Penguins, chocolate factories and beaches – if you ask me this sounds like one of the best trips of all! Phillip Island was definitely one I was looking forward to, especially since we were doing it independently. Many people go on organised bus trips to the island, but I was keen to hire a car and go it alone so I rounded up a few friends and booked a car. Naturally I went through Budget, my favourite hire car company to use, which cost us around $100 including full insurance for the day – pretty cheap when split between four of us. It takes around three hours to get to Philip Island from Melbourne CBD so you’ll want to set off as early as possible to have a full day on the island to explore. Located down on Mornington Peninsula you can bet there’s plenty of stunning nature to see.
We headed straight for Cape Woolamai when we arrived and with the sun blazing down on us it was the perfect place to be, looking out across Woolamai Surf Beach we watched the waves roll in. Down on the beach fishermen were catching fish right in the surf, while an elderly woman collected seaweed. It was beautiful and stretched as far as the eye could see, and I simply had to go dip my toes in the water. Afterwards we followed the road and stopped off at each beach along the way for more stunning views.
There are endless beach, bush and cliff walks across Phillip Island – use the maps you can find at visitor’s centres on the island, or just stumble across them. The Pinnacles Lookout comes highly recommended but sadly we didn’t make it to that one. We did however take some cute little bush and boardwalks through mangrove forests and bush land leading to lakes which were filled with wildlife including wallabies with babies in their pouches.
We headed to Cowes, one of the main towns on the island, for lunch and a wander along the pier. Like stepping back in time, the town is filled with old ice cream shops, cute little stores and lots of lovely places to eat. We headed for Isola di Capri, which was right on the seafront and overlooked the ocean. Sitting in the window, we had the sun beaming down on us as we enjoyed the view and tucked into a feast of pizza, risotto and calamari. Although out of a usual backpacker budget, we were treating ourselves – it was the last time I would see two of my friends and myself and the other friend had just quit out jobs and were also about to set off travelling again. Plenty to celebrate and how better than with good food and good friends? After lunch we took a walk along the pier to watch the fishermen.
The rest of our afternoon was spent over at the western tip of the island at Point Grant, where The Nobbies is located. Perfect for shark, dolphin and seal watching, the Nobbies ecotourism centre overlooks the huge boardwalk that takes visitors along the cliffs where they can view natural sights including Seal Rocks, The Nobbies and The Blowhole. This area is also home to Australia’s largest colony of fur seals, and if you’re lucky like we were, you may spot fairy penguins! It’s very windy up here so take a jumper with you, but definitely stroll along the boardwalk around sunset, the views are stunning and very photogenic.
Afterwards, of course, you have to head over to the Penguin Parade – the island’s biggest attraction. I had though it was definitely worth a look as you get the cute sight of lots of tiny penguins swimming into the beaches and running up them in time to roost. But to be honest, I was hugely disappointed. As you all know, I’m very environmentally conscious and yet I felt this whole “attraction” was done in a very unsafe way for the penguins. The sheer noise of the onlookers and the floodlights on the beach designed to highlight the penguins places them in more danger for predators and confused the birds. It was the most unnatural natural experience ever and it made me sad afterwards when you could see tourists shining cameras and lights in the faces of the birds as they ran up the boardwalks, they were confused and people crowding them didn’t help. The volunteers did very little to prevent this and instead just seemed concerned with people taking photos and videos as they were already selling these in the gift shop. All in all, I didn’t think this was worth the $20-30 spent and I just felt uncomfortable with the experience. I wouldn’t recommend it personally as I feel it is harmful to the environment and the animals, I actually preferred seeing the penguins over at The Nobbies because they were less crowded.
Overall, I loved Phillip Island, it’s a beautiful place to visit and definitely worth a day trip. But the Penguin Parade left a nasty taste in my mouth and I wouldn’t recommend it. I actually much preferred seeing the penguins at St Kilda because there were less people there and it seemed much more amazing. Plus its free and right on the beach so no travelling time.
Have you been to Phillip Island? What did you think of the Penguin Parade?