The Local Area
The Local areas of southern Port Phillip Bay are rich in history, culture and spectacular coastal scenery.
Sorrento and Queenscliff
Sorrento and Queenscliff are seaside villages with very different personalities, so do explore both. Sorrento, the site of Victoria’s first European settlement in 1803, has charming 19th century limestone buildings, smart boutiques and delectable food stores and cafes. The foreshore is shaded by huge Norfolk Pines, and the pier is abuzz with aquatic activities. Queenscliff is restrained and elegant, with beautifully preserved Victorian hotels and guesthouses, old churches, little fishermen’s cottages, the huge 1860?s Fort Queenscliff, art galleries, shops, and excellent cafes and restaurants.
The newly constructed Queenscliff Harbour offers great opportunities to enjoy good food, shopping and watch the boats cruise past. Founded in 1882, Queenscliff is the unchallenged “capital” of the Bellarine Peninsula and features the Queenscliff Harbour, built in 1934. Catch a ferry for a day trip or visit the Maritime Museum or the Marine Discovery Centre. The pier and lifeboat shed were an integral part of the infrastructure provided to improve the safety for ships entering or leaving Port Phillip Bay. Many lives were saved though the efforts of the crews that manned the lifeboat, which is now located in the Queenscliffe Maritime Museum. Water based activities are well established, dive schools offer scuba and snorkelling tuition, boat charters offer fishing or dolphin tours, jetty angling, surfing, sailboarding – the opportunities are endless. Or drop a line from the end of the Queenscliff Pier and utilise the picnic and barbecue facilities that are just along the foreshore.
The quieter bayside beaches of this scenic township contain shallows and rockpools and tidal rock shelves for exploration while the ocean beach offers a majestic stretch of white sand to Barwon heads. Point Lonsdale’s lookout provides dress circle seats for viewing vessels negotiating the notorious passage of water at Port Phillip Heads known as “the Rip”. The Point Lonsdale Pier was built in the late 1890s to assist in the retrieval of people from ships wrecked coming through the Rip.
Point Nepean is located 95km from Melbourne and 1km west of Portsea and makes up the eastern headland at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. Since the 1850s, Point Nepean has been off limits to the general public; first as a Quarantine Station for arriving immigrants, and later as a military fortification. In more recent times, Point Nepean has become a popular tourist destination, featuring Cheviot Beach, Point Nepean Bay and Fort Nepean which dates back to the 1880s. A Visitor Centre is located at the entrance to Point Nepean, about a kilometre west of the Portsea shopping centre.
Port Phillip Bay
Covering 1,950 square kilometres, Port Phillip is the entrance to Australia’s busiest port and is one of Victoria’s most popular recreational destinations. The best way to experience this magnificent waterway is by boat. Island, shipwrecks and marine reserves dot the Bay, many of which can be seen from the journey between Queenscliff and Sorrento. Port Phillip Bay is a dynamic and self sustaining ecosystem which is healthier and cleaner than comparable bays near large cities. The shallowness of the water aids aeration and the many marine plants and organisms keep the bay in good condition.
Port Phillip Bay is habitat to over 1000 species of marine plants and animals and 500 species of fish. Rocky shorelines shelter a range of invertebrates including marine snails, starfish, anemones, crabs and worms, as well as sea squirts and shellfish that are commonly found attached to rocks and pilings. The Bottlenose dolphin is a resident of the Bay along with the Australian fur seal, which are particularly common on and in the waters surrounding the channel markers off Sorrento and often seen of the crossing. Occasionally, humpback whales, southern right whales and Orcas have been seen from the ferries during the winter months. The Bay supports a large number of seabirds and waders, many of which range over large distances and visit the Bay during their migration. Of particular significance are little penguins, populations of Australasian gannets at Popes Eye and white-faced storm-petrels at the South Channel Fort. At times throughout winter Albatross are seen from the Ferry.
The Bay is a habitat for plants ranging from microscopic floating algae, to sea-grasses, seaweed and mangroves. Seaweeds are most commonly found on rocky seabeds although unattached seaweed can also be found growing over large areas of the sandy seabed. Huge meadows of seagrass exist in many shallow areas of the Bay, particularly along the north-west coastline. Underwater seagrass meadows look very similar to grassy environments that you might see on land, and are an important habitat for marine animals. Mangroves are generally found in sheltered inlets on muddy sediments. These plants live within the intertidal zone, their roots almost entirely submerged at high tide.