Escape to Cape Schanck

Travelling Well | Larissa Dubecki | Posted on 23 July 2018

At the rugged end of the Mornington Peninsula, RACV Cape Schanck Resort rises above the ordinary.

Cape Schanck, on the southernmost tip of the Mornington Peninsula, remains the wilder part of Victoria’s premier playground. Here, the well-tended wineries and manicured hills of the hinterland give way to the stark beauty of tea-tree scrub and endless stretches of deserted coastline. 

For a region that punches above its weight for wineries, restaurants, and winery-restaurants, the Mornington Peninsula boasts surprisingly few hip hotels, which gives extra reason to celebrate the $150 million redevelopment of the RACV Cape Schanck Resort. 

Beyond the stunning building that rises surreally from the coastal landscape, the equation includes a young superstar chef with some serious runs on the board, a wine program drilling down into the Peninsula terroir, conferencing and function facilities like the region has never seen before, and 120 new rooms and suites, each one blessed with generous proportions, sleek lines and breathtaking views of Bass Strait and Port Phillip Bay. 

Some things haven’t changed. The resort is still the Peninsula’s home of golf, with an 18-hole championship course. It still has its original 12 villas and 48 ocean view rooms. But if you haven’t visited the resort since its stunning new central hub welcomed its first guests in May – well, you haven’t really visited Cape Schanck Resort. 

A beautiful contradiction, at once harmonising with the surroundings while rising from the rolling dunes.

“We’re opening up to a new demographic. Young couples, corporates, families… we want to embrace a vibrant mix of guests,” says operations manager Andrew Whalan. “Not to mention reset ourselves as a really desirable stay-and-play golf course.”

The augurs are good. Project architects Wood Marsh are responsible for some of the Peninsula’s greatest hits, both private and public (and they also designed the award-winning RACV Torquay Resort on the Great Ocean Road), and it’s their design that first grabs you on the turn into Trent Jones Drive. 

You could call it a beautiful contradiction, at once harmonising with the surroundings while rising from the rolling dune landscape. Viewed from above, the curving three-winged building is arresting. Viewed from the ground, it’s a sculptural form that shape-shifts from every aspect, as if it might have been revealed by natural erosion.

  close up of kangaroo tartare is bold, with confit egg-yolk gel and truffle at cape schanck resort racv
interior of cape schanck resort chairs lined up looking out the windows
close up of plant detail at RACV cape schanck

The rich amber hues of more than 3000 square metres of Castlemaine slate wrap the lower levels, creating a visual plinth that grounds the building to the land. The ground-level, glass-glazed public spaces quietly recede underneath the bold matrix of the three accommodation levels, clad in rusted steel, that jut over the top.

It took 350 workers two years to build this latest and greatest addition to the RACV portfolio. 

Inside, you’ll rarely see the end of the curved, flowing corridors. The rooms are no boxy identikit creation either. The irregular curves of the building have resulted in more than 20 different room configurations. Even the entry-level Superior Ocean Room features a keen mix of sleek finishes and cosy tactility; plush robes, faux-fur throws and a marble bathroom big enough to swing a cat.  

Sweeping views through floor-to-ceiling windows invite guests to linger amid low-key luxury.

The resort does a good lobby too, best filed under “five-star hotel with a dash of personality”. Behind the reception desk, artist Lindy Lee’s thrown bronze shapes known as Elemental are meticulously placed in an orbital swirl.

The Lighthouse Lounge with its sweeping views through floor-to-ceiling windows invites guests to linger amid low-key luxury. Low tables are graced with vases of native flowers and grasses, tactile silk-velvet chairs celebrate the natural tones of rust, moss green and storm grey, and decorative stone gas fireplaces are an excellent consolation when the mercury resets to winter. 

cape schanck cliffs overlooking the sea
person walking down the cape schanck coridoor

Dining has become an essential part of modern travel and Cape Schanck Resort has pulled off a coup with the appointment of executive chef Josh Pelham. He’s not a household name – not yet, anyway – but he’s well known in restaurant circles thanks to his time as head chef at two-Michelin-star London gastro-temple The Square and more recently as Scott Pickett’s trusted lieutenant at Melbourne’s ESP. 

“It was time to come out of the shadow of somebody else. It’s my time,” says Josh, who has spent the past 12 months building relationships with the area’s producers. 

“I’m loving the Peninsula. I can pop into Hawkes Farm on my way to work and buy potatoes and pink lady apples that taste the way apples used to taste. I have a guy who goes out fishing and calls me to say he’s got gummy shark, or abalone, or squid. My team and I are determined to get Cape [the resort’s restaurant] known as a real foodie destination.”

It’s a rare chance to taste widely across the Mornington Peninsula’s increasingly broad vinous spectrum.

His modern Australian menu hits the mark, showing his training without showing off. Highlights? Mulloway capped with dashi and smoked kombu jelly with soft local calamari and sea succulents in an umami-rich dashi broth. It shows his deft touch with both Asian and European traditions. 

His kangaroo tartare is bold, with confit egg-yolk gel and truffle, the sharpness of pickled pear and capers, plus the modish addition of crisp, puffed beef tendons (the bovine answer to the prawn cracker) for mopping-up duties. 

A modern method of pressurising bottles using argon gas, allowing sommeliers to pour a wine by the glass without corrupting the bottle, also makes possible a best-in-show wine list. 

Almost 30 local drops are available by the glass. It’s a rare chance to taste widely across the Mornington Peninsula’s increasingly broad vinous spectrum, from the classic, oaked Dexter chardonnay to the cloudy, amphora-maturated funk of Quealy’s Turbul friulano.

lighthouse on the cliffs of cape schanck overlooking the ocean
two people walking up the cape schanck stairwell

Josh is also in charge of the more casual food offering at family-friendly bistro Mantellina (“little cape”) where the dial is set to Mediterranean flavours, including stone-baked pizzas. It conveniently abuts the children’s playroom, a wonderland of coloured beanbags, retro pinball games, table tennis and foosball.

This is the zone where things get more active for the grown-ups, too. On the other side of the glass is a 25-metre swimming pool as well as a fully equipped gymnasium and spin room. For those whose pursuit of bodily perfection takes a more horizontal approach, the adjoining One Spa is a world of mud-wrapped indulgence, with eight treatment rooms, two salt-water therapy pools and a hammam – a Turkish-style steam room.

It’s almost enough to make you forget the golf. But the new Cape Schanck Resort has finally realised a 13-year vision. It’s still a place to swing a club to your heart’s content, but now you can also pamper in luxury, go the burn, refuel in style or – just a gentle suggestion – simply sit by the fire and watch the moody Peninsula landscape steal the show.

Book a two-night Premium Peninsula Package from $599.