Sorrento is a popular and attractive seaside settlement located 91 km south-west of Melbourne, near the western tip of the Mornington Peninsula. In summer it is transformed from a relatively quiet village to a frenetic and fashionable holiday resort.
Sorrento offers good beaches, some excellent scenic walks, a range of accommodation, historic buildings and sites, dolphin-watching cruises and ferry trips across to Queenscliff. As is the case with many seaside resorts, the main street has a casual playful feel and it boasts a number of shops designed to attract the leisure time (and money) of holidaymakers: pubs, bistros, coffee shops, restaurants, pancake parlours, ice-creameries, sidewalk cafes, boutiques and galleries.
A number of operators offer fishing trips, sightseeing cruises, trips to South Channel Fort, dolphin and seal-watching excursions and dolphin-swim cruises on the bay. All depart from Sorrento Pier. The dolphin season is from October to May with sightseeing tours continuing through winter. All dolphin operators take in the seal colonies of the area.
Nepean Historical Museum, at the corner of Melbourne and Ocean Beach Rds, is located in the old Classical Revival mechanics institute, built of limestone with a stuccoed porch in 1876-77. The collection includes a water cask from the original 1803 Collins Settlement, 19th-century domestic and vintage sartorial items, photographs, documents, Aboriginal artefacts, shipwreck relics and other memorabilia. A Victorian-style sunken garden has been established around the museum. Watts Cottage (1869) is an example of the early homes of the European settlers. They are open every weekend, public and school holidays from 1.30 p.m. to 4.30 p.m. for a small fee. Guided tours are conducted by prior arrangement for an additional charge, tel: (03) 5984 0255.
Middens on the cliff tops indicate that Aborigines used the area on a seasonal basis for hundreds if not thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans.
Collins Settlement Historic Site: The newly-created Union Jack was raised for the first time in Australia at Point King, 2 km west of present-day Sorrento, in 1802, to claim the land for the British. Three months later, Lieutenant-Governor David Collins left England in April 1803 as the head of a party sent to settle Port Phillip Bay. They arrived in October to set up the first European settlement in what is now Victoria. The 11-year-old son of one of the 308 convicts who came with the group was John Pascoe Fawkner who became a founder of Melbourne in 1835.
Collins chose Sullivan Bay because it was strategically located near the entrance to the bay. Land was cleared and crops were planted but problems arose. It proved difficult to secure fresh water. Collins heard reports of fine timbered and well-watered country in Van Diemans Land and so, in January 1804, he moved most of the convicts and settlers and half the remaining marines across Bass Strait and established Hobart. A cairn marks the site of Collins settlement.
Queenscliff-Sorrento Ferry: Peninsula Searoad Transport offers a car-and-passenger ferry service to Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula. It carries up to 80 vehicles and 700 passengers per trip, which lasts 40 minutes. It departs from both Sorrento pier and from Queenscliff every hour, on the hour, from 7.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m., tel: (03) 5258 3244.
Sorrento Ocean Beach: Sorrento Ocean Beach is a surfing beach with rock pools which lies at the end of Ocean Beach Rd. Surf and rock fishing are popular in the area. George Coppin, who put much energy (and money) into developing Sorrento and promoting it as a holiday destination, established a steamship service connecting Sorrento and Queenscliff and he set up a tramway (drawn by horse and locomotive) from Sorrento to the ocean beach where he built a rotunda and the walking track.
Point Nepean National Park: Point Nepean National Park incorporates the historic Point Nepean area, which contains many pleasant walks, great fishing sports, views across the notoriously rough Port Phillip Heads to the Bellarine Peninsula, and a century old historic fort that saw wartime action. Previously closed to the public for more than 100 years, the historic section of Point Nepean was opened to the public in 2005. A highlight is the walk around the tip of the peninsula, offering views across The Rip to the Bellarine peninsula from the cape s historic fortifications.
South Channel Fort is a small artificial island 5.7 km offshore. Work began on the construction of the island in 1879. The foundations for a similar construction, known as the Pope s Eye, were laid to the west. Both were intended to illuminate (with searchlights) and stand guard over the main route through the shoals to Melbourne and to electrically detonate a series of sub-aquatic mines. Work on both projects was halted at the outset of the 1880s and the Pope s Eye never got any further. It is now home to a seal colony.
Fears of a Russian invasion led, in 1885, to the construction of numerous coastal defence works around Australia. As part of that enterprise, work recommenced on the South Channel Fort. Two eight-inch muzzle-loading guns were mounted with a range of 9 km. Innovative gun mountings were installed (one has been restored and is on display at Fort Queenscliff). When fully manned 100 people were garrisoned at the fort. In the early 20th century the installation of new and more powerful guns at Port Phillip Heads lessened the need for the minefield and South Channel Fort and, by 1918, only a few men were garrisoned there. It was decommissioned after World War II and used as a magazine and then a weather station.
Many of the original fortifications, gun emplacements, magazines and subterranean passages remain intact though access is limited. The island offers fine views and it is also a declared sanctuary and breeding site for the white-faced storm petrel. Owing to the fragility of their nesting burrows visitors are restricted to a defined network of paths. Access is via seven companies who operate out of Sorrento and Queenscliff. These include Moonraker Charters (tel: 03 5984 4211), the Sorrento Ferry Company (tel: 03 5984 1602), Polperro (tel: 03 5988 8437) and Saltwater Adventures, tel: (03) 5258 4888.
Back Beach Foreshore Track: Koonya Beach is the starting point for the Back Beach Foreshore Walk (3 km return) which was constructed in the 1890s as a lifesaving track after two bad shipwrecks. It heads west past the rock formation known as Dogs Head to St Paul s Lookout which offers views over the Bay of Islands. A side track leads down to St Paul s Beach. The main track continues on past Diamond Bay to join up with the Coppin Track at Jubilee Point.
Coppins Track: (Coppins Track (3 km return) starts at Sorrento Ocean Beach carpark and meanders eastwards through a section of the Mornington Peninsula National Park, along the rugged coastal cliff line, past offshore rock stacks, an ancient Aboriginal midden, sand dunes, coastal vegetation, St Paul s Beach and Jubilee Point which offers views east to Cape Schanck and west to the Otways.
Coastal Walk: It is possible to continue west from Sorrento Ocean Beach to Portsea Back Beach and on to London Bridge via the Farnsworth Track. The entire section from London Bridge to Koonya Beach is part of the Coastal Walk (28 km) which connects London Bridge and Cape Schanck. The route is denoted by orange markers with blue signs to indicate departure points for circuit tracks to interesting sites. However, east of Rye Beach the landscape tends to be more rugged and the walks are not so well marked. Passage along the walking trail may be blocked at high tide so it is advisable to check tidal patterns before starting.
The walk will take most people at least two days to complete but, as there are about 30 access points to the coastal strip (largely from back roads which radiate out from Point Nepean Rd), it is possible to explore any given sub-section.
Collins Settlement Memorial
London Bridge, St Paul's Cove, Sorrento Back Beach
Point Nepean fortifications
Sorrento Back Beach