Fancy an island getaway weekend? Located just a few hours from Melbourne, Phillip Island ticks all the boxes for a relaxing, adventurous and fun island away, without the expensive air fare. The only link to the mainland is by bridge, which spans the waters that range from mesmerising blue to sombre grey depending on the sky above. But very little about this island is sombre. Island life here is both slow and fast, from its world-famous little penguins to the roar of the racing cars circling the Grand Prix Circuit.
Phillip Island is not particularly huge, it’s 26kms long and 9kms wide, but it offers a massive array of natural attractions, wildlife and things to do, whether you’re a couple seeking relaxation or a getaway for the entire family. I’d forgotten how beautiful and diverse it is. Phillip Island’s 97Kms of coastline transforms from massive outcrops to sheltered golden beaches which face Western Port Bay. The surf coming off Bass Strait attracts some of Australia’s top surfers.
We arrived on a Friday afternoon, a cool but sunny early December day. Our plan was to take in some of the walks of the island, visit the Nobbies Centre and perhaps discover a few places we hadn’t seen before on previous visits. The last time we were here the kids were little and high on the agenda were ways to keep them happy.
This time it was just us and it was more about relaxing and taking in the scenic beauty of the island. On the south coast of the island, east of the Nobbies is a stunning board walk to Pyramid Rock. There are two viewing platforms here and some incredible views of the triangular shaped rock which are reached via the car park. Keen bush walkers can reach the rock from the coastal cliff-top track from Berry’s Beach.
One of the most spectacular walks of our weekend was to the Pinnacles in Cape Woolamai, located on the headland at the south eastern tip of the island. Many come to Cape Woolamai and make it no further than the car park at the surf club however beyond the wild ocean beaches lie some amazing walks like the Cape Woolamai Coastal Walking Track.
All the walks start from the shelter shed in the car park and the information board inside allows you to plan your days hiking. We started our walk to the Pinnacles along the windswept beach for about 600 metres before taking the steps up to the cliffs. Along the way there’s wallabies and other wildlife and signs indicating this is home to a huge colony of short tailed shearwaters. It took us about 40 minutes to reach the Pinnacles and wow, what a view.
The Pinnacles is a grand seascape. One formation resembles a rugged and spiral staircase that ascends into the sky. Though the sign indicated no entry we watched as a group of young people dared the winds to climb up to the top. I was content to watch from a distance.
The wind was ferocious and even the seagulls appeared to be a bit wonky on the air currents. It was mesmerising to watch the gulls fly against the wind and, down below, the seals lazing on the rocks as the waves swirled around them.
The coastal walk continues to the quarry and to the Beacon, another breathtaking lookout point, or you can backtrack as we did. Either way the views are nothing short of spectacular. Back on the shore less than an hour later we watched as fishermen tried their luck on the beaches. The surf is strong here. Beyond Cape Woolamai the main family beach on Phillip Island is located on the Esplanade where the beach is calmer and there are loads of picnic spots and free barbeques. Close by are an array of restaurants and cafes if you don’t feel like cooking.
No visit to Phillip Island is complete without a visit to the Nobbies, home of the interactive Antarctic Journey and spectacular clifftop board walks. Prepare to hold onto your hat as the wind can blow up mighty strong here but it sure reminds you that you’re alive. As you walk make sure you keep an eye out for the little penguins tucked into their burrows along the way. We spotted a couple of them, so cute in their hidey holes, and perhaps taking a break before venturing out into the seas or into the nightly group parade.
Of course, if you want to see them in their droves you can book a ticket and come back at night to watch their nightly waddle up the beach to their sand dune burrows. We were content with the couple of penguins we spotted outside and, inside the whizz-bang Nobbies Information Complex, where we had fun dancing with penguins in the simulated interactive display. Who says you need kids to be silly?
There are plenty of interesting activities to fill your days, either with the kids or without. There’s nearby Churchill Island to explore, cruises you can book out to Cape Woolamai, water sports, historic places to discover and wineries to indulge in. Get your chocolate fix at the Chocolate Factory or try your hand at bush mini golf at Aussie golf ranch. Any big kid would love the climbing ropes at Sky Trail or the magic at A Maze’n’Things. This looked so awesome, a world of magical, optical illusions, mazes and puzzles. Imagine getting shrunk in the shrinking room, lost in the mirror gaze and sliding down the look-out slide.
At St Remo every day there’s pelican feeding at 12 noon where thirty local penguins arrive for their daily serve of fish, provided by the San Remo Co-op. This close-up experience is free for anyone to enjoy and worth a visit if you’re on that part of the island.
Our home base for the weekend was Beach Park Tourist Park located barely 100 metres from the beach off McKenzie Street in Cowes. Our powered site was close to the dunes and just a short stroll to the well sheltered beach. From there we could walk into town. Had it been warmer we might have swum in the solar heated pool which looked particularly inviting. Above the pool was a games room which the other half and I took advantage of, enjoying a game of snooker and ping pong on the first night. Nothing like bringing out the kid in me!
To make the most of your stay it’s worth dropping into the friendly Visitor Information Centre in the heart of Cowes, to pick up some maps of the area. I would never, otherwise, have found out about the walk which leads to the wreck of the SS Speke, which ran aground on Kitty Miller Bay in 1906. Information on tidal times is essential as the walk there can only be done at low tide.
So, this was our destination on day two, a walk out to this wreck to see the bow of the Speke which came to rest on its side. It’s concealed behind cliffs to the east of the bay and makes for a dramatic seascape. At the time the Speke was one of the largest ships of its kind, over 90 metres long, but still it was no match for the fury of the seas of Bass Strait, as it collided into the reef. The wreck is quite a remarkable sight and a photographer’s dream.
It’s a slow walk out there to see it, rock hopping along the jagged shoreline, then climbing high above the cliff tops before descending onto the rocky shore to see it close up. It’s a rugged sea landscape at low tide and the walk, which takes about an hour and a half, makes for an intriguing adventure.
Whether it’s traipsing along the beach, discovering coastal trails or lapping up the racing vibes at the Formula One Circuit there’s a pace of island life here to suit everyone. From Boxing Day through to Australia Day (26 December to 26 January) Phillip Island ramps up the summer vibes with its Summer Carnival. Whether you come for the day or the weekend you’re guaranteed to find your wild side and take away some brilliant memories.