What do you get if you mix petrol, penguins and pelicans? (Hint: it’s not a flame-grilled penguin burger or a singed pelican). Ninety minutes south of Melbourne lays the sprawling shores of Phillip Island. With over 100km of coastline, this is a place of contrasts, a place where nature lovers and leather-clad bikers gather to observe wildlife both on and off the race track.
For three months of the year the island plays host to various motorbike events –
including the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix which is held every October. There are bike events in January and March as well. September is when the V8 supercars roll into town and the air fills with rubber. Indeed, rubber seems to be the theme around here, with the beaches often full of people in wetsuits catching waves. And if it’s not rubber then it’s blubber: Phillip Island’s fur seal colony is the largest in the southern hemisphere.
Pete’s Primo Pastimes
Forget March of the Penguins, I bet Morgan Freeman’s never been to the Penguin Parade. At dusk, several hundred little penguins (and in breeding season several thousand) waddle ashore and return to their nesting spots just off Summerland Beach. Boardwalks provide access and there’s tiered seating where you can watch them appear from the water à la David Hasselhof. OK, that’s a slight exaggeration – perhaps the Hoffmeister after a few stubbies. www.penguins.org.au
If you’re visiting the penguins then it may be worth purchasing a 3 Parks Pass which gets you entry into the parade as well as the Koala Conservation Centre where you can walk in the treetops and come face to face with koalas. The pass also gives you access to Churchill Island Heritage Farm which has historic buildings and a working farm where you can meet the farm animals. You can also walk and cycle around the island. www.penguins.org.au
Ph (03) 5951 2800.
You may think you’ve walked onto the set of Alice in Wonderland when you visit A Maze’n Things (1805 Phillip Island Rd, Cowes). Feel humbled by the shrinking room, watch water flow uphill and get lost in 2km worth of passages in a large maze. There’s also an interactive world of puzzles and a mini golf course. www.amazenthings.com.au. Ph (03) 5952 2283.
Those wishing to get a head-start on the maze can hop into a helicopter for a scenic flight and get an aerial view. Phillip Island Helicopters (Phillip Island Tourist Rd, Newhaven) offer a variety of chopper choices including winery trips and remote fishing tours. www.phillipislandhelicopters.com; 03 5956 7316.
For those of you with Willy Wonka fantasies of making your own chocolate, look no further than Phillip Island Chocolate Factory (930 Phillip Island Rd, Newhaven). Located inside Panny’s Amazing World of Chocolate you’ll find a hands-on chocolate making machine. Push buttons, pull levers and marvel at chocolate statues and pictures. Afterwards you can treat yourself to a chocolaty treat in the cafe. www.phillipislandchocolatefactory.com.au.
Ph ((03) 5956 6600.
Incoming! The decade between 1962 and 1972 saw a dark chapter in Vietnam’s history. The National Vietnam Veterans Museum (25 Veterans Drive, San Remo) documents Australia’s involvement in the war. There are photos on display, as well as memorabilia, vehicles and aircraft. Open Wed to Mon from 10.00am – 5.00 pm. www.vietnamvetsmuseum.org; Ph (03) 5956 6400.
Just past where the penguins hang out, the Nobbies are a couple of large rocks off the island’s southwest tip. Next to them are the Seal Rocks – home of Australia’s largest fur seal colony. From the Nobbies Centre (Ventnor Rd) you can stroll along boardwalks and observe around 6,000 seals and, if you’re lucky, sharks and dolphins through binoculars and underwater cameras. Free admission. Open: 10am–8pm Dec–Feb, to 5pm Mar–May, to 4pm Jun–Aug, to 6pm Sep–Nov. If you want to get closer to the seals then two-hour cruises depart from the esplanade in Cowes. www.wildlifecoastcruises.com.au; 1300 763 739.
The Grand Prix Circuit (Back Beach Rd, Cowes) gives you the chance to ride around a scale replica of the circuit in a go-kart. There’s also a history of motor sport museum and walking tours of the track. Open 8.30am-5.30pm Mon-Fri. www.phillipislandcircuit.com.au; 03 5952 2710.
The waters around Phillip Island are teeming with many varieties of fish (including some with very big teeth and fins). You can charter fishing boats from Newhaven and San Remo, and hire boats from Rhyll, Cowes and Corinella.
Cape Woolamai’s pink granite cliffs signify the highest point on Phillip Island. There’s a pleasant walking track around here which takes in the Pinnacles and mutton bird rookeries. There are also plenty of other scenic walking tracks around the island. Check out
The island has great surfing. You can surf at Woolamai Beach, although the dangerous rips are for more experienced wave riders. Smith’s Beach is a better surf option for others. If you’re not confident in the water then Island Surfboards (www.islandsurfboards.com.au; Ph (03) 5952 2578.) offers surfing lessons. Out There Outdoors (www.outthere.net.au; 03 5956 6450) offers sea kayaking, body-boarding as well as a host of other outdoor activities.
The waters around Western Port Bay are great for scuba diving. One of the most popular spots for advanced divers is the Pinnacle, a forty-metre, submerged granite rock covered with kelp. Nestled in the swaying seaweed you’ll find a variety of fish life. To get here, take a boat from San Remo. Divers will also enjoy Collins Cave, a small reef with sheer vertical walls. There’s also the scuttled wreck of the George Kermode, a vessel still completely intact and located off Smiths Beach and Cunningham Bay. You can do night dives along this 100-metre long wreck.
If you happen to find yourself down here in late December, then check out the Pyramid Rock Festival with two stages featuring international and local bands that are guaranteed to get the New Year’s party started. There aren’t many better ways to welcome in a new year than by watching the sunrise over the ocean. The festival has market stalls and shuttle buses run around the island. www.thepyramidrockfestival.com
For more information on Phillip Island, log onto visitphillipisland.com.
Where to crash
The Island Accommodation YHA – The Big Wave Complex 10-12 Phillip Island Tourist Road, Phillip Island. Ph 03 5956 6123
This new 4 million eco-friendly/architecturally designed flash packers features a rooftop deck with 360 ocean views, BBQ facilities, WIFI, spacious gourmet kitchens and lounges. There is also off street parking. www.theislandaccommdation.com.au
Amaroo Park – 97 Church St, Cowes; Ph (03) 5952 2548
Set in a 1920s homestead this place has verandas, a solar heated swimming pool and off-street parking. www.amaroopark.com
Which way, cobber?
V/Line runs daily bus services from Southern Cross Station to Phillip Island with return fares from Melbourne starting from $10.80. Check out vline.com.au for more information..
From Melbourne, get onto the Monash Freeway (M1), then take the Phillip Island exit onto the South Gippsland Highway (M420) near Cranbourne.
Bunyip Tours also run 1 day tours from Melbourne.
Check out www.bunyiptours.com.au for more info.