Saturday March 9, 2013
Wining, dining, seal-watching
Story and pics by S.S. YOGA
Some Malaysians may be familiar with Victoriaís Mornington Peninsula but they might be kind of hazy about The Bellarine. Both are places one should visit.
MUSEUMS sometimes have a ďwhat-am-I-doing-hereĒ effect on me. If itís badly maintained, it can be like going through a boring, musty, haphazardly-put-together bunch of ďjunkĒ. One particular museum in Kuala Lumpur comes to mind.
So it was with some trepidation that I entered the Queenscliffe Maritime Museum (maritimequeenscliffe.org.au) in the Bellarine with my guide Kristen Penny. But, lo and behold, though quite small, the museum was fascinating.
The exhibits depict the maritime history of Queenscliff and Southern Port Phillip, and include wreckage, lifeboats, rescue and early diving equipment, artefacts from shipwrecks, lighthouse displays, historic charts and maps. There are boat models of various sizes and some interactive displays, too.
There is even a live tracker that shows ships coming in to dock at the port and where they are in the water. On the grounds outside are more exhibits and even the houses used by the fishermen during the late 19th century. And in the meeting room for the community are pictures of the famous boats that have docked in the port painted by one of the elders, who originated from Italy.
The museum is within walking distance of the ferry terminal and is open seven days a week. The president, Les Irving-Dusting, who showed us around, was very knowledgeable and passionate about the exhibits. Get this: He and the rest who man this treasure trove are all volunteers.
The day we visited in November, the museum was having their special market day which saw the townsfolk contributing all kinds of collectibles. Penny was ecstatic because she picked up an old trunk and a skittle for a song!
As we were doing the Bellarine Taste Trail, food and wine dominated the itinerary.
Melbourne gets most of its fresh produce, wine and cheese from Mornington and the Bellarine. Penny missed out on some heavenly wine as Tourism Victoria does not allow their staff to drink if they are driving guests around. It was a good thing Penny and I clicked as we only had each other for company most of the time.
Lunch was at the famous Jack Rabbit Winery (jackrabbitvineyard.com.au) half an hour away. The views were amazing with the You Yangs and Geelong stretching out to Port Phillip Bay and, much farther away, the skyline of Melbourne.
Jack Rabbit have their own wineyard, and of course, thereís a vinery, a restaurant and a cellar, too. The food was excellent (try the Kangaroo fillet, mmm) but it was their extensive wine list, with many award-winners in it, that took them out of the ballpark. The Pinot Grigio, Reisling and the Chardonnay were particular favourites.
Lyndsey Sharp, the general manager, didnít face any resistance when she asked me to do some wine-tasting. Lately, they have come out with some cider, too (Flying Brick Cider), which was equally good.
Despite all the drinks, I managed to walk a straight line as we headed back to the car to hit Manzanillo Olive Grove (manzanillogrove.com.au) and its 4,500 olive trees of seven different varieties. Run by the Kint family, the place has a shop selling all kinds of olive products.
By the way, the Kints are looking to sell the property and retire, so...
The nearby Tuckerberry Hill (love the name) Blueberry Farm was started by the ownerís mother. Apparently, she was the first person to start a blueberry farm in Victoria. Sadly, we were a tad early as blueberry season only starts in December. Meaning, the only option was strawberries.
But I had had my fill of strawberry-picking in Mornington earlier.
Our last stop before heading back to Melbourne was the warm and hospitable Elk Horn Roadhouse (elkhornroadhouse.com.au), where we were greeted by the chirpy Terri Bitton, who runs the place with partner Julie Taylor. As I was already stuffed as a bunny from lunch, I was only up for a latte (and was it good!).
But there were quite a number of happy diners tucking in with enthusiasm. And why not, with organic and free-range produce on the menu. All wholesome, all healthy. There is also a shop selling many delicious home-made products, jams, chutneys, honey and much more.
The journey back to Melbourne, 75km away, was via Geelong by road. We had come on the Queenscliff-Sorrento car ferry, a smooth half-hour journey. Apparently, sometimes you can see dolphins in the water. However, I had no such luck.
Remedying this, we went on the Polperro Dolphin Swims (polperro.com.au), run by the Muir family. Itís a cruise off Sorrento to look at dolphins, with the possibility of swimming with them. There was even morning tea.
I ruled out swimming and was happy just to be able to see these wonderful creatures. And for the second time, we met Malaysians − a father-and-daughter duo sightseeing after she had finished her finals in Melbourne. But again, it just wasnít my day Ė not one dolphin (hey, the Muirs canít control nature).
But we were amused by the antics of a herd of seals on a gazebo out at sea. Some of them decided to join the swimmers (who were holding on to ropes tied to the boats). We chortled on seeing a pup repeatedly telling off an old bull for trying to take its place. A funny and fishy (the smell) sight!
While the company was good, the waves were not, and during most of the cruise, I was fighting off sea-sickness. You could hardly get a peep out of me.
The first part of our journey was spent in Mornington Peninsula, where we took a walk in a garden. Not just any garden but Heronswood Gardens (diggers.com.au/gardens-and-cafes/gardens/heronswood.aspx) which is spread out over 2ha and even has a thatched-roof cafe. Diners are in for a treat as the greens come straight out of their gardens.
There is also a historic house built in the Gothic Revival-style and now owned by the Blazey family. The gardens are run by the Diggerís Club, Australiaís largest garden club. They have the largest collection of fruit and vegetables for gardeners and garden enthusiasts.
We were taken on a fascinating tour by the head gardener, Priscilla Van Den Broeck. The landscaping was grand and there were many very old trees in the garden. And to think she only had two assistants.
Next up was lunch at Ten Minutes by Tractor (tenminutesbytractor.com.au), an award-winning wining-and-dining outlet. Their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are famous. If there is any restaurant that Iíve ever been completely bowled over by, it has to be theirs.
The Rabbit Ravioli had me in a happy bunny wiggle; the wallaby dish had me hopping with satisfaction; and the dessert concoction with passion fruit, mango puree and caramalised banana took me to the stratosphere.
The wines are why everyone says you canít go wrong with Australian (the sommelier, though, thinks we, Asians, like lighter wines whereas only more discerning wine connoisseurs appreciate European wines).
Ten Minutes are rated two hats, the Aussie equivalent of Michelin stars, but I would give them three healthy-bellies (my award).
The next taste stop was at Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm (sunnyridge.com.au) where you pay for the strawberries you pick yourself. Thereís also a cafe where all things strawberry are available. It was here that I had my first sighting of a Malaysian, an acquaintance, on holiday! Imagine that.
Mornington Peninsula Chocolates (mpchocolates.com.au) was a stop where one couldnít help marvelling at the creativity of chocolate-makers. Some of the products were just too visually delicious to eat.
Our lodgings for the next two nights was the Big Blue Backyard (bigbluebackyard.com.au). Owners Lisa and Paul Dempsey are warm and truly delightful, making you feel right at home. Itís the perfect romantic setting for couples. There are three choices of suites Ė the Bush, the African and the Beach. Sorry, Penny, you donít bring out the romantic in me.
I had the Bush which came with its own private deck (with an outdoor shower) and an outdoor spa bath. There was also a shower area inside with a wooden deck. Meals here are cooked by Chef Paul and is normally sent to your suite, but because it was drizzling that evening, we had our first dinner with the Dempseys.
I donít know about them but I truly enjoyed the company and the simple hearty fare.
After a day spent touring the region, I still managed to squeeze in a walk out back through the sand dunes that are a part of the National Park here. I made it to the secluded St Andrews Beach but had to turn back quickly as it looked like a thunderstorm was approaching (it didnít).
An A+ for the owners, the food, the accommodation and the natural environment!
We also dropped in at Montalto (montalto.com.au), a two-hat restaurant that also operates its own wineyard and olive grove. The food I found to be ordinary but the wines were spectacular.
What makes them a stand-out, though, is their gardens and their commitment to the arts. They sponsor an annual arts sculpture competition and the winning works are displayed in their garden.
You really should take a stroll in their extensive garden.
Another eatery in Sorrento, The Baths (thebaths.com.au) has a good spot overlooking the sea and even a landing strip for seaplanes. Well, a plane actually landed and the occupants came over for lunch! Itís also a popular venue for events and weddings and there was a wedding planned that evening. Nice.
After all the intake of alcohol and food, we thought it would be good to unwind at the Peninsula Hot Springs (peninsulahotsprings.com), which has natural hot mineral springs with public area thermal pools and a more exclusive area. They also have a spa. Didnít try the spa but the pools were amazing.
On this tour, the three sounds I commonly vocalised were burp, hic and ahhh!
This trip was sponsored by Tourism Australia/Tourism Victoria.