Sorrento is without a doubt, Victoria’s most historic seaside town. Not only the first European settlement on mainland Australia, it is also home to Victoria’s earliest magistrates’ court, public hospital and postal service.
Before European ships disembarked at Sullivan Bay in 1803, Sorrento was inhabited by the Boonwurrung people, the traditional land owners of the Nepean Peninsula and Mornington Peninsula region. The European convict settlement was short-lived, with a shortage of water one of the main reasons for relocating to Van Diemen’s Land a year later.
In the late 1870’s, Sorrento was transformed into a popular Victorian holiday destination. Led by local entrepreneur and visionary George Coppin, a pier and paddle steamer were built to transport tourists from Melbourne to paradise with ease. A steam tram was also constructed to enable holidaymakers to travel along the peninsula to Sorrento’s back beach and extravagant seaside hotels and villas.
Today, Sorrento’s rich history lives on in the beautiful Victorian-style limestone buildings – shops, hotels and cafes - that line Ocean Beach Road. Iconic buildings such as the Mechanics Institute (currently home to the Sorrento Museum), and the Continental Hotel date back to 1877, and are just two of many local conservation sites registered with the National Trust of Australia.
For visitors wanting to delve deeper into Sorrento’s rich heritage, there are many historical tours to choose from. The Nepean Historical Society runs guided tours of the Sorrento Museum and Watt’s Cottage - home to one of the early settlers - as well as walks through the historical township. They also operate a bus tour which gives participants the opportunity to explore the wider Sorrento area, including the recently refurbished steam tram platform.
With such a rich history, it’s no surprise that Sorrento is reported to have a spooky past. Sorrento Ghost Tours operate regular tours to 12 historical locations giving participants the chance to learn about those that haunt the buildings and seaside streets.
Some of Sorrento’s friendly local retailers have been open for several decades and have their own history to share. From fresh local produce, to antiques and collectibles, and current fashion pieces and homewares, these shops tightly weave the town’s old-world charm with modern luxuries, creating the perfect summer holiday destination.