Established on a safe, deepwater harbour on Point Schnapper in 1864, Mornington is a thriving town of more than 15,000, but it retains much of the laid-back charm that first attracted Melbourne holiday-makers. Many of those early tourists made the journey down Port Phillip Bay by paddle-steamer and, while craft still cruise the bay, most of today’s visitors travel by road or train.
The main strip, The Esplanade, follows the shoreline into a chain of small, pleasant bays and safe beaches for about 20km from Mt Martha in the south to Mt Eliza in the north.
One beach between Mt Martha and Mornington is one of only two exposed fossil plains in the world. The fossils found on this beach date back 25 million years. The old, Esplanade post office is now a museum, while The Briars, an 1866 homestead, guards wetlands, bird hides, a woodland walk and a wine centre.
The town is graced by some distinctive examples of 19th century architecture through such public buildings as the court house and police station, and St Peters Church, designed in Gothic Revival design by Leonard Terry. Southdean, a charming, Gothic Revival wooden home was built in the 1870s for Justice George Henry Webb.