The bridge from mainland Victoria to Phillip Island
Phillip Island is a popular destination in Victoria not only for visiting tourists but many Australians who take weekends away or longer holidays there. And they all come to spend time on the beaches, get up close and personal with the local wildlife, be amazed at the rugged coastline and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of the main town of Cowes. I have been to Phillip Island a number of times and love it even more with each visit. Even though many visitors may go for the day I would suggest you try to stay at least a couple of days so you can truly appreciate all the things to see and do on Phillip Island. Here are my top things to see and do.
The best time to visit Phillip Island
Phillip Island can be visited any time of year however, during the summer months the island’s population swells with services stretched, accommodation more expensive, cafes pumping, over crowded beaches and busy roads. Many people come to the island to see the nightly penguin parade and if this is your goal you might consider going in the warmer months as sitting on a freezing beach may be a deterrent. Note that over summer the penguins come ashore later to coincide with darkness. So if you have come only for a day trip expect to be arriving home late.
Where is Phillip Island and how to get there
Phillip Island is located around 140 km from Melbourne and takes around 2 hours to drive. The island can be reached by driving along the M1 Freeway before taking the A440 then the M420. Traffic can be horrendous at times as there is only one way on to the island – over the bridge that connects the island to mainland Victoria.
It is best to get to the island by vehicle. If you don’t have a vehicle I would highly suggest you rent one because this is the best way to get around the island. You can rent one here.
If you don’t want to drive yourself then sit back and relax on a tour. There are many tours available which you can book and be picked up from your accommodation in Melbourne. The one thing I would advise you here is that if you plan on seeing the penguin parade, the penguins don’t come ashore until the sun is setting and by the time they have arrived you will be leaving the island late and be arriving home late. This is why many stay on Phillip Island for a couple of days.
Accommodation on Phillip Island
Phillip Island has a plethora of accommodation available ranging from camp grounds to hotel rooms to units to holiday homes. I often choose a holiday home near a beach to stay in because I usually stay for a few days to around a week or two. However, choose what style suits you and your budget. Check out the accommodations options here so you can compare and book.
What to see and do on Phillip Island
Feed the Pelicans at San Remo
San Remo is technically not on Phillip Island but it is the last town on mainland Victoria before you cross the bridge to Phillip Island. Each day at 12 noon on the San Remo beach beside the pier local pelicans line up waiting to be fed. The area is coned off so you can get up close and personal with them and watch them feed, which takes only about 20 minutes. It is an interesting thing to watch and a great pre-cursor to all the wildlife on the island. I would suggest you stand well back from the pelicans, particularly if you have little kids with you because these pelicans are big and nothing will separate them from their lunch.
San Remo is more than feeding pelicans, it is a cute little seaside town where you can chill in one of the cafes or have some fish and chips along the shoreline.
The Penguin Parade
The nightly Penguin Parade is the most popular thing to do during your visit in Phillip Island. The penguins have long been coming ashore but around 1985 there was a dramatic decline in penguin numbers due to houses, shops, traffic and bushfires so the penguin parade was introduced to ensure penguin numbers didn’t decline further. Today, the colony of little penguins is around 30,000.
Every night at sunset penguins that have been out hunting for food for most of the day return to the island and their burrows. The phenomenon is so popular a special viewing area has been built so us humans can see nature at its best, and to keep us at an appropriate distance. The parade is extremely popular so I suggest you ensure you pre-purchase your ticket as there may be a long que if you don’t. I would also suggest you take a blanket and a cushion to sit on as the view area can be very cold even during summer. The wind off the ocean is brutal and goes straight through you and the seating isn’t that warm so wrap up. Some people bring a picnic with a warm drink with them to enjoy while waiting for the penguins. I don’t think I have ever been so cold!
As well as the penguin parade there is a very interesting program centre to learn more about the penguins before walking along the boardwalk to the viewing area. Along the boardwalk you can see many nests. A word of warning, there are few rules when you watch the Penguin Parade that mostly with no flash photography as the light can harm and frighten the little penguins. There are security guards on watch who will kick you out if you use a camera during the parade.
If you would like to book a ticket for the nightly parade and be brought from Melbourne you can purchase your ticket to just the parade here. If you would like to book a 12 hour day tour which takes you to a number of places and includes a ticket in to the penguin parade then you can purchase your ticket here.
The Nobbies Centre is an ecotourism destination located at Point Grant, on the western tip of Phillip Island (see map). It features educational displays and the usual cafe and gift shop however, it is the magnificent rugged scenery that steals the show. Go for a stroll along the Nobbies boardwalk and see the blowhole which has been created by the large southern swells that can hit the coast. Hopefully, if the weather is right you will be treated to a blowing blow-hole with water crashing and splashing everywhere! Maybe see some Silver Gulls nesting while you walk around, usually during spring and early summer. Rug up here as the wind can be chilly.
The scenery is just fantastic on this part of the island and if you stand at The Nobbies and look across the ocean you will see seal rock in the distance which is home to the largest colony of seals in Australia. To see the seals up close and personal you will need to take a cruise, if you would like to purchase a ticket for the cruise you can purchase one here. You can also book a cruise while on the island. If you would like to include the seal cruise as part of a full-day tour to the island then you can purchase a ticket for the tour here.
Phillip Island Circuit
The Phillip Island Circuit is a major sporting arena that hosts motor sporting events such as the Moto GP and the World Superbikes. If you are a bit of a speed demon and interested in motorbikes then this is the place for you. You can take a guided tour of the circuit which includes access to trackside areas. I would suggest the track is on the island because of the noise. The track is by the water and there are some great views.
Koala Convservation Centre
The Koala Conservation Centre has done a great deal for saving the local koala population of Phillip Island. The centre is not only an educational experience but it allows you to get up close and personal to the koalas while experiencing them in their natural habitat. It is wonderful walking around the boardwalks up in the trees seeing them in their native habitat.
Cowes – the main town on Phillip Island
Cowes is the main town on Phillip Island and provides all visitors and locals with the most food options and local shops and services to explore. There are many cafes, restaurants and pubs catering to many different tastes and budgets. It is well worth a walk up one side of the street and down the other to visit everything that is along this strip from craft shops to surf shops to medical centres. The main road ends down at the wharf where there is a big park to enjoy. This area is popular during ‘Schoolies’ with the school leavers enjoying Cowes.
The Chocolate Factory
The Chocolate Factory is a great place for all things chocolate and is one of my favourite places on the island. There are interactive exhibits so you can learn about the cocoa bean before taking part in designing your own chocolate for you to eat. Of course there is plenty of chocolate on offer to purchase as well as experience many delicious chocolate things in the cafe. I must say I really enjoyed the Chocolate Factory, but I love chocolate.
Enjoy the beaches
There are many beaches around Phillip Island, some are surf beaches while others are bay beaches.
Woolamai Surf Beach
If you’re looking to hit the waves then head to Woolamai Beach which is famed for its strong rips and currents. It is patrolled over summer and if you love the sun and surf you will be kept busy.
Situated to the south of the island, Smith’s Beach is tucked away in a secluded bay. It offers calm waves and gentle surf for beginners and its bay-side location provides a very relaxed atmosphere.
If it’s wildlife you’re seeking then Summerland Beach is a must-visit as this is the scene of the famous Penguin Parade. You can access the white sandy shores until dusk but then, the area is cleared to make way for the penguins to come ashore.
Shelly Beach boasts small waves perfect for beginners, but this can depend on the swell. It is also great for water sports and has great views of the surrounding areas.
Ventnor Beach is great if you don’t want to surf but spend your day swimming and sunning yourself. It is a great place to relax and offers breath-taking views towards the horizon.
Cowes Beach is a stretch of sand situated at the end of the Main Street of Cowes. It’s a popular place for families who have accommodation in Cowes and it has shallow waves and plethora of facilities and amenities close by.
Red Rocks Beach
Set against a backdrop of impressive red rocks, this beach is sheltered and sandy, providing the perfect place to splash around in the shallows and relax in front of amazing sea views.
For hardcore surfers, Surf Beach is the place to go. It has large waves and strong currents and is not ecommended for swimming, but it’s ideal for pro surfers looking to catch some waves against a backdrop of incredible landscapes.
Other things to see and do on Phillip Island
The things I have mentioned above are the main things to see and do while on Phillip Island but there is still more to see and do. These things include visiting the Vietnam Veterans Museum, the Maze or take a helicopter flight over the island to see its rugged coastline. No matter what you have come to see there is plenty to see and do on Phillip Island.
Sharyn was born and grew up in Sydney, Australia. Thanks to her dad who worked at Sydney Airport she spent many holidays travelling in and around Australia and overseas. She maintains this blog to help others live, work and play in Australia – just like she does. She currently calls Melbourne home.