As countries go, Australia has some truly epic hiking destinations. Break those down, state by state, and you’ll find Victoria easily rivalling for the cream of the crop. From the grandiose Grampians National Park– a well known and equally as well loved hiking and outdoors destination to Wilsons Promontory National Park, an unspoilt slice of paradise that sits at the furthest point south of mainland Australia- there’s plenty of top-notch trails to be exploring. And that’s just for starters.
From Melbourne, Great Otway National Park or Cathedral Range State Park are both within easy driving distance. Neither of which will leave you disappointed. However, here we’ll be triumphing another hiking and all round gorgeously scenic destination right on Melbourne’s doorstep- Mornington Peninsula.
Morn Pen is a beautiful headland situated south of Melbourne. The hikes, beaches and wildlife are more than enough for the Peninsula to hold its own against any of the Victorian big guns. More typically explored over multiple days, we’ll detail how to get the most out of a 24 hour flying visit come rain or shine, as you’re about to see.
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Hiking Mornington Peninsula | One Day Hiking Guide
Of course, Mornington Peninsula has a wealth of walking and hiking trails, with numerous lookouts and picturesque beach spots to see along the way. But, if you only have a day to explore the Peninsula, as we did, it can be difficult to figure out what to see and how to fit it all in. We’ve put together a one day itinerary to make life easier. Read on to see how you can get the most out of this beautiful part of Victoria in just one day.
All trails in this guide are officially graded by Visit Mornington Penninsula. If no official grade is rated, difficulty rated by *Travel Made Me Do It.
- Cape Schanck-Gunnamatta Beach| Return| 9.4km | 2.5-3 hours | Grade 4* | Elevation Gain: 80m | Start/Finish: Cape Schanck Car Park
- The Cape Walk| Loop | 1km | 1 hour |Elevation Gain: 70m | Grade 4* | Start/Finish: Cape Schanck Car Park
- Bushrangers Bay Walk | Return | 6km |1.5-2 hours | Grade 3* | Elevation Gain: 56m | Start/Finish: Cape Schanck Car Park
- Coppins Track | Return | 6km |1.5 hours | Grade 2* | Elevation Gain: 24m | Start/Finish: Sorrento Surf Life Saving Club
- London Bridge Lookout | Return | 400m |15 minutes | Very easy† | Elevation Gain: 9m | Start/Finish: London Bridge Car Park
1. Cape Schanck-Gunnamatta Beach
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 9.4km
- Time: 2.5-3 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain:160m
- Difficulty: Grade 4
- Trailhead: Cape Schanck Car Park
A classic section of the Coastal Walk trail. Having just one day to explore a location can always be a tad risky. There’s very little opportunity to account for any issues or problems that may arise. One such concern is always the weather. Nothing could have been more true than for our one day visit hiking Mornington Peninsula.
Now, I’m from Manchester, UK, so rain isn’t such a bother to me. Dan, on the other hand, is a Sydneysider through and through. A day in the rain isn’t the most exciting of ideas to him. However, to put into context just how terrible the weather was here, even I was reluctant to leave the warmth and cover of the car. Despite having all the appropriate wet weather gear, plus an emergency flask of tea for revival later on, the weather was looking grim. We looked set to enjoy Morn Pen from the confines of the Cape Schanck Car Park. We were also the only car parked up here, which probably won’t surprise you.
Channelling my inner northerner, I encouraged us to exit the car and crack on. And you know what, crack on we did. Were we soaked to the core by the end of the day? You betcha. Did we have a truly excellent time hiking Mornington Peninsula despite the wet weather? ABSOLUTELY!
The Coastal Walk, Mornington Peninsula
The Coastal Walk along the southern side of Mornington Peninsula is a beautiful 30 km one way walk that encompasses The Gunnamatta Beach Walk and the Coppins Track we’ll detail below. It stretches between Cape Schanck and Point Nepean National Park. If you can afford the time to do the whole thing then great, if not, it works perfecftly well to be broken up into sections.
Waiting for a slight break in the weather, we exited the car to begin the hike. The trailhead for the Coastal Walk begins at the side of the Cape Schanck Road, and so you’ll need to leave the car park and head up the entry road for a short while. Once on the track, you’ll soon be single file hiking through the lush surrounds of overhanging grasses and tree cover.
There’s not too much elevation to this hike, and so the 9.4km return hike to Gunnamatta Beach is fairly straightforward. The path is mostly dirt with the odd sand section, obviously making hiking a little tougher. Along the route, you will find many offshoots to various lookout points. They each have fantastic views over Fingal Beach- the first beach you’ll come to, and then beyond to Gunnamatta.
Around halfway through the first leg of the hike, you’ll reach the turn off for Fingal Beach. Ideally, we’d planned to head down onto this small and picturesque beach, but with the terrible weather, we decided to crack on to Gunnamatta. It was around this point we were in two minds whether to turn back altogether.
If you have better weather during your visit, then head down to Fingal Beach. It’s only a short detour from the track and checking out another beach in Australia is never a waste of time.
Dan and I were soaked to the bone. The tree cover on the trail had protected us a little from the downpour, from an overhead perspective anyway. However, the saturated ground, drenched shrubbery and grasses that hung innocently enough over the narrow trail had actually done the most damage. Whipping at our legs as we marched through, we’d been left with wet feet, wet socks and wet hiking boots. Wringing our wet trousers later on was all part of the adventure!
After deliberating under the trees for a couple of minutes, we decided to continue, knowing full well if we headed back to the car now, we’d end up pulling the plug on our entire day. So instead, we enjoyed Fingal Beach from the lookouts and cracked on.
Wet yet focused, we charged through the trail to eventually reach Gunnamatta Beach. The beach was quite rightly deserted, but that suited us. Technically the hike continues along the beach to the Gunnamatta Surf Life Saving Club. On a nice day, we’d recommend adding the beach walk onto the hike. The extra couple of kilometres added to the walk would be fairly unnoticeable. The fresh ocean breeze and golden sandbanks surrounded by the forest would make for a lovely end to the walk. However, given the days’ inclement weather, we decided we wouldn’t hang around for too long.
Strangely enough, the weather did pause for a moment once we reached Gunnamatta, and we were able to take a moment, refuel and enjoy the landscape, before heading back the way we came. And no, it wasn’t long before the deluge of rain returned.
Should you make it all the way to Gunnamatta Surf Life Saving Club, you’ll find toilets here for your convenience.
2. The Cape Walk
- Type: Loop
- Distance: 1km
- Time: 1 hour
- Accumulated elevation gain: 140m
- Difficulty: Grade 4
- Trailhead: Cape Schanck Car Park
Lighthouse, boardwalk and lookouts. After a somewhat lousy attempt of a drying off in the car, and waiting for a break in the weather, we set off on the short but picturesque Cape Walk. Beginning, again, from the Cape Schanck Car Park, the path passes the Cape Schanck Light Station. The bright white lighthouse has stood proudly in this landscape since 1859. If you’re interested, tours of this historic monument are available, and there’s a lighthouse museum to view also.
The Boardwalk to Pulpit Rock
From the lighthouse, the trail descends down a long platform of wooden steps and ramps, all the way out to pulpit rock. In wet weather, this track can be extremely slippery. In a torrential downpour, as we experienced, this track verges on a little dangerous. I, rather comically, shuffled and slid whilst gripping the handrail for dear life, all the way to the bottom. I questioned at one point whether my hiking boots had just given up for the day.
The views as you descend are worth the risk though. The small headland of Pulpit Rock curves round to the left ahead of you. Its brilliant greens and burnt oranges looking even more vibrant in the fresh rain. The background canvas of moody sky helping to elevate its lushness. Between concentrating on our steps and trying not to fall, peering out to the cape tip was a beautiful sight.
At the end of the boardwalk, you’ll find access to a small pebbly cove at Pulpit Rock. The landscape feels volcanic. The mixtures of earthy tones, from land to sea, are enough to awaken all senses. If the incessant rainfall hasn’t managed to do so yet. We’re sure a bright and sunny day evokes similar feelings though.
Returning to Cape Schanck Light Station
Navigating the steps and boardwalk back up to the trailhead is slightly easier, though still carries risk when wet. Passing other pockets of visitors was amusing as we slid by one another. A knowing smile and nod of acknowledgment to the ridiculousness of our circumstance given here and there. It would seem mine weren’t the only hiking boots to leave their grips at the top.
As we neared the top of the steps, back to the safety of the trail, another bucket of water was poured from the sky and attempted to take us out. With the added winds, it was a little like trying to run the wrong way up an escalator, if the escalator was made of butter. Okay, perhaps that’s a little dramatic, but I mean, completely true.
At the top of the boardwalk, the trail continues to form a loop back to the car park. Luckily there’s a little cover from the trees on this section should you require it. We certainly did. There are many lookouts along the trail and opportunities to view Cape Schanck from different angles. The rough waters still brilliantly turquoise in parts, and the odd glimmer of a rainbow made the vistas all the better.
Then back to the car for another dry off. It’s a good job we packed the beach towels. They were now upgraded to wet clothing seat protectors.
3. Bushrangers Bay Walk
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 6km
- Time: 1.5-2 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 112m
- Difficulty: Grade 3
- Trailhead: Cape Schanck Car Park
By this point, we were really in two minds as to whether to continue with the day. Yes, we were wet, but we were not yet miserable. Knowing we only had one day to see the delights of hiking Mornington Peninsula was enough to drag us out of the car once again. This time we would leave our rucksacks in the car and travel super light. This was to be a mixture of trail running and speed hiking. With an early car picnic lunch down us, we departed.
The trail again begins from the Cape Schanck Car Park. It’s an easy path to follow and a popular track. Even in the terrible weather we saw two other couples hiking this trail. For the most part, we were speed hiking, however, we broke into a trail run for a few hundred metres here and there to get back and out of the rain quicker. Knowing the trail was only 3km to the beach made this much easier. There were a couple of occasions where the hailstone meant me were diving into the nearest tree cover for short periods. Rain is one thing, hail another.
The trail can be a little muddy. However, it’s extremely picturesque and feels remote. The trail follows the Two Bays Walking Track before detouring onto Bushrangers Bay at the very end. Although wet and a little cold, we were glad to have completed the hike. Bushrangers Bay was a lovely beach to hike to. It felt rough and rugged around the edges. In fact, it perfectly suited the stormy weather for the day.
SIDENOTE: The Bushrangers Bay Track is usually a 6km one way track from Cape Schank to Boneo Road. We decided to make the walk a there and back to the bay because the weather wasn’t so great and also to fit other hikes into the day. Should you want to complete the full track, you can find more information here.
4. London Bridge Lookout
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 400m
- Time: 15 minutes
- Accumulated elevation gain: 18m
- Difficulty: Very Easy*
- Trailhead: London Bridge Car Park
A fantastic rock formation and excellent lookout. More rain and another car park stakeout. This time we bided our time for a break in the weather. The views of London Bridge were from a lookout just a few hundred metres from the car park and so we decided to wait for another break in the weather.
After checking information online before our visit, which is always a good idea, we’d read access to London Bridge via the beach was closed due to track damage. On arrival, however, we saw a couple of people heading down and onto the beach for a closer look. From the top of the trail, at the car park, it was unclear whether the track was still closed or not. We decided to stick with the lookout and trust that the information we’d read online the day before was still accurate. So we headed straight for the lookout.
From the cliff edge, the London Bridge Lookout offers fantastic views of this amazing rock formation in Mornington Peninsula. The cavern almost closes back in on itself, like a claw or crab’s pincer, keeping its contents secret. Again, the stormy weather failed to disrupt the brilliant turquoise ripples of the water, which still looked inviting, however wet and cold we were feeling.
You’ll come across a few rock formations in Australia named London Bridge. There’s another one just in Victoria alone, along the Great Ocean Road. That being said, this has to be one of the best.
5. Coppins Track
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 1.5km
- Time: 6 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 50m
- Difficulty: Grade 2
- Trailhead: Sorrento Surf Life Saving Club
An historic coastal track. Hold on to your hats guys, dry weather at last! Arriving at Sorrento Ocean Beach, we parked up for our final hike of the day. We’d seen such beautiful pictures of this hike, we were keen to explore for ourselves. The Coppins Track is an historic route, tracing the history of the area and runs between Sorrento and Diamond Bay. The track can be hiked from either direction.
The car park, of course, was empty. We assumed most people had given up for the day, we can’t blame them. From here the Coppins Track begins from a little back up the Ocean Beach Road you’ve just driven down. It’s a simple track to follow, just a little strenuous in parts as you cross sand trail sections.
The 6km return trail shouldn’t take longer than 1.5 hours to complete. As it was winter the early setting sun was catching up with us and so we needed just one last push for the day to complete our itinerary. Thankfully the dry weather helped.
Along the track, there are numerous lookouts and points of interest. We were hoping to stop at St Paul’s Beach, however, access was closed and so we had to bypass the natural rock arch that can be found there. Perhaps you’ll have better luck when you visit. The rugged coastline and warm sandstone rocks felt almost Mediterranean. The water here is so clear and inviting. We imagine on a hot and dry day this walk to take a little longer due to the many ‘compulsory’ dips in the sea.
Bay of Islands
After an enjoyable speed hike, you’ll reach Diamond Bay. At the far end of the bay you’ll find Bay of Islands. A thoughtfully laid out boardwalk leads to the end of the headland to offer wonderful views of these sea stacks. All mismatched and different in shape, standing proudly in the ocean. The power of the south coast winds and sea diminishing their size every day. They litter the sea like ancient monuments steeped with history.
The Coppins Track doesn’t feel quite as remote as the Gunnamatta Beach and Bushrangers Bay returns earlier in the day. There are a couple of occasions where you have plain sight of housing estates not 50 metres in front of you. It doesn’t take away from the enjoyment, this track is still uber beautiful and its beaches sublime. However, it does leave you appreciating the morning hikes that bit more.
Still relishing the break in the rain, which had so far lasted, we were back at the car just before the heavens opened again. It was nice to get back into the car without being sopping wet for a change. We were also thrilled to have completed the itinerary we’d set out for ourselves, and enjoy our day hiking Mornington Peninsula.
Hiking Mornington Peninsula Recap
So there you have five hikes, of differing length and merit, to enjoy whilst enjoying a day hiking Mornington Peninsula. It’s such an easy reach from Melbourne, or the perfect stop on a wider road trip, like we were on, it would be a shame to miss out. Of course, there was so much more we could have done, and so if you can spend longer at Mornington Peninsula, then we recommend you do.
Please find below extensive information on how to get to/from Mornington Peninsula, accommodation, total costs and bonus tips.
Getting to & from Mornington Peninsula
A car is best, but there is public transport. Our day hiking Mornington Peninsula was part of a wider road trip through Victoria, and so we drove from Phillip Island, where we had been the previous few days. The journey time is around 1 hour 50 minutes from there.
It is more common to take the trip from Melbourne. Here you have an average drive time of 1.5 hours. Some of the route options include toll roads. There are no booths to pay the toll and so passes must be purchased before you drive. See CityLink or Breeze for options.
So, as you can see, it’s an easy day trip. If you don’t own a car, we’d recommend hiring one. It makes getting around the peninsula much simpler, meaning you can see a lot more in the time you have. We always check with RentalCars.com when hiring a car.
There is public transport available from Melbourne to Mornington Peninsula, though much less convenient. The train runs every 15-20 minutes and the buses every 45 minutes (every hour at weekends). For train and bus options please see Visit Melbourne Travel Information for the most up to date transport options.
If you’re travelling to Melbourne from overseas, we recommend using Skyscanner to search for the cheapest flights. When flying abroad, we always get the ball rolling with a Skyscanner search. Also, if based in the UK or US, you should sign up to Jack’s Flight Club for the best flight deal alert service. By simply subscribing to the free weekly newsletter or buying premium membership, you could save lots of money with international travel.
As this is a day trip, we’ll assume you have accommodation already sorted for being in the area. However if not, here are a few options for you. Consider staying outside of Melbourne CBD for a better price. Staying in a city centre will always be pricy, and a major city in Australia is never going to be cheap. Dan and I were going to be staying in Melbourne for 4 nights after hiking Mornington Peninsula and so settled on an Airbnb stay in the suburb of Greensborough. Lying northeast of the CBD, it was perfect for our needs and in easy reach of Sugarloaf Peak, the next hike on our itninerary.
Booking.com is also great for more accommodation searches, we frequently use it.
Although it worked out better for us to stay in Melbourne with only visiting Mornington Peninsula for a day, had we stayed longer, we would most certainly have camped. There is a wealth of options for camping at Mornington Peninsula, with some sites situated right on the coast and with the most fantastic views. We use WikiCamps or CamperMate apps to check our options. Be mindful, it might be a wet and wild comping trip you experience.
Five Hiking Gear Essentials for Mornington Peninsula
These are our five gear essentials for hiking Mornington Peninsula. For a more comprehensive packing list, please check out the Ultimate Packing Checklist. It’s a great general summary of everything you’d need for a trip. For even more information check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. We go in-depth into what hiking and camping gear we use. There, you’ll find specific recommendations for all the products we love.
- Merrell Moab 2 Mid Goretex hiking boots – a decent pair of hiking boots, with good grip, comfort and waterproofing goes a long way. Although we’re not sure any boot would have been waterproof enough for our day hiking Mornington Peninsula, we can always give a thumbs up to the Merrells.
- The North Face Venture 2 waterproof/windproof Jacket– the weather on the south coast of Victoria can be quite unpredictable, especially in winter. We’d have been lost without this one. Rain/wind jacket essential!
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack -a deceptively large but neat fitting rucksack WITH waterproof cover. This ticked all the boxes for hiking Morn Pen. I can confidently claim my belongoings were still dry by the end of the day, so this rucksack is a big win in my book.
- Karrimor 1L Clear Water Bottle x 2 – these water bottles fit perfectly in the side pockets of the Osprey Skarab rucksack, so it just makes perfect sense.
- Nikon D3400 Digital SLR Camera – purely because the scenery is THAT good and needs to be photographed.
- Prepare for all weather: Although the weather during our day trip may have been particulary grim, and not an everyday occurance, the weather around Melbourne is known to be very changeable. With that being said, always pack for any weather. The hikes and trails are just as enjoyable in all conditions, but not if you’re not appropriately dressed. Waterproof jackets and trousers were lifesavers for us.
- Parks info: Before spending the day, or longer, at Mornington Peninsula, be sure to check for up to date travel and closure information. During our visit some areas were closed due to flash flooding and some tracks were needing repairs. Visit Victoria will provide you with all the necessary updates.
- When to visit: As great as it is that Mornington Peninsula can be hiked as a day tip from Melbourne, it can, and does, mean it gets busy at weekends and peak holiday periods. Try visiting on a weekday or in the winter for quieter trails.
We hope you enjoyed this post on Hiking Mornington Peninsula: An Excellent Melbourne Day Trip. We’d love to hear from you so feel free to leave a comment at the bottom.