Popular bayside holiday town on Port Phillip
Sorrento is a delightful seaside holiday and resort town near the entrance to Port Phillip Bay at the narrow western tip of the Mornington Peninsula. Historically it can claim to be the first attempt by Europeans to settle in Victoria. The experiment was short-lived but seventy years later an entrepreneur saw the settlement's potential with its calm, family-orientated beaches; its opportunities for scenic walks; and its appeal as a friendly holiday destination. In more recent times it has become a magnet for people wanting cruises in Port Phillip Bay and ferry trips across to Queenscliff. It is essentially a fashionable summertime holiday resort well supplied with pubs, cafes, coffee shops, restaurants, pancake parlours, ice-creameries and galleries. The narrow strip between Port Phillip and Bass Strait is now urbanised and there are a number of attractive ocean beaches, known for their surf and rugged shoreline, which lie to the south of the town centre.
Sorrento is located 98 km south of Melbourne only 8 km from the western tip of the Mornington Peninsula.^ TOP
Origin of Name
Around 1870 George Coppin, a politician and theatrical entrepreneur, named the town after the Italian resort town of the same name. Coppin established the Sorrento Ocean Amphitheatre Company, sold off allotments of land, built seaside villas, the Continental Hotel, a pier and sea baths.^ TOP
Things to See and Do
The Foreshore Reserve and Bay Beach
The Sorrento Foreshore Reserve, which lies adjacent the Nepean Highway, runs along the shoreline of Port Phillip Bay for 2.5 km from Sullivan's Bay car park to the Sorrento boat ramp. It includes the pier, a cycling track, picnic-barbecue facilities, a playground and other holiday amenities. This is a very family friendly area characterised by the calm waters of Port Phillip.
A Heritage Walk through Sorrento
There is an excellent 16 page brochure - Sorrento Heritage Walk - which can be downloaded at http://www.sorrento.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Sorrento_Heritage_web_version.pdf. It provides information on a total of 18 places (most of which are on Ocean Road) of historic interest. Here are the most interesting places listed on the brochure:
1. Koonya Hotel
Located at 1 The Esplanade, the Kooya Hotel (known as the Mornington Hotel from 1876-1952) was completed in 1878 and restored in 2001. It was built by John Boswell Clarke and, like many of the hotels in the area, was built out of local limestone.
2. Continental Hotel
Located at 1-21 Ocean Beach Road, the Continental Hotel, built in 1875, is a symbol of the Victorian elegance which characterised Sorrento. It was, as the Victorian Heritage Database explains: "established in 1875, for the Sorrento Hotel Company under the directorship of comedian, politician, philanthropist and businessman George Coppin (1819-1906). The Continental Hotel is constructed in a simple Victorian Italianate style using locally quarried limestone. The Continental Hotel is a four storey building which includes the mansard roofed tower, return balcony on the upper levels and two storey section to the rear of the building. The building has undergone some major changes, with a Moderne style renovation to the street front of the ground and first floors which includes a roof top deck ... a relatively intact example of the type of hotel development popular in the later years of the nineteenth century providing accommodation, entertainment and associated hotel services for wealthy city tourists. The Continental Hotel, constructed of local limestone, is important as a landmark building for the seaside town of Sorrento." For more information check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/6081. In 2019 the developer, who had been committed to revitalising the hotel, put the hotel up for sale.
3. Continental Ballroom
Located on Constitution Hill Road in 1904 this charming limestone building once was joined to the Continental Hotel by a bridge. It was originally built for the entertainment of guests and had a ballroom. Later it was turned into staff quarters for the hotel and in 1994 it was restored and used for recitals and art shows.
4. Stringer's Stores
Located on the corner of Ocean Beach Road and Point Nepean Road, Stringers Stores date back to 1886 (when the corner limestone building was completed) and 1892-1893 when the adjoining building was completed. The second storey was built in 1895. It was taken over by the Stringer family in 1920s and continued under their ownership until the 1970s. It is a landmark corner in the town.
5. Morley's General Store
Located on Ocean Beach Road next door to the Continental Hotel, Morley's General Store was built for Edward Morley in 1902 and, over the years, has been everything from a general store to bakery, newsagent, florist, craft shop and cafe.
6. Wilsons Butcher's Shop
Located at 35-37 Ocean Beach Road and built in 1905, Wilson's Butcher's Shop is listed by the National Trust and included in the Victorian Heritage Database which notes that it is: "a relatively intact example of an Edwardian shop and residence demonstrating the craftsmanship of a local builder, W J Croad, and Arts and Crafts detailing. The building is historically significant for its associations with the Wilson family, who are related to a pioneer family of local butchers." It was a butcher's shop for 95 years. For more information check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/66335.
7. Oriental Coffee Palace
Located at 18 Ocean Beach Parade and built in 1887-1888 by lime burner, William Hughes, this coffee palace, offering non-alcoholic drinks and accommodation, operated until 1954. Since then it has had a number of different tenants.
Located at 20-36 Ocean Beach Road, the Sorrento Athenaeum was constructed in 1894. The Victorian Heritage Database notes: "The auditorium features a large cornice and pilasters, three deep plaster domes, set into a ceiling of gridded/floral plasterwork, which also lines the proscenium wall, the Athenaeum auditorium is particularly decorative, and has something of the character of a major theatre.
Originally accommodating visiting theatrical companies and personalities during the summer season, as well as dances, balls and bazaars, films were also shown from at least the mid-1920s." For more details check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/66336.
9. St Andrews Presbyterian Church
Located at 39 Kerferd Avenue, the St Andrews Presbyterian Church was built in 1888-1889 with the nave and east wing added in 1906. The church has changed little in the last century.
Located at 120 Ocean Beach Road and, as the Heritage Walk explains: "Built 1904-05 by R. Marsden for Alex Ellis, as was Carmel, then next door, for James Patterson. These were joined together by another building and run as a guest house called ‘Antrim’ from 1907 to 1915. Beautifully preserved example of the Edwardian Italianate villa, built in limestone, with red brick quoins and window dressings. Note the decorative barge boards."
11. The Anchorage
Located at 3273 Point Nepean Road (on the corner of Coppin Road), the Anchorage is a glorious Victorian villa which was constructed in 1873 for George Coppin. It was built of local limestone and remains a superb example of a Victorian-era seaside holiday home.
12. North Esk
Located on the corner of Bowen Road and the Nepean Highway on a huge block of land, this elegant mansion was built in 1880-1882 for Sir James Service, the Victorian Premier. It is an impressive residence with veranda balustrading, lacework cast iron and gracious lawns and gardens.
14. St John's Anglican Church
Located on Point Nepean Road, St John's Anglican Church (as the Australian Christian Church Histories website explain): "St John's Church of England, Nepean Highway, Sorrento, was commenced in 1874, the transepts being added in 1889 and the chancel during 1908-11. The small limestone Church is conventionally planned with an apsidal east end. Walls are of random coursed masonry with rendered parapet, buttress cappings and plinth (probably later) and a slate roof. The massive angled corner buttresses, porch, oculus and triangular roof vents are the principal features." For more detailed information check out https://www.churchhistories.net.au/church-catalog/sorrento-vic-st-johns-anglican.
15. Sorrento Hotel
Located in Hotham Road, the first section of the Sorrento Hotel was built and the licence granted to P.J. Martin in 1872. It was always a huge and impressive construction with the stone mason, John Farnsworth, being brought from Adelaide to build the hotel and a year later tenders were called for thirty extra rooms. It was designed by M. Hennessy and a process of extensions to the existing building continued until 1928. It is now classified by the National Trust.
16. Sorrento Rotunda
Located in Hotham Road, the Sorrento Rotunda was built 1902 and first used on New Year’s Eve that year. It was opened in March 1903 and often used by visiting paddle steamer bands. It was renovated in 1988 and restored by Sorrento Rotary in 1998.
18. Mechanics Institute - Nepean Historical Museum
The Nepean Historical Museum, at the corner of Melbourne and Ocean Beach Roads, is located in the Italianate style Mechanics' Institute (1876-1877) built of limestone with a stuccoed porch and corner pilasters. For more information about the building check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/66264. 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 Saturday and Sunday from 1.30 pm to 4.30 pm, tel: (03) 5984 0255. Visit their website: http://www.nepeanhistoricalsociety.asn.au. The Historical Society can organise group tours of both the Museum and the Collins Settlement site.
Located at the Port Phillip end of Lentell Avenue, Sorrento and extending along the cliffs towards Point King Foreshore Reserve, Millionaire's Walk (it is one kilometre long and takes about an hour) offers views across the bay which are usually reserved for the wealthy who have built their houses on the cliff. The panorama includes views across to the Bellarine Peninsula, to the Melbourne CBD and Mount Dandenong. It was also a location where the artists Sir Arthur Streeton, Arthur Boyd and Ray Hodgkinson painted the view and it is part of the Sorrento-Portsea Artists' Trail. The excellent website ( https://www.visitmorningtonpeninsula.org/PlacesToGo/Walks/AllWalks/tabid/399/View/5b59369ba5449ddb7533aeae/Millionaires-Walk/Default.aspx) also notes that: "Located not far from Point King Road is a white rig station and stone monument - this is the place where on the 9th March 1802, Acting Lieutenant John Murray, commander of the 'HMAS Lady Nelson' took possession of Point King, later to be renamed Port Phillip Bay, in the name of His Sacred Majesty George III of Great Britain and Ireland. It was the first time the Union Jack was used in Australia for this purpose."
Sorrento Portsea Artists' Trail
Starting at Sorrento Front Beach (near Bowen Road) with Albert Tucker's Sorrento, 1942 and continuing along the coast to Police Point (Penleigh Boyd's Portsea 1921) and then across the peninsula to Portsea and Sorrento's surf beaches, the Sorrento Portsea Artists Trail was created in 2004 "to bring the artists work to life by positioning images of the paintings as close as possible to the scene viewed by the artist."
The works are:
1. Albert Tucker - Sorrento 1942
2. Roland Clark - Koonya, Continental and Sorrento Hotels 1904
3. Roland Clark - Sorrento Foreshore with Buildings 1904
4. Ray Hodgkinson - View from Munstead Wood c 1947
5. Sir Arthur Streeton - Point King 1920
6. Arthur Boyd - Laycock’s Jetty 1957
7. Sir Arthur Streeton - Sorrento from Point King 1921
8. Sir Arthur Streeton View from Barrett’s Point, Portsea 1921
9. Penleigh Boyd – Portsea 1922
10. Penleigh Boyd – Portsea 1921
11. John Perceval - Quarantine Boundary, Portsea 1957
12. Isaac Whitehead Ocean Beach Sorrento 1871
13. Emanuel Phillips Fox At Sorrento 1915
14. John Perceval Ocean Beach Sorrento 1957
There is a map and detailed information about each of the artworks which can be downloaded at http://www.virtualsorrento.com.au/files/Sorrento-Portsea-Artists-Trail.pdf.
Collins Settlement Historic Site
Located at 3070 Point Nepean Road, the Collins Settlement Historic Site is the location of the first European settlement in Victoria which was established in October, 1803 under Lieutenant-Governor David Collins. The settlement was made up of 308 convicts, 51 marines, 17 free settlers, 12 civil officers, a missionary and his wife. All of them had left England in March. The aim was to establish a colony to prevent the French, who had been exploring the area, establishing a settlement.
The huts and tents of Collins, the chaplain, mineralogist and surveyor were located on the eastern headland of the bay with some free settlers' huts just inland. The commissary, convicts, marines' quarters and parade ground were on the flat behind Sullivan Bay and the surgeons camped adjacent the hospital at the foot of the western headland. Local limestone was used to build chimneys for the huts, and for the building of the magazine. Barrels were set into sand to trap fresh water, wells and toilets were dug and land was cleared for crops.
Collins chose Sullivan Bay because it was near the entrance to Port Phillip Bay and he believed it would be a good base for whaling and shipping timber. Unfortunately there was a scarcity of fresh water and by May 1804, the settlement had moved to Van Diemans Land.
The brief stay of seven months at Port Phillip witnessed the first white birth, christening, funeral, marriage service, school lesson, stonemasonry, postal service, public hospital, magistrate's court, water supply and government printing press in what is now Victoria.
The landscaped and wooded grove on the eastern headland contains four grave sites which are thought to contain the bodies of the 30 people who died during the settlement's existence.
A path connects the garden to an information centre which has displays relating to the settlement, including the staves of the perforated water barrels.
The Victorian Heritage Database notes the significance of the location: "Collins Settlement Site has aesthetic significance due to the survival of much of the pre-settlement landscape of Sullivan Bay, including the enclosing headlands, the old growth Moonah woodland, the shallow waters of the bay, the views between the Eastern and Western Sister and the Western Sister and St Paul's, and to Arthurs Seat." For more details check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/4653.
There is a monument at the corner of Point Nepean Road and Leggett Way which commemorates the 200th anniversary of the settlement. The monument lists the settlers and convicts who spent time at the camp. The site is located east of Sorrento. Follow Point Nepean Road and turnoff into Leggett Way.
Koonya Beach lies to the south of Sorrento and faces Bass Strait east of Sorrento Ocean Beach. It is edged by a continuous line of dune and is accessed via a car park at the end of Hughes Road. It is "moderately safe" for swimming and is popular for sunbathing. Check out https://beachsafe.org.au/beach/vic/mornington-peninsula/blairgowrie/koonya for more detailed information.
Back Beach Foreshore Track
There is a track which heads north from Koonya Beach to Jubilee Point. Known as the Back Beach Foreshore Walk (it is 3 km return) it was constructed in the 1890s as a lifesaving track after two shipwrecks. It heads northwest 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.
Sorrento Ocean Beach and Coppins Track
Sorrento Ocean Beach is a surfing beach with large rock pools which lies at the end of Ocean Beach Road. Starting at the kiosk is Coppins Track (3 km return) which heads south east along the rugged coastal cliff, past offshore rock stacks, an ancient Aboriginal midden, sand dunes, coastal vegetation, tiny St Paul's Beach and Jubilee Point. Parks Victoria describe the walk as "Coppins track, which starts at the kiosk, is a three kilometre guided historic walk that winds along the cliff tops to Diamond Bay tracing the history of the area over the last 100 years. The track follows sections of the original 1800s limestone paved footpath." For more information check out https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/mornington-peninsula-national-park/things-to-do/sorrento-ocean-beach.
Other Attractions in the Area
Searoad Ferries offers a car-and-passenger ferry service from Sorrento 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 am to 6.00 pm, tel: (03) 5257 4500. The trip takes 40 minutes and there are fares for vehicles, motorbikes, bicycles, motorhomes, trucks, caravans, trailers, boats and passengers. The website is http://www.searoad.com.au.
South Channel Fort
The South Channel Fort is a small artificial island 5.7 km north-east of Sorrento. Work began on the construction of the island in 1879 when about 14,000 tons of bluestone rocks (mostly weighing over two tons) were laid in a ring and concrete cylinders were sunk to the base rock. On this base a table of concrete and brick formed the base for the fort. The aim of the fort to illuminate with searchlights and guard the main route through the shoals to Melbourne and to electrically detonate a series of sub-aquatic mines which were designed to attack ships entering Port Phillip.
The decision to build the fort was based on a fear of a Russian invasion. Two eight inch muzzle-loading guns were mounted with a range of 9 km. Between the 1890s and 1916 the fort was fully manned with around 100 people living and working on the island.
The Fort became redundant when defence guns were installed at Fort Nepean and Queenscliff in the early years of the 20th century. By 1918 only a few men were garrisoned at South Channel Fort and 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 one of only three breeding sites for the white-faced storm petrel in Victoria. Owing to the fragility of their nesting burrows visitors are restricted to a defined network of paths. Parks Victoria note that "The island is used by a number of other species for breeding, offshore feeding and roosting. Species include the Little Penguin, Black-faced Cormorant and the Australian Fur Seal. Five species of bird that visit the island are under international migratory bird agreements."
There is a useful Parks Victoria sheet with a map and details which can be downloaded at https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/315564/Park-note-Point-Nepean-NP-South-Channel-Fort.pdf.
There are a number of tours which depart from Sorrento. Check out http://watermaarq.com.au/scenic-south-channel-fort-rib-boat-tour; http://www.riptidecharters.com.au/services.html; and https://www.thereelthing.com.au/scenic-tours.
The Coastal Walk
There is a superb, if challenging, 30 km coastal walk along the southern side of Mornington Peninsula from the Point Nepean National Park to Cape Schanck. The route is clearly marked by orange markers and blue signs to indicate departure points for circuit tracks to interesting sites. The total walk takes around eight hours but there are about 30 access points to the coast, mostly from roads which run off Point Nepean Road, consequently it is possible to explore shorter sections. The journey takes in dramatic cliffs, unusual rock formations, tidal rock pools, sand dunes, panoramic views, dense coastal scrub and rugged beaches including Blairgowrie, Rye, St Andrews and Gunnamatta. There is a very detailed guide to the entire walk (which is divided into suitably modest sections) at https://www.visitmorningtonpeninsula.org/PlacesToGo/Walks/AllWalks/tabid/399/View/5b109e2ba142139e1593d118/The-Coastal-Walk/Default.aspx.
* Middens on the cliff tops indicate that the Boonwurung Aborigines called the area home long before the arrival of Europeans.
* In 1802, at Point King 2 km west of Sorrento, the area was claimed by the British during a 25 day exploration of Port Phillip Bay by Lieutenant Murray and party in the Lady Nelson. That same year Matthew Flinders who mistook Port Phillip Bay for Western Port and entered the bay.
* In 1803 Lieutenant-Governor David Collins left England with two ships, 308 convicts, 51 marines, 17 free settlers, 12 civil officers, a missionary and his wife and a set of supplies to set up the first European settlement in what is now Victoria. They arrived in October that year.
* Collins chose Sullivan Bay but it had major problems and so, having heard reports of fine timbered and well-watered country in Van Diemans Land, in January 1804, he moved most of the convicts and settlers across Bass Strait and established Hobart.
* The first grazier in the area established a pastoral run between Boneo and Point Nepean in 1837.
* Others soon followed and, in the late 1830s, the development of Melbourne caused a great demand for limestone which was used by builders to cement stone blocks together. Limestone was plentiful on the peninsula and seven kilns were set up, chiefly at Point King.
* A school was opened in 1855.
* A quarantine station was established at Point Nepean in 1859.
* Between 1863-1868, Charles Gavan Duffy and George Coppin began to develop the area as a summer retreat for Melburnians.
* By 1870 Coppin had established the Sorrento Ocean Amphitheatre Company and sold allotments of land.
* Sorrento Post Office was opened in 1871.
* The Sorrento Hotel was built in 1872. That year saw the construction of the Church of England church.
* By 1875 he had built seaside villas and the Continental Hotel. A pier and sea baths were built that year.
* A mechanics' institute was built in 1876-77.
* The local Presbyterian Church was opened in 1880.
* In the late 1880s Coppin established a paddle steamer company to bring Melbournians to Sorrento.
* In 1890 Copping set up a tramway from Sorrento to the ocean beach which was pulled by steam locomotive in the day and, in the morning and evening, by horse.
* An Athenaeum Hall was opened in 1894.
* IN 1903 the local golf course was completed.
* The current, Heritage Listed, post office was opened in 1904.
* By 1920 the tramway to the beach had closed down.^ TOP
Sorrento Beachside Visitor Information, 38 Ocean Beach Road, tel: (03) 5984 0065, open 10.00 am - 4.00 pm seven days a week.^ TOP
The official site can be accessed at https://www.visitvictoria.com/Regions/Mornington-Peninsula/Destinations/Sorrento.aspx.^ TOP