In addition to the locals, Phillip Island also attracts visitors from all around the world for its rugged ocean views and incredible nature encounters, none more famous than the Little Penguin parade. The Australian round of the motorcycle grand prix also places Phillip Island on the world stage each year.
ISLANDS AND BRIDGES
To get a sense of scale, Phillip Island spans roughly 20km east to west and 10km north to south. By road, there is only one way to Phillip Island and that is via the San Remo Bridge. San Remo is a pretty little beachside town on the mainland side. At the end of the main street is the San Remo Jetty and this is the focal point for many of the local activities. You can enjoy truly fresh fish and chips caught and served by San Remo Fisherman’s Co-op. Or it’s just a leisurely stroll down the jetty to take a closer look at the commercial fishing boats when they are docked. If you want to head out onto the water, the jetty is where it all happens.
Wildlife Cruises offers a variety of cruises in the area. A great introduction is the Cape Woolamai cruise in the sheltered waters between San Remo and Phillip Island. The view from the water back onto the coastline is spectacular, taking in sheer granite cliffs and caves carved into the rocks by crashing waves. Wildlife is abundant with seabirds everywhere and dolphins and seals are regularly spotted. If you feel the need for speed, you can take the same route in a surf race boat ride with Ocean Adventures. Hitting speeds close to 100km/h while crashing through waves is guaranteed to get the heart pumping. There are moments to slow down and enjoy the scenery, but this watercraft is all about the rush. After some fun on the water, aim to make it back to shore at San Remo by midday to catch the daily pelican feeding ritual put on by The Fisherman’s Co-Op. It’s a bit of a surprise to see how big a “mouthful” these pelicans have for lunch.
Fishing boats at San Remo Jetty during low tide
All the adventure so far is before you have even crossed the San Remo Bridge. Once you are over the bridge on the main drag, you will soon spot a turn-off to Churchill Island. This is a little island off the big island that you get to with another little bridge. Churchill Island is a historical farm where you can wander around the grounds and see traditional gardens and heritage buildings. Farm animals such as Highland cattle, Suffolk sheep and Clydesdale horses will delight young and old. Demonstrations of heritage farming activities, such as sheep shearing, working dogs and blacksmithing provide added interest to the experience. If you have worked up an appetite after all this fresh air and farm life, the Farmhouse Café will do the trick with some traditional farm fare for breakfast or lunch.
The historical farm on Churchill Island is a must for visitors of all ages
If seeing a koala up close is on your bucket list, then a visit to the Koala Conservation Reserve is a must. A loop of boardwalks takes you up to their height in the trees where you can study them from a matter of metres away. They do sleep for much of the day so there often isn’t much action but if you time it just right you can see them strolling about the trees in search of a feed of gum leaves. Next door to the reserve is the Barb Martin Native Plant Nursery. Its purpose is to provide stock of indigenous plants for revegetation programs conducted by the local council, businesses and Phillip Island Nature Parks. Some of the flora grown here is quite rare and the program is critical to the survival of the species. Sophisticated practices such as ensuring genetic diversity through introducing stock from neighbouring areas are part of the program and even involves PhD students conducting original research. Not all this important work is particularly sexy or necessarily viewable by the public, but you can play a part in supporting the program by buying plants from the retail arm of the nursery.
The Nobbies is a spectacular rock formation just off the western edge of the island, and a little further out to sea is home to Australia’s largest colony of fur seals. You won’t always spot the seals from shore, but the Bass Strait wild coastal conditions and abundance of birdlife are always on show. Clifftop boardwalks provide spectacular vantage points to experience the powerful blow hole and breathe in the ocean air. Blustery conditions are part of the appeal, but you can retreat to the calm of The Nobbies information centre and take in the vista from behind an enormous glass viewing area. The information centre also provides a multimedia experience educating young and old on the natural beauty and mysteries of Antarctica.
Enjoy the breathtaking rock formations found at The Nobbies
Driving all over Phillip Island you are likely to encounter wildlife, but you do need to be particularly careful driving to and from The Nobbies. Cape Barren geese wander the roads at their leisure and, in spring, their stripey goslings are in tow. Wallabies also often dart out and about. Do yourself a favour, slow down, keep your eyes open and enjoy the day.
Arguably the most iconic destination at Phillip Island, the Little Penguin Parade, is something everyone should experience at least once in their life if they get the chance. Aptly named, Little Penguins are the smallest species of penguins standing at about 35cm. Every night at dusk, multitudes of penguins emerge from the surf after fishing and march up the beach to their nesting spots in the bushes. Viewing areas and soft lighting enable you to witness this fascinating spectacle. From the main viewing deck, the shadowy, waddling figures are enchanting but a little elusive from a distance. All that changes when you head over to boardwalks leading away from the beach. Hundreds of penguins will scurry along right past you on their paths running alongside the boardwalks.
Soak in the natural beauty of Phillip Island on a Wildlife Coast Cruise
If you want some action why not try a surf lesson. Island Surfboards and Surf School are located near Smiths Beach, home to some of the most beginner-friendly waves around. It caters for all abilities and ages, and beginner boards and wet suits are provided. The introductory surf lessons give you two hours with friendly coaches keen for you to have fun. You begin with a session on understanding surf conditions including identifying and handling rips. Next is time on the sand practising paddling techniques to catch a wave and the tricks to standing up on the board. And then it’s time to hit the (mild) surf, where many senior citizens manage to catch a wave for the first time in their life.
ACCOMMODATION AND FACILITIES
Accommodation is abundant on the Island in all shapes and sizes. A popular choice is the NRMA Park, just outside the main township of Cowes, located on the north side of the island. You get the best of both worlds here because NRMA Park features beach frontage and it’s just a leisurely stroll into town. The Park is well set up for guests in RVs with well-manicured sites right near the water. There are about 80 sites and 21 cabins from which to choose.
Hit the waves with surf lessons available at Smith’s Beach
Park managers, Kelly and Daniel, go out of their way to make guests feel welcome. They get the campfire going most Saturday nights, and every Sunday morning they make free, light and fluffy pancakes. Apparently, the secret is Daniel’s special mixing method with an electric drill. Plenty of youngsters and oldies turn up for a delicious feed and a chat. Fortunately, Daniel has mass production down to a fine art, so no one has to wait for long.
Playgrounds and pedal cars keep kids amused for hours. There is also a form of treasure hunt where you search for icons of native animals hidden behind little trap doors scattered throughout the park using a list of clues you pick up at reception. There is an adult and kids’ version of clues and Kelly reckons the adult version is pretty tough.
For those unfamiliar, NRMA, stands for National Roads and Motorists' Association. The brand is linked with roadside assistance, insurance and tourist parks. The NRMA Parks' presence is steadily growing with 13 parks scattered across Victoria and 40 nationally.
Mad Cowes Cafe Caravan serves a mighty egg and bacon breakfast
When you think of an island famous for wildlife you might imagine it is an ‘uncivilised’ place, but Cowes has everything you need. There are all the major supermarkets, plenty of cafes, restaurants and pubs. A novel place for breakfast is Mad Cowes Cafe. They are trading from a caravan near the beach front while they rebuild from a fire. You will be supporting a worthy local business and get to enjoy a mighty egg and bacon roll that might just get you through to dinner. It’s also good to know there’s practical stuff like mechanics and tyre shops to keep you on the road ready for your next destination.
NRMA Park guests enjoy free pancakes on Sunday mornings
Phillip Island Beachfront Holiday Park
164 Church Street
Cowes VIC 3922
P: 03 5952 2211
Tags: phillip island victoria vic discover vic penguin parade san remo san remo jetty churchill island nrma phillip island koala conservation reserve the nobbies wildlife coast cruise ocean adventures cowes phillip island beachfront holiday park
Written: Tue 01 Nov 2022
Printed: November, 2022