calm waters and easy swimming, the bay beaches are the way to go. One of the first beaches you’ll come to on approach from Melbourne is Mount Martha. It’s one of the longest stretches of sand around, divided in two by the mouth of Balcombe Creek. For our money, Mount Martha South is the place to be: lots of golden sand, calm waters (except when the westerly is blowing) and pretty painted bathing boxes to capture for the ’gram.
Backed by sand dunes and tea trees, Rosebud Beach is a cracker. There’s plenty of room for everyone – go on, pitch your sun shelter – and there’s the lengthy Rosebud Pier for strolls, fishing, and sunset watching. Best of all, the water is shallow and, even at high tide, sweeps gradually to a depth at which you’ll be fully immersed. Top tip: On your way here, turn off to Arthurs Seat. Walk to the peak or catch the Arthurs Seat Eagle for incredible views of the peninsula, its beaches and vineyards, the bay and Melbourne in the distance.
On the Westernport side, head to Merricks Beach. Walk through a bushland reserve to get to the 2km stretch of sand, which will likely be far less crowded than the beaches on the opposite side of the peninsula. Swim when the tide is high – the reef becomes exposed during low tide – or head here in winter for wild walks to the bluff.
Whether you’re going to hire a board or just fancy swimming in the waves, there are some stunning Mornington Peninsula beaches that will fill your appetite for swell. Take care though; the conditions on these surf beaches can be unpredictable. Cheviot Beach, just along from Portsea, is where former prime minister Harold Holt disappeared in 1967.
One of the best bets for waves is Gunnamatta Beach in the Mornington Peninsula National Park. Try in front of the first and second car parks or near the Pumping Station for a good break. If you’re swimming, be sure to look for the lifesavers’ flags because there are often rips.
If you want to watch the best local surfers in action, turn the rental car towards Number 16 Beach near Rye. Its other main attractions are the incredible rock formations, popular with photographers, and rock pools.
Another stunner is Diamond Bay. The clifftop walk here offers some fantastic views and links up with trails that lead on to Cape Schanck in one direction and Portsea in the other.
Not all Mornington Peninsula beaches are about swimming and surfing. Fossil Beach, north of Mount Martha, is a cove that was once home to Victoria’s first cement works. Now you can walk along here and find shells that were deposited in the rock 15 million years ago. There are also Aboriginal middens along its length.
Beneath Rye Pier, you’ll find the Octopuses Garden snorkelling trail. Around the pylons, check out the incredible ecosystems of soft corals and sponges, seahorses, crabs, rays, and schools of fish. Sometimes Australian fur seals and penguins will be your swimming companions. There are signs on the pylons, too, identifying common types of resident sea life.
Point King Beach is a bit of a secret because it sits below expensive Portsea mansions and is primarily the domain of the residents. Drop down to the patch of pale sand and crystal-clear water from Millionaires Walk to find old boat sheds lining the beach and wooden jetties jutting out into the calm sea.
To explore the beaches of Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, hire a rental car in Melbourne before you set off.