Mornington Peninsula

Cheers to Red Hill

This is a guest article by Bruna Costa.

Earlier this year, I spent a weekend on the Mornington Peninsula with my sisters. During our stay, we celebrated an 80th birthday by taking a tour of the wineries in Red Hill. I had never toured the region before, and what came as a complete surprise to me was the vegetation that lined the streets. 

Bushland on the peninsula's coast consists mainly of shrubs and kilometre upon kilometre of moonah trees (Melaleuca lanceolata) with vines stretching from one to the other and creeping up their stringy bark trunks. Together, they form barriers between the waterfront campsites and Point Nepean Road. Their canopies shade tents and caravans from the hot summer sun. They are found along side streets and in the gardens of holiday houses. To me, moonah trees symbolise relaxing beach holidays on the peninsula.

Driving away from the low-lying beachfront and up through Red Hill, I was astounded to find vegetation vastly different from that which grows on the coast. It was more like the typical Australian bush I might stroll through in central Victoria, or in the eastern region of our state.
Eucalyptus trees shade the streets that meander from one winery to another. Corridors of these trees serve as borders between each winery, creating the impression that these boundaries are there to protect the secrets and individuality of the wineries.

We visited one large establishment before our tour guide took us to explore some smaller wineries. Putting aside the broad boundaries of eucalyptus forests, the rolling hills of Red Hill, their small plots of vines and the occasional olive grove dotted here and there, came as a reminder to me of vineyards and small farms in the hilly outskirts of villages in Northern Italy; picturesque places I once visited.  

Grapevines stretching away down the slope.  Image: Bruna Costa

Grapevines stretching away down the slope. Image: Bruna Costa

The idyllic winery where we stopped for lunch also bore a strong connection to Italy. According to the waiter at the wine tasting counter, the winery’s founder, who migrated from Italy at the age of 25, turned to his childhood interest after working in the concreting business in Melbourne for 50 years. At the age of 70, he looked for some land on which to plant the vines of his choice, and the slopes of Red Hill offered the perfect location. The abandoned apple orchard he purchased reminded him of his family’s vineyards, where he had worked as a young man, and he proceeded to plant his vines by hand down the idyllic sloping hills. He also added an olive grove to his proposed winery. 

We tasted several samples of his fine wines before being ushered outside to our table situated beneath shady parasols. Pergolas draped with grapevines surrounded the piazza, their leaves already displaying autumnal colours. Basking in this welcoming ambience, we dined at an artisan table crafted from a slice of a long tree trunk. Before us, rows of netted grapevines disappeared down the hillside. While waiting for our lunch to be served, we revelled in the great Australian outdoors with a touch of European ambience, right here in our own region of Red Hill.

The meal consisted of antipasto served with polenta triangles, a dish synonymous to what is served in the Veneto and Friuli regions of far north-eastern Italy. We then devoured delicious pizza, washing it down with a fine Pinot Noir and water. To add to the wonderful atmosphere, welcome swallows swept across the grassland and over the vines. 

After our midday sojourn, we continued our tour and visited two more wineries. All the cellar doors we visited had welcoming waiters eager to tell the story of their winery's origins with enthusiasm and pride: how their family businesses began and developed, and how the whole family contributes, be it working on the land, in production or designing the business labels. 

Browsing from one winery to another, sitting on rustic tables under shady trees with greenery all around, is a splendid way of enjoying a lazy day, refuelling the mind and the spirit. Of course, tasting the enormous variety of wines in such pleasing scenery and open spaces, and sharing the experience with others, also lightens our hearts. Adding a touch of magic to our tour was the warm sunshine which bore down on us all day, heralding the beginning of autumn.

Looking out over Port Phillip Bay.  Image: Bruna Costa

Looking out over Port Phillip Bay. Image: Bruna Costa

On our descent from Red Hill, we stopped at a lookout not far from Arthur’s Seat. Overlooking Port Phillip Bay, the view was spectacular. On such a clear day we could see Melbourne’s skyscrapers across the bay, albeit diminished in size. A few tiny fishing boats floated on the calm sea, and a silver streak streamed behind the Spirit of Tasmania as she cruised towards Station Pier. I couldn’t help wondering where the dolphins might have been at that moment, and how many other species of fish may have been swimming aimlessly beneath that calm surface. 

We learned from our tour guide that it takes more than 700 grapes to make a bottle of wine, 50 wineries operate and thrive in the Red Hill region, and the ‘Eagle’ – the new chairlift at Arthur’s Seat – takes 15 minutes to descend to the bottom of the hill.

The view over the peninsula.  Image: Bruna Costa

The view over the peninsula. Image: Bruna Costa

Later that afternoon, while a light dinner was being prepared, some of us took a stroll down to the beach. We returned to find the soft glow of candles both inside the house and on the patio. We had brought bags of candles with us, planning to participate in Earth Hour that evening from 8.30pm to 9.30pm.

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the inception of Earth Hour in Sydney in 2007. According to the Earth Hour Melbourne website, 2.2 million individuals and in excess of 2,000 businesses turned their lights off for an hour in that first year. The aim of the exercise was to take a stand against climate change. Ten years on, Earth Hour has become a global movement with more than 50 million people across 35 countries taking part. It is rewarding to participate in a silent movement which sends such a powerful message, and we intend to take part in it again next year. 

Of course, our Earth Hour didn’t last one hour. We sat for several hours in the ethereal light, enjoying the art of uninterrupted conversation; a perfect ending to a great day.

Please note: This article is an honest review and has not been sponsored in any way by the wineries or chairlift company.


Bruna Costa has worked in kindergartens for 26 years, and currently works with a 3-year-old group. She is a member of Write Track Writers' Group in Box Hill, and enjoys bird-spotting in bushland and her local area.

Point Leo Dreaming

It’s no secret that with greater education our appreciation and understanding of those we live with and the world in which we live is enhanced. With regards to understanding the environment, we’ve hit a stumbling block – the disconnect with nature is becoming more apparent in our modern lives and the language of science often seems to be spoken in an alien tongue. The challenge before us all is to reconcile these differences by actively seeking involvement in nature and making science more accessible to the general public.

As a marine biologist, I love nothing more than working with communities because of the opportunity it presents for us all to share our collective knowledge and experiences in nature. Importantly, I’ve found that it’s not just nature that benefits from this, but the community itself. When working together, nature becomes the conduit by which new friendships are forged and existing bonds are reinforced. Nature becomes part of the community’s identity, and a permanent reminder of the successes of both the individual and the whole. There is no better example of this than at Point Leo, a small coastal community on the southern coast of Western Port Bay, Victoria.

Point Leo, or Bobbanaring as it is known to the indigenous Boonwurrung tribe of the Kulin people, has drawn people to its shores for over 8000 years. Point Leo has always been a popular coastal retreat with a right-handed point break that has been the cornerstone of Point Leo’s iconic surf culture and community since the 1950s. At only one hour from Melbourne, Point Leo’s drawcards of sand, surf, coastal woodlands and rich biodiversity have seen its popularity grow over the decades with more and more Melburnians turning to Point Leo as an ideal coastal daytrip or laid-back weekend of camping.

Paddle boarding is another popular pastime enjoyed at Point Leo.  Image: Emma Walsh  

Paddle boarding is another popular pastime enjoyed at Point Leo. Image: Emma Walsh 

Recognising the increasing rates of visitors year after year, a significant challenge was put before the Point Leo community of how to best manage this increase in demand alongside the preservation and restoration of the local environment. Consequently, they decided that the best way forward was to welcome and educate visitors about the environment in the most effective and engaging way possible. Through a chain of serendipitous connections, I remember receiving an email from Monash University asking if Wild Melbourne would like to take part in the redevelopment of the Point Leo campgrounds, providing the necessary expertise to educate the public. It was a no-brainer - I let the Wild Melbourne team know and we all jumped right in and relished the chance to share our passion for nature.

Coffee in our hands, hearts on our sleeves, Chris, Emma and myself first sat with Tony Walkington (Manager/Ranger of the Point Leo Foreshore Park and Reserve) and discussed ideas about how best to make an educational experience rewarding, enriching and most of all, fun! We had BIG ideas and there was no shortage of them, but the challenge was going to be fitting it all into the budget. Point Leo is entirely self-funded with no financial assistance from government, but with the additional financial support from Monash University we felt confident we could deliver.

I won’t lie, the project had its challenges and we had a few hiccups (more like awkward burps, actually) along the way. There were delays in delivery, late nights getting drafts approved, several weekends sacrificed and sleepless nights hoping that it would all pan out as we had envisioned. But it was during these lows, the power of collaboration and a shared experience shone through and made it all possible.

Red-capped plover's nest.  Artwork: Amellia Formby

Red-capped plover's nest. Artwork: Amellia Formby

Everyone had the opportunity to give back to the community and the environment in one way or another. Local carpenters made it possible to up-cycle a rotting boat into both a table and a sand-filled, interactive representation of the shoreline. Milly Formby, zoologist and artist, brought to life an intimate moment in the lives of the red-capped plover in her pencil-and-gouache illustration. Paul Ikin, illustrator extraordinaire and keen surfer, turned our imaginations into reality by designing and illustrating Point Leo’s interpretive ‘surf’ boards. A local who collected fungi even helped keep the visitor centre’s terrarium constantly evolving with the seasons. But, if you ask me, it was the mural painting that was by far the most humbling and rewarding experience.

On a brilliant summer’s weekend in January, we painted with holidaying campers from all over Melbourne, transforming a bleak toilet wall into a bright and colourful seascape. I’ll never forget hearing the voices of paint-spattered children playfully arguing about who was better at identifying the species on the wall. I remember smiling and thinking, ‘It worked! The kids are learning and they don’t even know it!’ Frankly, in that moment, our purpose was achieved – everyone laughed, sang, made new friends and bonded over a shared experience, creating a memory unlikely to be forgotten. Nature was healing and all we had to do was get out there.

Point Leo is no longer ‘just a playground.’ Education through unique and fun, interactive experiences has strengthened it as a place of reconnection with the land and sea. I believe that this reconnection, even if in the most minor ways, makes for a portable experience whereby visitors’ memories and experiences encourage stewardship of the environment beyond Point Leo’s shores. The hope is that when your memories of Point Leo echo in your daily life, you’ll briefly stop, smile, breathe that little bit deeper and take note of the natural wonders around you that you’ve missed on every other day.

I regularly think of Point Leo in some way, shape or form. It’s the crisp, salt air filling my lungs. The crunch of sand beneath my heels. The rhythmic rumble of waves as I sleep. The smiles and greetings of those walking by. I’m forever grateful that by giving to the land, I received much more than I could have ever imagined.

If you would like more details about our interpretive and interactive displays at Point Leo, please visit http://wildmelbourne.org/services/community-works.Wild Melbourne would love to help showcase your local community's natural beauty and have its story told.

For more information about Point Leo Foreshore Park and Reserve, visit www.pointleo.com


Leonardo Guida

Following a childhood love for sharks, Leo recently completed his PhD at Monash University investigating the effects of fishing on shark and ray populations. He is Director of Community Operations for Wild Melbourne.

You can find him on Twitter at @ElasmoBro.


Banner image courtesy of Leonardo Guida. 

 

At Land's End: The Beauty of Point Nepean

This is a guest post by Tessa Koumoundouros. 

A strong wind filled my senses as I stepped out of the car opposite the Quarantine Centre at Point Nepean National Park. It whipped at my friend, Alex, and I as we walked along and rustled through the knotted wall of tea trees and shrubs that bordered both sides of the road. Above us, the wind cut through the power lines, making a low eerie whistle, which seemed to suit the dark, brooding sky.

Point Nepean National Park is 90 km from Melbourne, but at only a few minutes' drive from Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula, it is a popular tourist destination. The walk from the Quarantine Centre, a historic medical facility that played a role during the worldwide Spanish Flu pandemic, to the end of the point is a 3.8 km round trip, and while the road is well-maintained, there are a few hills along the way. A year ago, when I was battling a back injury, those hills would have caused me some difficulty. But a shuttle bus runs from the car park at Quarantine Station to Fort Nepean at the end of the Peninsula twice an hour from 10:30am to 3:30pm, making this an ideal walk for families with young children, or friends and relatives who may tire easily.

Image: Tessa Koumoundouros

Image: Tessa Koumoundouros


I remember wondering what the point of this hilly road walk was when I was first here as a teenager during a sweltering summer’s day, until we reached the area where the trees and bushes were stunted - managing only to reach hip height at best in the exposed coastal conditions. Here, the land narrowed to reveal panoramic views of the white-capped ocean waves of Bass Strait to the right, and serene bay waters to the left.

Sometimes dolphins visit the bayside coves; I had seen their fin tips trailing through the water near the untouched beaches. And at dusk we’d seen grazing wallabies in grassy clearings. Everyone who spoke of this walk always mentioned seeing echidnas, but they seemed to have eluded me on every visit so far. I wondered if the wild weather now would mean there would be less wildlife to see.

Image: Tessa Koumoundouros

Image: Tessa Koumoundouros

This was the first time I’d been to Point Nepean while so many plants were in bloom. The white flowers of the tea trees filled the air with a rich, honey scent, so thick even the persistent wind couldn't fully disperse it. Delicate, deep purple pea flowers bobbed on their scattered green shoots, hugging the ground beneath the tea and melaleuca trees. The air around the plants was alive with activity, with bee-mimicking hoverflies loitering in bunches and butterflies performing spiral dances around each other, unperturbed by the moving air. Honeyeaters and small, cryptic birds darted in and out of the foliage.

Along the way we passed several walking tracks that branched off to the tops of hills and lookout points along the coast, including the memorial to Australia's former Prime Minister Harold Holt, who disappeared one morning along this coastline. We also passed foreboding warning signs about unexploded ordnance off the paths, a reminder of dark times when forceful defence of Port Phillip Bay was deemed necessary. Now it seemed as if this military history helped protect the wild things that live here by enhancing the park's draw to tourists, but keeping us from straying from the pathways. The old fort and associated buildings with their cold concrete walls and low ceilinged tunnels were unsettlingly claustrophobic compared to the wild, open spaces of their location.

Tourists passed us, in pairs or noisy groups, as we stopped to examine the insects along the road.  As we approached the narrowest part of the point, a young girl shouted gleefully as she raced into the wind, her arms out like an aeroplane.  But when she left with the rest of her family trailing after her, we were alone at the end of the Peninsula; the final bus for the day had gone and the overcast sky grew darker.

We rested on a wooden bench, below the old concrete fort, at the edge of the land, watching the wave-surfing gannets fly in from the ocean to join the terns resting on the exposed rocky shelf of Nepean Reef, in the mouth of the bay. After my experience with injury last year, it was a relief to be able to access such wild views again. The bay looked wilder than the ocean today, with the north wind tossing up the waves. There, across the water, we could see Queenscliff, the lighthouse at Point Lonsdale, and the jagged Australian coastline extending southwest, hazy behind distant rain.

Image: Tessa Koumoundouros

Image: Tessa Koumoundouros

Soon after we turned back, Alex abruptly stopped and pointed towards the low scraggly shrubs near where the land dropped towards the ocean.  There, snuffling along the base of the shrubs in the sandy soil, was an echidna! As we stood and watched its distinctive shape waddle in and out of view, a bird plummeted past at a staggering speed. We watched the diminutive raptor, a nankeen kestrel, hover; a shrinking speck climbing into the sky, as we made our way back towards the Quarantine Centre, reaching the carpark just in time for the rain to tumble down.


Tessa Koumoundouros is a science writer and illustrator with a passion for nature. As a Zoology and Science Communication graduate, she is fascinated by the interactions between science, art and society. You can find her on Twitter at @tesskou.

Banner image courtesy of Tessa Koumoundouros.