When Lieutenant-Governor David Collins led a party of 300 convicts and 50 Marines ashore at Sullivan Bay in 1803 he ensured Sorrento’s place in history as the first white settlement in Victoria. Collins Settlement Historic Site on the clifftop overlooking the bay includes a memorial to Collins and graves of some of those pioneer settlers.
The British outpost on the Mornington Peninsula was short-lived and the penal colony was moved to Hobart the next year. Sorrento was reborn in the 1870s as a holiday retreat for Melbourne families. Today it is a modern resort close to fine beaches and good fishing.
There are several heritage walks around Sorrento. Visit the Nepean Museum and Heritage Gallery, housed in the National Trust-listed Mechanics' Institute. There are displays relating to the area's past, including a giant steel ball which once formed part of an invention to harness the power of the sea to make electricity. Next to the museum is a wattle and daub settler's cottage, set in the Pioneer Memorial Garden. In nearby Portsea, take a tour of the Quarantine Station, built to house quarantined boat passengers.
The vehicular and passenger ferry across the bay to Queenscliff departs from Sorrento daily. Dolphins can often be seen riding the bow waves of boats in the bay. You can take a dolphin or seal-watching cruise in the bay, or head to Pope's Eye Marine Reserve, a popular dive site and gannet rookery. There are even opportunities to swim with the dolphins in Port Phillip Bay.
Sorrento lies on the thin strip of land between Bass Strait and Port Phillip Bay. Its so-called front beach faces the bay and has calm water, suitable for all the family. The back beach forms part of Mornington Peninsula National Park and features the powerful waves that make this a popular surfing area.
At Point Nepean, at the end of the peninsula, lies Fort Nepean, built to defend Melbourne. It has the dubious honour of having fired the first Allied shots in both World Wars. There is a transport service from Portsea to the fort, except on Bike and Hike Day once a month, when you must either walk or cycle the 10km return trip.
Further afield, at McCrae near Rosebud, lies McCrae Homestead, one of Victoria's oldest homesteads. The museum next door houses drawings and other family heirlooms of the McCrae family.
The Mornington Peninsula has a growing reputation as a wine-growing region. Visit some of the area's wineries which are open for tastings and cellar door sales.
Street Festival (March)
Things to do:
History - Collins Settlement Historic Site, heritage walks, Nepean Museum and Heritage Gallery, Quarantine Station (Portsea)
Swimming - front beach
Surfing - back beach
Wildlife - dolphins, seals, gannet rookery, marine reserve
Fort Nepean - historic fort
In the area:
McCrae Homestead - one of Victoria's oldest homesteads near Rosebud
Wineries - tastings and cellar door sales