When Global Grapevine’s Ailsa and Alex toured Phillip Island, the Penguin Parade was high on the list of to-dos. Not so Fly Isabella’s Liz Stark, who decided to shun the (admittedly touristy) appeal of a gazillion little penguins in favour of searching out Phillip Island’s best walks.
I’ve been travelling in Australia for 6 weeks now – not working for 7 – and weekdays are blissfully merging into weekends. Jack is working 5 days a week, starting early and done by mid-afternoon, so similarly the chopping and changing of shifts is creating a whirl of a week for both of us.
This week found Monday and Tuesday completely free so we spontaneously rented a car (day rates and petrol are cheap here), swung by Kmart for a bargain tent and sleeping bags, stocked up some BBQ goodies from Coles, and travelled south to Phillip Island – famously home to lots of little penguins. More on them later…. This is a great trip: check out below for things to see and do, as well as some of Phillip Island’s best walks.
3 THINGS YOU REALLY CANNOT MISS:
BERRYS BEACH | this has to be one of my favourite spots I’ve visited in Australia. And it’s my sister’s nickname, so extra special! The deep bay sweeps round to red cliff faces to the East (one of the Phillip Island best walks is along this cliff top path to Pyramid Rock), the water is crystal clear, the rock pools sparkle under the sun, the sand is soft and clean. It’s a surf beach so I’m not sure how safe it would be to swim, but it’s a really quiet and absolutely beautiful spot.Berrys Beach
WOOLAMAI BEACH | another fab spot, although we caught it in the morning before the clouds had blown away. I felt like I was at home in Cornwall: pounding surf, sand dunes, empty beaches, and questionable weather! There weren’t many surfers, and supposedly this is a spot for only the pros.
COWES BEACH | this is a little gem of a North facing bay side beach (versus Berrys and Woolamai above, which face the ocean). We pitched our tent 5 metres back from the white squeaky sand and crystal water – on this stretch it feels positively Caribbean (definitely not Cornwall!).
Also check out: Cowes is the main town on Phillip Island. It’s pretty tiny but has got the usual selection of fish and chips and fast food shops.
3 THINGS WORTH A SNOOP:
THE NOBBIES | is an ecotourism centre located in the south-west corner of Phillip Island, past the Penguin Parade (walking between the two takes about an hour). 1.5km offshore is Seal Rocks, home to the country’s largest Australian Fur Seal colony – unfortunately you can’t see them from this distance with the naked eye. There’s a boardwalk that promises killer views and takes you past individual penguin homes. The crazy little fellas nest in burrows remarkably far up the cliff sides, and we saw several still snuggled inside.
Also check out: There are 3 marked koala reserves on the island. We chose to try a short green loop of a Phillip Island walk to the Oswin Roberts Reserve, but alas, no koalas. We did see loads of wallabies though.Berrys Beach Rock Pool
Trees without koalas
CHURCHILL ISLAND | yet another worthwhile stop, this island (connected by road) is home to Victoria’s oldest working farm that has been in operation since the 1850s when the British settled here. You can pay to go and see this, but instead we did the easy North Loop Trail from where you can see Rhyll on Phillip Island, the Mornington Peninsula in the distance, and French Island. There’s tonnes of birds for birdy folk. Still no elusive koalas though.
INVERLOCH | we figured as we had the car we may as well explore on the way back. Inverloch is a pretty spot with very little going on (in a good way), unless you have a fishing rod on you: fishing off the pier seemed to be the most popular pastime.
Also check out: we tried a couple of stops at Koonwarra (teeny tiny with a popular Food Store), Korumburra (free old mine centre, closed when we were there) and Loch (brewery and distillery, also closed Tuesdays!) along the South Gippsland Highway.Inverloch
3 THINGS TO STEER CLEAR OF:
SCRIMPING ON THE GEAR | all the gear, no idea. Actually make that: none of the gear, still no idea. That was us. The absolute amateurs on the campsite, dwarfed by all the mega camper vans towering over our tent made for hobbits. We invested a whopping $15 AUD on a 2 man tent from Kmart…. I’m not sure how many adventures this paper-thin home will last us, but at least we can be confident we’re saving money versus an Airbnb.
BIG4 CARAVAN SITE | doing our impromptu research for camping on Philip Island only two main contenders regularly appear. This one is marginally cheaper per night ($31 versus $40) and has good reviews, but didn’t appear to be in a great location at Newhaven – right by the bridge from mainland Victoria – versus our beach side option at Cowes Caravan Park. (OK – small technicality, we had to walk through a hedge. But some of the spots do look straight out to sea).
PENGUIN PARADE | I can’t comment on the Parade itself: we didn’t go. As per many natural points of interest in Australia, there is a tendency to be charged for visiting privileges and we felt unanimously frustrated that the home of these little guys had been turned in to a quasi-theme park. The amphitheatre seats up to 3,800. Ridiculous. I just can’t imagine that’s a ‘next to nature’ experience, or that you get up close without a bunch of selfie sticks obscuring the view.
1 THING I WISH I’D DONE:
THE PINNACLES | I fell victim to my own lack of research with this one: we were so close when we stopped at Woolamai surf beach, but too lazy to walk to Cape Woolamai. I didn’t realise this was home to the much photographed Pinnacles, accessible on a 4km round trip and supposedly one of Phillip Island’s best walks.
AND KNOW THIS: There are 17 species of penguins, all found in the southern hemisphere. Phillip Island is home to an estimated 32,000 little penguins whilst the total little penguin population is around one million. Naw.