Fill the produce basket...
Luckily the mild maritime climate of the Mornington Peninsula means that while strawberries are the first fruit to ripen in the spring, the season keeps going until the end of April so you can you can still pick yourself some yummy berries at Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm in Autumn. This third generation farm in Main Ridge has been growing strawberries with amazing flavour since 1964 and if picking them yourself sounds like too much hard work, you can just grab some ready to go from the farm shop. There you will find a huge display of fresh seasonal produce including blackberries, raspberries, blueberries that Sunny Ridge grow, and a huge variety of jams and sauces. The choice is truly extensive. Oh, and there is also award winning strawberry wines, liquors and ciders all made with their own strawberries. Make time to sample some of their incredible farm made ice-cream, in a cone or in one of their heavenly desserts from the strawberry café. The café menu has a true dessert focus and features strawberries in all their forms; fresh, as syrup or ice-cream, or all of the above! The famous Strawberry Temptation dessert takes two people to eat it and while they don’t do savoury items there is plenty of choice. For chocoholics indulging in the delectable chocolate fondue with strawberries is a must. You won’t be disappointed.
The deep clay soil and cooler climate make the Main Ridge area ideal for fruit growing and so it’s no surprise that around the corner is Staples Apple and Cherry Orchard. This site has had apple orchards growing on it since the late 1800’s and the Staples Family has been growing fruit trees on this location since 1953. In fact currently there are three generations of the family actively working on the farm. Driving down the little dirt road to their orchard, it is hard to imagine the work going on just a few metres away, and while cherries are a summer crop, the autumn sees the new season apples come in and the packing shed again swing in to full gear. This orchard specialises in a mix of new and old apple varieties suited to their particular micro climate; Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Fuji, Gala, and Kanzi. Autumn is also pear season, and they grow both the Packham and Williams’ varieties that make great eating pears. Packing the fruit daily ensures freshness and there is always the farmgate stall to get your supplies from at any time of the day, on any day of the week. Or if you are there on Friday and Sunday mornings you can purchase from the packing shed.
Views and vines
Just a ten minute drive from Main Ridge brings you to the highest point on the Mornington Peninsula. At just over 300 metres Arthurs Seat is not a mountain by any stretch of the imagination, but its proximity to the bay means that it does offer unsurpassed views over Port Phillip to Melbourne, and this is the reason that a trip on the Arthurs Seat Eagle is in order. Named after the local wedge tailed eagle, the Eagle features state-of-the-art gondolas that soar gently over part of the 572 hectare Arthurs Seat State Park between the base and summit of Arthurs Seat. You can choose to board at either end to do a one way or a return trip. The eight seater gondolas are fully accessible (prams are a cinch!) and the 15 minute ride each way is super smooth. The curiously named Arthurs Seat was named in 1802 after a much smaller hill near Edinburgh, Scotland. Captain Matthew Flinders recorded the spectacular views in his journal as he climbed it at the time – you can see various monuments cataloguing his ascent in the area. The state park has regionally significant vegetation remnants and is home to several nationally threatened flora species. Tree goanna, koalas, brown bandicoots, echidnas, kangaroos, wallabies, powerful owls and of course wedge-tailed eagles also call this area home, and you can often see wildlife from your perch in the gondolas. For the true outdoor lovers, there is a walking trail that connects the Seawinds gardens at the summit with Latrobe Parade in Dromana - so you can walk one way and ride the other. It’s part of the 26km Two Bays Walking Track and so you can extend it all the way to Cape Schanck if you wish… or just enjoy the Autumn sunsets from among the treetops from the serenity of your gondola.
Views over the calm waters of the Crittenden Estate lake can be had at the appropriately named Stillwater at Crittenden in Dromana. The setting is picturesque with a large deck and steps down to an expansive lawn area beside the lake making a perfect (and spacious) backdrop to enjoy the fresh, local, seasonal produce-focussed menu. In fact a lot of their ingredients are grown on site in their kitchen garden. For a multi award winning restaurant the service is refined but relaxed, and being set on a vineyard they obviously have a good start on a wine list – and local wine is featured extensively. Inside the setting is light filled and understatedly modern, with views out over the lake and the vineyard. The kids can grab an activity pack, or play sports on the lawn. You can often see the resident wild ducks paddling about or wandering the gardens along the lake edge.
Stay a while...
Spectacular views of the bay and ocean (from a slightly different angle) can also be found at Blue Range Villas in Rosebud. Set on the Blue Range estate vineyard these four boutique villas overlook both the vines and the scenic southern peninsula coastline. The 20 acre vineyard was established high on the hill behind Rosebud in 1987 by the Decicco family. Being one of the most exposed locations on the Mornington Peninsula means the vines are subject to winds from both the Bass Strait and Port Phillip directions. Such good air flow reduces disease and gives the wines their own distinct personality. Because of this and the soil variations they are able to grow Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Grigio, and they have won awards for their Blanc de Blanc in France. At weekends the on-site cellar door is open and if the weather is good, the al fresco dining offers the same amazing views that you can get from your villa.
Just a 20 minute drive up the road is Brooklands of Mornington. The three acres of manicured gardens create a landscape for the 53 rooms of this 4.5 star contemporary hotel to nestle into. Most of the rooms have their own private courtyard or balcony and generous ensuite bathrooms. You can enjoy the large year-round, indoor heated swimming pool, spa and gymnasium, or take a quick stroll into town. The original homestead that is now home to the on-site restaurant was built in 1878, and connects subtly to the rest of the more modern complex. This is where a splendid breakfast buffet is served daily, but just a few minutes’ walk away is the hip and cosmopolitan vibe of Main Street, Mornington, with its Wednesday market, cafés, restaurants, bars and boutique shopping. The famous beach boxes at Mills Beach and the Schnapper Point are just a bit further around the corner and a selfie-snappers delight.