Just like fibreglass shacks, and locals who ask “How you going?” and mean it, there’s something disarming about a dirt road in suburbia. Beachside Mount Martha has got plenty of them. They spread inland from the Esplanade, kept shaded by Coast Banksia and Tea-Tree.
Mount Martha’s dirt roads are one of the first things business coach and mindfulness author Kate James noticed about her suburb-to-be. “The old area of Mount Martha – it’s still on dirt roads,” she says. “We bought a house on a dirt road – this astounded me.”
Kate is the author of three books on making yourself happy and living mindfully, and plans to help others do exactly that in Mount Martha. She and her photographer husband are heading much further down the Nepean Highway from their current home in Gardenvale. And they’re moving to a suburb that wasn’t even on their list.
“We were looking further down the Peninsula, in Balnarring and Red Hill,” says Kate. They didn’t realise that acreage could be found closer to home. “My husband knew a real estate agent from 40 years ago. I was following him on Instagram and he posted a picture and a link.”
They checked out the property in Mount Martha, sitting on just over one hectare, and it ticked plenty of boxes, including birdlife. “We got there in the middle of the day and a kookaburra started laughing,” she says. “There’s a small dam and ducks flew in. It felt like exactly the kind of the escape we were looking for, 50 minutes from our house in Melbourne.”
Kate, who also teaches meditation and runs interstate retreats, was also looking for somewhere to hold retreats closer to home. “When I saw this, I thought there couldn’t be a more perfect place. I’ve wanted to create a small oasis like the one we have when we go to Byron Bay.”
And like Byron, there’s the mud-huts-and-mansions divide. Old Mount Martha, with its aforementioned dirt roads, clashes rather spectacularly with Martha Cove (though it really should be called New Safety Beach). Yes, if you take a sharp left before driving under a waterway (literally) you find yourself in the dizzying surrounds of a 94-hectare master-planned estate.
The development, which arches from the Esplanade to Nepean Highway, began in 2005 – but much is still a building site, dotted with gleaming showpiece homes with their own marina berths. Yes, you can keep your yacht in your backyard.
There’s more to come at Martha Cove: architect Karl Fender, of Fender Katsalidis, has designed 43 waterfront apartments – The Moorings.
But back to Old Mount Martha. The only supermarket has a large food collection cage out the front – for donations to the Dandenong Asylum Seeker Centre. There are four real estate agencies, and even more cafes. People stop and have a chat, even if they don’t know you.
Kate has noticed this friendliness, too. “I love the pace,” she says. “We got out of the car behind the IGA and the guy next to us stopped and said, ‘Beautiful day, isn’t it?’. It’s wholesome, with old-fashioned values.”
Five things you didn’t know about Mount Martha
- It’s bordered by the Mornington Peninsula Freeway, which runs almost straight to the fabulous Peninsula Hot Springs.
- An explosion of “jumpers” on YouTube led to the banning of jumping from The Pillars this year.
- You can pick yourself up a Mount Martha beachbox right now for $75,000.
- At 230 hectares, The Briars is a site two-and-a-half times bigger than Martha Cove. The homestead is still there, and there’s plenty to do over the school holidays with a Junior Ranger Program and Spotlight Walks.
- Balcombe Estuary Boardwalk Circuit runs from Mount Martha beach/village all the way to The Briars. It’s a well signposted and easy walk.
*This article originally appeared on domain.com.au