Phillip Island may be a small island, but it is a true holiday destination with plenty to offer. The island is 26 km long and 9 km wide and is located 140 km southeast of Melbourne in the state of Victoria. The island is linked by a bridge to the mainland and is a popular weekend excursion. Around 10,000 people reside there but during peak season the figure quadruples when visitors pilgrimage to Phillip Island. In other words, it is a tourist attraction, and rightly so. The wildlife is amazing. Here you can see kangaroos, pelicans, fur seals, koalas and not least the little penguins in their natural environment. The latter is the great drawing card and what really put the island on the map. A large colony of the little penguin with its bluish-grey back and white belly can be seen every evening as they waddle up on Summerland Beach, returning to their nests after a full day of fishing out at sea. The phenomenon is called the penguin parade and is extremely appreciated by tourists. But even people from Melbourne like to come here to see the cute little animals waddle around. This is the largest concentration of little penguins in Victoria. In addition to penguins, you can check out the sunbathing fur seals at Nobbies Point or the koalas sleeping in the trees at the island’s koala centre.
If the animals are not enough reason to visit the island, then nature is. Phillip Island is largely flat, making it easy to pedal around on a bike. Even those not used to ride a bicycle can get around with the help of electric bikes available for rent. Find your own spot, where you can gaze out over the strait and visit one of the beaches for a wonderful dip that makes your blood pump. Or rent a board and test paddle boarding or bodyboarding. The coastal landscape is dramatic, and the sandy beaches are wide and long. Phillip Island is a scenic island that is well suited for both activity and relaxation. There are plenty of shady campsites to stop at and some nice resorts to discover. Cowes in the north is the largest town, followed by Rhyll and Newhaven in the east. Phillip Island also has a Grand Prix circuit and a chocolate factory in true Charlie and the chocolate factory spirit. Or, travel to the smaller neighbouring Churchill Island where you will experience how the lives of the first Europeans in Australia where.
Sights and experiences
Discover and explore
The Nobbies is a vantage point on the western part of Phillip Island. What is now called the Nobbies Centre (visitphillipisland.com/listing/the-nobbies) was formerly called the Seal Rocks Sea Life Centre and is the home of Australia’s largest colony of seals, also known as fur seals. The centre is managed by Phillip Island Nature Parks and has exhibitions for educational purposes, a café, a restaurant and a souvenir shop. Below the seal centre are several different walking paths with fantastic views. One and a half kilometres out into the water you will find Seal Rock where the fur seals have their territories. The seal season runs all year round as they are permanent residents of this region, but the best chance to get a glimpse of them is at the end of October. That is when the males return to fight for their territory. At the same period, it is time for the pups to see the light of day, and between the end of October and the end of December they are born. Bring a binocular or go on a guided boat tour with Wildlife Coast Cruises (wotif.com/things-to-do/phillip-island-seal-watching-cruise.a260805.activity-details) for a greater chance of seeing them. In addition to seals you might spot wild rabbits, different kinds of birds and the little penguins at The Nobbies. The latter are a better option for the impatient, as the animals are on land and thus are easier to see.
Every evening at sunset, lots of little penguins come back from their daily fishing trip out at sea. They go ashore in several places along the coast of Victoria, but Phillip Island is home to the largest proportion of these small blue-grey and white birds that waddle up on the beach. You can buy a ticket to what is called the penguin parade (penguins.org.au/attractions/penguin-parade) to see this phenomena with your own eyes. However, using the camera is not allowed since the flash can frighten the animals. Local guides explain why the penguins behave as they do and share other interesting information about these cute animals. The tickets are quite expensive, but the environment is fantastic. The high number of penguins makes it very fascinating. You can buy tickets in advance but also on site in one of the information centres. Follow this link (penguins.org.au) to keep track of what time of the day the penguins are seen on the island. There are package prices that include other attractions too if that feels tempting (wotif.com/things-to-do/search?location=Phillip%20Island).
For those who like surfing, Phillip Island is an excellent destination. The island is one of the country’s twenty-something surf reserves, the first one in Victoria. The waves are usually perfect for surfing. However, be sure to look up the daily weather forecast since the south coast can be treacherous. If you are a beginner, you can take lessons. Island Bluebottle (islandsurfboards.com.au), Island Surf School (sasurfschools.com.au/surfschools/islandsurfschool) and Girls On Board (girlsonboard.com.au) are three good alternatives.
Koala Conservation Centre (penguins.org.au/attractions/koala-conservation-centre) is something for those who want to meet koalas at a close range. Wander along constructed walkways in the tops of the trees – you will feel like you are at the same level as the koalas. Check out the forks in the trees, that is where they usually are.
For the energetic ones there are lots of hiking trails (visitphillipisland.com/listing/walking-trails) and cycling routes (visitphillipisland.com/listing/cycling-trails) to test. Choose which option suits you best and embark on a real nature experience. Phillip Island offers a fantastic nature and since the island is not too large, it is possible to get around the whole island on foot or bike in a day. But remember to bring drinking water, and lots of it! Binoculars are also recommended for those who are interested in watching the shyer animals.
History and parks
Learn more about Phillip Island’s history and make a visit to the Churchill Island Heritage Farm (visitphillipisland.com/listing/churchill-island-heritage-farm). It is a small island of 57 hectares just north of Phillip Island. The island is now open to the public. Here you can take a walk and check out the old cottages, gardens and the cattle animals to get a picture of how the first Europeans who settled in Australia lived.
Sports, entertainment and events
Even the motorsport interested can get their quota filled. Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, which opened in 1956 lies here. The first Grand Prix that was held on Australian soil in 1928 happened on this track, but at that time it was made of mud. Competitions are held every year on the island.
Check out their website (phillipislandcircuit.com.au) to see what happens when you are nearby. If you don’t want to see a race, you can see how a smaller prototype of the course looks like.
If you are on Phillip Island between mid-June and early August, you can join in on a whale safari. During this period, right whales, a kind of baleen whale, moves outside the Victorian coast and the chances to see some curious mammals are big. The boat trip is about four hours long and you’ll see seals, albatrosses and southern right whales (wildlifecoastcruises.com.au).
Since Phillip Island is a well-known area for surfing, it may be worth checking out some surf shops while on the island. They sell most things that might be needed for testing the surfs. Perhaps the price is slightly higher than in bigger stores since the supply is likely to be smaller, but you can most likely pick up many good tips and advices if your budget does not allow for investments. Examples of three stores are Island Surfboards in Cowes (islandsurfboards.com.au), Fullcircle Surf in San Remo (fullcirclesurf.com.au) and Islantis in Newhaven (theislantissurfexperience.com.au).
Eastwards in the small town of Rhyll you will find the Foreshore Bar and Restaurant (theforeshore.com.au). It is a restaurant that serves both lunch and dinner with a 180-degree view. On the menu you will find everything from fish and chips to kangaroo. You can also choose whether you want to sit on the beautiful balcony or inside the rustic restaurant.
For those who want to be a little adventurous and work for their meal, visit Rhyll Trout and Bush Tucker Farm in the town of Rhyll (rhylltroutandbushtucker.com.au). Here you can choose whether you want to be indoors in a constructed rainforest or outdoors at the real lake for a more advanced meal. You are about to fish for your own food. Once you catch the fish, ask the staff to clean it so you can grill it in any nearby park, or you can enjoy it straight away and get served on site. First you pay a fee to do the fishing indoors or outdoors and then additional fees for any cleaning and serving will be added. It may be worth the extra fee as there are instructors on site who can explain how to do it.
Phillip Island Chocolate Factory (phillipislandchocolatefactory.com.au) is a must for anyone who wished they could have been one of the characters in the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In addition to lots of chocolate, there is also an exhibition where you guide yourself through the factory. Machines with buttons that can be controlled, games where the winnings are chocolate and the ability to mix your own crazy chocolate cake. You can learn about everything that has to do with chocolate.
Good to know
There are two Visitor Information Centres on site. One in Cowes at 91-97 Thompson Avenue and one in Newhaven at 895 Phillip Island Road. The staff can answer your questions and advise on activities. Both centres are open between 09:00 and 17:00 all week. You can also take a look at Wotif’s website for activities, accommodation and package prices (wotif.com/discover/australia/victoria/phillip-island.d6051897).
Warnings and preparations
Be prepared for Phillip Island to be a tourist attraction. Everything is a bit more expensive than it should be, but keep in mind that there are still cool experiences you pay for. Use your common sense. Almost all hiking trails and paths are along heights with steep slopes. It gives you magical views but be careful. Follow the prompts on the signs. If you choose to cycle or walk around the island, be sure to have good shoes and do not forget the water bottles.
You can either get to Phillip Island by car or public transport. By car it takes about two hours from Melbourne (wotif.com/Car-Hire). If you rather travel by public transport, there are daily buses to and from Melbourne. The buses stop in Grantville, Corinella, Bass, San Remo, Newhaven and Cowes. To get all the way to the island you need to make a change. Check your fastest itinerary on the website Public Transport Victoria (ptv.vic.gov.au).
During summers and long weekends, the number of people on the island quadruple. Accommodation can be booked up long in advance so plan in good time where to sleep during your stay (hotelscombined.com/Place/Phillip_Island.htm). For backpackers, there is a completely newly built hostel in Newhaven at 10 Phillip Island Tourist Road. The Island Accommodation YHA (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/The_Island_Accommodation_Phillip_Island.htm) is an eco-friendly accommodation. It is close to water, cafes and supermarket. They also have a large roof terrace with beautiful views of both land and sea. The hostel has dormitories for four, six or twelve people, of which the cheapest bed costs 30 dollars per night. They also have double rooms that cost 135 dollars per night. South, just off the waterfront is Phillip Island Caravan Park (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/BIG4_Phillip_Island_Caravan_Park.htm) if you prefer to camp. The resort usually has shady places for tents, caravans and mobile homes. But there are also cottages to rent. There is a kitchen, kiosk, laundry and a children’s playground in the area.
An example of camping opportunity on the island is Cowes Caravan Park (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Cowes_Caravan_Park.htm) at 164 Church Street along the north side of the island. If you are travelling on a strict budget and are trying to keep your costs down, it might be worth looking at the accommodations on the mainland near Phillip Island, for example in Bass or Grantville. Remember that you need to have access to your own transport to get around the island this way.
A Saturday on Phillip Island
08:00 – Porter Republic
Start with breakfast in San Remo. The first stop is made at Porter Republic (facebook.com/PorterRepublic/) at 117 Marina Parade. Tuck into a hyper-mixed smoothie bowl along with a creamy latte or a filling double sandwich. You can also choose from a selection of hot breakfast options.
10:00 – Time to pedal
Pick up the electric bike you rented via E-Bike (islandebikehire.com.au). Guests who have booked at least 24 hours in advance will receive a free delivery to the San Remo. Bring an extra water bottle and some snacks. Then pedal on towards the Koala Conservation Centre (penguins.org.au/attractions/koala-conservation-centre). The distance is about twelve kilometres and takes around 35 minutes.
13:00 – Meet the koalas
Once at the koala centre, you will walk through both treetop-walks. Keep an eye out for the grey and fluffy fellows hiding among the tree branches. Both walks will take just over an hour in total and you’ve hopefully come close to a koala or two. When you’re satisfied, go back to the bike and get ready for the next stage. You are going to Smith’s Beach which is only two and a half kilometres away.
15:00 – Cooling down in the sea
Finally, time for a swim! Stretch your legs, take a dip and relax on the beach where you soak up the sun. Absorb all the vitamin D you can get but remember to cover yourself with sunscreen first. Have a little snack, it is not dinner time yet. After your energy storage is charged, it is time for the next cycling trip. Next Stop is The Nobbies, which is 13.5 km away.
18:00 – Enjoy the view
After another sweaty ride you have arrived. This time at The Nobbies. Make sure your camera is fully charged, ready for snapping beautiful holiday pictures. Wander around the area and enjoy the view. A walkway runs along the coast making it easy to get around. Then you cycle back just over three kilometres until you reach 1019 Ventnor Road in Summerlands where the penguin parade is taking place.
20:00 – Penguin parade
You will experience something magical, something you probably never seen before. In December, the Penguins will show up around 19:30 and you’ll probably want a good seat when the small guys start to waddle out of the sea onto the beach. Listen to the informants while you get a view of the little penguins getting home for the day.