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My pre-conceived impression of Phillip Island off the Bass Coast in Victoria, was that it is a place where little penguins parade and it hosts a motorbike grand prix event. Otherwise I didn’t think there was anything special about it. However, I was soon to learn that this easily accessible island is a natural paradise and has loads of things to do and see. I now know how to spend a long weekend on Phillip Island with my feet barely touching the ground.
Phillip Island is 138 kilometres south-east of Melbourne. The easiest way to drive here is along the Monash Highway from Melbourne until you see the exit for Phillip Island near Cranbourne. Continue on the South Gippsland Highway until you see the signs for Phillip Island and the Bass Highway. Once you come to the gateway town of San Remo you cross the bridge onto the island.
There is a passenger ferry that travels from Stony Point on the Mornington Peninsula across Western Port Bay to Cowes on Phillip Island.
Public transport options are limited with V/Line daily coach services between Southern Cross Station in Melbourne and Cowes.
For a small island of 101 square kilometres, it packs a punch. Phillip Island has rugged coastlines, idyllic beaches, unique wildlife and the historic Churchill Island. But it also reveals a sophistication with the small town of Cowes with its tree-lined main street loaded with interesting shops, a pub overlooking the beach and a cafe culture.
The island is also very popular with surfers with four surfing hot spots. Phillip Island was declared Victoria’s first National Surfing Reserve for its quality surf breaks.
There is more than enough to do and see to fill in a long weekend with a variety of attractions. There are wildlife encounters, gourmet dining establishments, wineries and breweries, hiking trails, boat cruises, high adrenaline adventures and swimming beaches.
If a beach holiday floats your boat, then there are plenty of lovely beaches on Phillip Island. Whether you want a beach to stroll along, swim in calm waters, surf the wave breaks or just sit and soak up some rays. Here’s my top beach suggestions on the island:
The main town on Phillip Island is Cowes and the place where we stayed for our long weekend. Our choice of accommodation was at Amaroo Holiday Park, since we were travelling in our caravan. This caravan park was perfectly located within a short walking distance to the main street of Cowes.
I discovered Cowes to be charming with its tree-lined main street, esplanade fringed with parklands, jetty jutting out into Western Port, interesting shops and boutiques, quirky galleries, and numerous cafes, restaurants and bars.
There are two different markets held in Cowes of a weekend. The Cowes Island Craft Market on the second Saturday of the month and the Cowes Market on Chapel on the fourth Saturday of the month.
From my point of view the best thing to do on Phillip Island is all about its natural attributes. I’m talking about the beauty of the coastline and the fact that there are many walking trails and lookouts where you can take in this amazing scenery.
My advice is to grab a map of the island and jump in your car to explore this natural wonderland. Starting from Cowes drive towards Ventnor and do some beach hopping. A couple of the beaches have great viewing platforms, in particular Berrys Beach, Shelly Beach and Flynns Beach.
At the most southern point of the island on the Bass Strait, is The Nobbies, the home to a number of wildlife adventures and a remarkable boardwalk. From the boardwalk you will see views out over Seal Rocks, craggy rock formations, wild coastline, the blowhole and encounter various native animals. We saw wallabies, fur seals, little penguins, cape barren geese and other seabirds soaring aloft.
The Nobbies is also home to the Antarctic Journey centre, that features interactive experiences showcasing the wonders of the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.
The biggest attraction on Phillip Island and even throughout Australia, is the Penguin Parade that takes place every evening during the twilight hours. The little penguins waddle up the beach to their burrows at sunset after spending the day, or days at a time, fishing for food in the ocean. There is strictly no photography permitted so I was unable to photograph these cute little creatures.
There are a number of different penguin viewing options, from general viewing to an ultimate adventure tour. I opted for the VIP experience with close-up views of the little penguins as they made their way up the beach. It was an incredible experience and I found them so absolutely adorable and captivating. Afterwards I spent my time wandering along the boardwalks following the little fellows to their burrows.
East of The Nobbies, I took the boardwalk amongst coastal vegetation to the viewing platform over Pyramid Rock, a triangle-shaped rock surround by the waters of the Bass Strait. From here you can access a coastal walk from Pyramid Rock to Berrys Beach, a gently undulating clifftop walk with spectacular coastal views. The walk is 5 kilometres return and is rated as moderate.
One of the things that I knew about Phillip Island is that is has a Grand Prix Racing Circuit overlooking the Bass Strait. Although motor racing may not appeal to everyone, it is worth a visit to check out the picturesque track, learn about its history and take a look at the motorsport display. Other attractions here include race simulators, guided circuit tours, slot cars and go kart rides.
Cape Woolamai is as close as you will get to a wilderness area, with pink granite pinnacles, basalt rock cliffs, breathtaking coastal scenery and world-class surfing beaches. It is located on the south-eastern tip of the island and is a walker’s wonderland with an array of hiking trails. There is a range of wildlife to see and is a great spot for whale watching during the season.
The beach at Cape Woolamia is patrolled by the Surf Life Saving Club in the summer and is part of the National Surfing Reserve, best for experienced surfers only. On the bayside of the cape is Safety Beach which is better option for swimmers and families with children.
From a historical point of view Churchill Island, the site of the first farm in Victoria, is a must see. I took a stroll around the old homestead, through the pretty gardens and out to the outbuildings that house various farm animals. Whilst here I got to watch whip cracking, cow milking, sheep shearing and working dogs rounding up the sheep. I also got to meet Max the Clydesdale, Gregory the peacock, shaggy highland cattle and some baby farm animals.
If time had permitted there are many more attractions and things to see and do on Phillip Island. These include:
Foodies can be assured that they are not left hungry, with an abundance of fresh produce, seafood, wineries, breweries and dining establishments to experience on Phillip Island’s tasting trail. The cooler climate on the island has the perfect conditions for growing, making and creating some world-class wines and beers.
Grab a tasting trail map of the island and proceed with an appetite!
We spent a few afternoons enjoying a coldie at the North Pier Hotel, overlooking the esplanade and beach in Cowes. We also had a meal here one evening that was pub food standard with a generous serving size.
For our morning coffees we discovered Isola Di Capri Restaurant, that also came highly recommend for breakfast, in Cowes. We snacked on tasty scallop pies for lunch at Island Pies in Newhaven, near the bridge.
Some of the best place to dine on Phillip Island include:
Phillip Island certainly surprised me! I found it to be thoroughly engaging and eye-catching. A long weekend was not enough to really take in all that this fabulous island has to offer.
Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 6 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now in her early 60s. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Kathy enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, photography, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.