On my right, glimpses of the untouched beaches and tranquil bay waters below beckon, while just a short distance to my left, the roaring waves of Bass Strait crash against craggy limestone cliffs. Between lies a landscape as diverse as its two sides – forests thick with twisted tea trees and Melaleuca and Moonah, bordered by stunted coastal dune scrub and crisscrossed by walking tracks and one main road. This is Point Nepean (Boona-djalang in the local Boonwurrung language) – the Mornington Peninsula‘s ‘pointy end’.

There are many registered Aboriginal archaeological sites in Point Nepean National Park, and evidence of the Bunuron people here dates back around 40,000 years. For the Bunurong, this is a women’s birthing place – no doubt a mostly happy place before European settlement, when it became the setting for countless tragedies involving both the traditional owners and the Europeans. It went on to become a quarantine facility in 1852 and then, in the 1990s, became housing for Kosovar refugees displaced by the Bosnian war. So it’s no surprise that Point Nepean is a place that feels heavy with stories.

An echidna foraging in the grass at Point Nepean National Park
Point Nepean Walk: Hiking to the Mornington Peninsula's historic tip

It’s one of those walks where the shape of the land – the geography, the water – informs those stories so strongly. You just can’t separate the two.

– Julia Zemiro, Great Australian Walks

Just 90 kilometres southeast of Melbourne, this slice of natural and human history has only been protected as Point Nepean National Park since 1988. Prior to the establishment of the park, its ruggedness has allowed its forests to remain almost as resilient to our destruction as its vegetation is to the harsh coastal conditions. I’m surprised at the rich biodiversity on every visit, especially considering it’s only been protected for a bit over 30 years.

As seen on…

Great Australian Walks
with Julia Zemiro

Episode 1 of Great Australian Walks sees Julia take a 13.75-kilometre walk from Sorrento to Point Nepean, via Sorrento’s Millionaire’s Walk and Portsea’s beaches. I’ll offer some different route options below, but I can’t offer you the same fascinating walking companions Julia meets along her Mornington Peninsula adventure. To get to know them, you’ll have to watch the show.

Julia Zemiro stands, arms outstretched, looking out at the ocean from Point Nepean

Millionaire’s Walk (Sorrento)

Shallow coastal waters with a jetty - as seen along the Millionaire's Walk in Sorrento

This short coastal walk isn’t part of Point Nepean National Park, or part of the route most hikers would follow to Point Nepean. Since it’s part of the route Julia walks on Great Australian Walks, I thought it was worth covering here.

I’ll hazard a guess that for some of you, the grandeur of the mansions lining Portsea’s famous Millionaire’s Walk might overshadow the natural beauty of this stretch of Mornington Peninsula coastline. But others might be curious to see the houses they’ll never be able to afford and the views that those residents get to enjoy.

This coastal trail is gated at both ends and some of the properties intersected by the easement don’t have fences, so it really does feel like somewhere you shouldn’t be. Secluded sandy enclaves beckon below – a secret invitation for a refreshing dip away from prying eyes.

Aside from the opulent abodes and the breathtaking bay views, the walk is part of the Sorrento-Portsea Artists’ Trail. Keep an eye out for the impressive artworks that have been placed on signs at the locations they depict. There’s no doubt this is a worthwhile stop if you’re in the area, or if you want to include it in your Point Nepean Walk.

Need to know

Length: 1.1 km
Time: 30 – 40 min
Grade: Easy / Grade 1 (according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System).
Style: Return
Access: The trail is accessed via Lentell Avenue, which is off Point Nepean Road in Sorrento. It can also be done the opposite direction, starting from Point King Road. Don’t head down to the beach – instead look for a gate with a large ‘pick up dog poo’ sign.

Neil checking out the bay views at Point Nepean National Park, leaning against the wooden rails at the top of a beach staircase

Point Nepean Walk

I open the car door, and before my boots hit the gravel, I’m struck by the blustery winds – omnipresent and evocative – offering a teasing prelude to Point Nepean’s untamed beauty. Along with the ocean’s murmur, they’ll be my constant companion while I explore this special place.

My first stop is the Point Nepean Quarantine Station, so I set off on the trail alongside Defence Road, turning north at Gun Junction to follow Ochiltree Road. While the first 1.5 kilometres of my walk follows the road, I’ve already glimpsed a honeyeater, and I’m surrounded by a chorus of birdsong.

When I reach the Quarantine Station, I’m surprised by how well-kept the buildings are, considering quarantine here ceased in 1980 – I now know that they were housing Kosovar refugees in the 1990s, so it’s not surprising there’s been various phases of building and restoration. Still, there’s a Shepherd’s Hut here that was built in 1845.

I spend some time exploring the various structures and reading the information boards before finding my way to the start of Coles Track. Distracted by the “beach access” sign, I take a quick detour down to a secluded beach, where I find the remains of an old jetty – two lonely old timber piles, weathered and worn, jutting from the golden sand.

Need to know

Note: The Point Nepean walk I’m describing here is the same route Julia Zemiro takes on Great Australian Walks once she enters Point Nepean National Park. I’ll provide more detail on Julia’s entire route below.

Length: 7.75 km
Time: 3 hrs
Grade: Moderate / Grade 3 (according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System).
Style: One-Way (use the shuttle bus service to return – details below)
Access: This walk begins from the car park at the entry to Point Nepean National Park, at the west end of Point Nepean Road in Portsea. The trail is accessed via Lentell Avenue, off Point Nepean Road in Sorrento. Start walking from the trailhead at the west end of the car park, which follows alongside Defence Road (don’t walk along Defence Road).
Path Taken: Park entry – Quarantine Station – Coles Track – Cheviot Hill – Happy Valley Loop – Defence Road – Fort Nepean

The remains of an old timber jetty

Coles Track leads me further along the bayside coastline, tailed by tiny birds that flutter and chirp their way delicately through the scrub. Views across the coastline and bay from the track’s higher points are sublime.

After stopping for a look around a dilapidated gunnery bunker, built in the 1890s, I move on to Nepean Bay to take my boots off and get my toes in the sand while I have a snack in preparation for my next stop – the summit of Cheviot Hill. Don’t worry, though… while it is the highest point in Point Nepean National Park, it’s actually not very high. From the lookout and nearby Happy Valley Army Barracks, I’m treated to my first look over the peninsula’s rugged Bass Strait coastline and Cheviot Beach – where Harold Holt went missing in 1967. The views are more than worth the wait.

A gunnery, surrounded by wild seas, as seen from Cheviot Hill on the Point Nepean Walk

I continue along Cheviot Hill’s Happy Valley Walk and find myself back at the track I used to ascend Cheviot Hill, so I retrace my steps to Defence Road. Though I try to avoid walking on bitumen roads where I can, it’s only a short distance to Fort Nepean from here, and along the way I encounter wallabies grazing amongst the native grasses. I even see the bravest echidna I’ve ever stumbled across, foraging in the dirt for ants or termites, completely unbothered by my presence.

Fort Nepean is as commanding a sight as I’d imagined, built into the rocky headland. A maze of tracks, stairs and tunnels guide me around the structure. It’s cold and haunting. A poignant reminder of Australia’s wartime history. It feels like it has secrets. At the fort’s northern side, I stand next to the ‘no beach access’ sign, looking over The Rip – the treacherous waters at the mouth of Port Phillip Bay, between Point Nepean and Point Lonsdale – and I spot a crazy surfer braving the unpredictable waves. Between the surfer and Fort Nepean, I can’t help but wonder what drives humans to want to conquer everything, from nature to other humans.

A section of the fort, with turbulent seas in the background

I spend a little more time exploring Fort Nepean, before returning to Defence Road to wait for the shuttle bus back to my car. This is my first time at Point Nepean, but it won’t be my last. The allure of this place is as unyielding as the winds that pound its rugged shores.

The Point Nepean Walk bridges the gaps between the present, the past, and the living spirit of the land. This is a place where the wind whispers stories and secrets, but only to the few who’ll listen.

Other routes for your Point Nepean Walk

Sorrento to Fort Nepean
The route that Julia Zemiro takes on her Point Nepean Walk, as seen on Great Australian Walks. It follows the same route as the Point Nepean Walk above, except with a 6-kilometre addition at the start, including the Millionaire’s Walk in Sorrento.

Length:  13.75 km
Time: 4 hrs
Grade: Moderate / Grade 3 (according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System).
Style: One-Way (use the Shuttle Service to return to the park gates)
Access: This walk begins from the ferry terminal in Sorrento
Path Taken: Sorrento ferry terminal – Sorrento Park – St Aubins Way –  Point Nepean Road – Lentell Avenue – Millionaire’s Walk – Point King Road – Point Nepean Road – Portsea Camp – Portsea Beach – WE Newton Reserve – Point Nepean Road – Point Nepean National Park entry – Quarantine Station – Coles Track – Cheviot Hill – Happy Valley Loop – Defence Road – Fort Nepean

Point Nepean Loop
If you’d rather skip the shuttle bus, the route can be altered slightly to keep retracing your steps to a minimum, making a ‘loop’ of sorts (and a longer day of walking).

Length:  13.2 km
Time: 4 hrs
Grade: Moderate / Grade 3 (according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System).
Style: Circuit
Access: This walk begins from the car park at the entry to Point Nepean National Park, on the same trail as the Point Nepean Walk covered above.
Path Taken: Park entry – Quarantine Station – Coles Track – Defence Road – Fort Nepean – Defence Road – Cheviot Hill – Happy Valley Loop – Rifle Range Area Walk – Defence Road – Park entry

Point Nepean Short Loop
Defence Road is open to the public as far as Gunners Cottage, which enables cutting the distance down for a shorter route that still takes in most of the park’s significant sites. If you still want to visit the Quarantine Station, you can park your car there for a quick look around.

Length:  8 km
Time: 2 hrs 30 min
Grade: Moderate / Grade 3 (according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System).
Style: Circuit
Access: Park at Gunners Cottage and start walking north (toward Port Phillip) on Coles Track.
Path Taken: Gunners Cottage – Coles Track – Defence Road – Fort Nepean – Defence Road – Cheviot Hill – Happy Valley Loop – Rifle Range Area Walk – Bullers Track – Defence Road – Gunners Cottage

Short Walks
Being able to drive as far into the park as Gunners Cottage (and having access to the shuttle bus beyond) means if you’re not up for a hike, you’ll still have options for quick, easy trails to see Point Nepean National Park’s most significant sites. See the Point Nepean National Park Visitor Guide for details.

Looking for a trail that's longer, closer, or not as challenging?

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Point Nepean Shuttle Bus Service

Visitors to Point Nepean National Park can take advantage of the shuttle bus that runs between the park entrance and Fort Nepean. It’s a hop-on hop-off service, allowing visitors to pick and choose the sights they want to see and tailor the amount of walking to their abilities. It runs every day except for Christmas Day.

Visit Parks Victoria’s Point Nepean Shuttle Bus page for current prices and a timetable

Point Nepean Camping

As of December 2022, it’s possible to spend a night in Port Nepean – within the Quarantine Station precinct – sleeping in one of Parks Victoria’s pre-pitched ‘Discovery Tents’.

These standing-height tents, built on timber platforms, are available from September to April for groups of up to four. Inside, you’ll find stretcher beds, mattresses, and some storage for your essentials. Just to make sure it still feels like camping, you will need to bring everything else, including linens and pillows, camp chairs, cutlery and crockery.

A well-equipped camp kitchen is available, complete with outdoor dining area and BBQs. You’ll also have access to hot showers and toilets.

I’m looking forward to spending what I imagine would be a very eery night at the Point Nepean Quarantine Station.

The Discovery tents can be booked online via Parks Victoria. Unfortunately, there’s no option to bring your own tent, campervan or caravan.

Hikes nearby

If you’re spending more than a day on the Peninsula, you’ll need some other ideas for hiking trails to explore… Check out our list article on the best Mornington Peninsula hikes, or scope out a few good ones below.

Have you watched Great Australian Walks with Julia Zemiro? Or have you visited Point Nepean National Park (or even camped there)? If you have any stories, updates or corrections, please let us know by commenting below.