Phillip Island

Phillip Island is a popular day trip destination from Melbourne, which is a two-hour drive away. It popularity stems from the array of activities available: here you can surf at one of Victoria’s top surfing beaches; wander through bushland where koalas sit dozing in their treetop homes above you; take a look at Australia’s largest colony of fur seals, and at night, watch hundreds of Little Penguins returning to their burrows at the island’s famous Penguin Parade. All are close to the island’s main township of Cowes.

Phillip Island Information Centre, 895 Phillip Island Tourist Road, Newhaven, Victoria 3925. Ph: (03) 5956 7447, 1300 366 422

How to get there:

By car: Phillip Island is 140 kilometres south-east of Melbourne. It is easily reached by following Princes Highway or the South Eastern Freeway from Melbourne to Dandenong, then the Gippsland and Bass Highways to San Remo and Phillip Island.

By coach: most Victorian based coach companies operate tours to Phillip Island. Coaches depart daily from Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station Coach Terminal.

By bus: a daily V/Line bus to the town of Cowes on Phillip Island departs from Melbourne in the afternoon, with an additional evening service on Friday; the bus drivers will usually drop you off where you request in Cowes. There’s no public transport when you get there, however, so be aware that the Penguin Parade is over 10km from Cowes. There is a taxi service, however. Ph. (03) 5952 2200.

By air: island tours including flights to and from Phillip Island Airport operate out of Essendon Airport in suburban Melbourne. Website. Scenic helicopter flights of the island operate from Phillip Island Airport.

The Best Time To Visit: Phillip Island is an all-year destination, but as expected of a coastal island, the wind can be icy during winter and there is also more chance of rain in the colder months. It’s a very popular place, so there will always be plenty of people around whenever you go.

Melbournians enjoy coming to Phillip Island for the weekend or during their annual vacation (January is the peak month), so avoid weekends and the month of January if you’d rather avoid the crowds. The island also gets busy where there is a race on, so check the circuit’s website for a calendar of racing events.

The Nobbies

Things To See and Do

Penguin Parade: Phillip Island is home to some of Victoria’s most popular wildlife experiences. The most famous of these is the Little Penguin Parade each night (entry fees apply; Bookings call (03) 5951 2800 within Australia, or +613 5951 2800 from outside Australia). Tourists can also watch penguins at sunrise as they leave their burrows and scamper down the ocean to feed. There are one-and-a-half hour guided tours available for groups of up to 20, which take in a stroll down to the ocean and then back up to the Visitor’s Centre for a buffet breakfast.

Make sure you book a place if you want to see the Penguin Parade as the number of persons permitted into the viewing area each night are limited, therefore you can’t be guaranteed entry unless you have a booking. There’s no public transport when you get to Phillip Island, so it can be tricky trying to get to the Penguin Parade from the main township of Cowes, which is over 10km away.

Wildlife: everything from koalas and kangaroos to fur seals can be seen at close range on Phillip Island. The Nobbies Centre allows visitors to explore and discover the secrets of the southern marine environment including seals, sharks and dolphins via interactive displays and cameras that allow you to zoom in and out on these marine creatures. Koalas can be viewed at the close viewing area and tree-top boardwalk at the visitor Centre of the Koala Conservation Centre (entry fees apply).

Conservation Hill and Rhyll Mangrove boardwalk overlook the Rhyll wetlands and Rhyll Inlet, offering excellent bird watching opportunities as well as hundreds of tiny crabs. Swan Lake nature trail leads to the only permanent freshwater lake on the island and offers viewing hides, to watch the lake’s bird life. Australia’s largest colony of fur seals is located about 1.5km off shore at Seal Rocks, which sit at the extreme westerly tip of Phillip Island. Seals can be observed from the Seal Rocks Sea Life Centre at Point Grant but charter cruises allow a more up-close view of these furry predators.

San Remo village is where the ritual of pelican feeding takes place every day at 11.30 am. These enormous birds congregate daily on the San Remo beach adjacent to the fishing fleet to receive their free meal. Cape Woolamai, which features rugged granite cliffs and black basalt outcrops, is home to Phillip Island’s largest colony of Short-tailed Shearwaters, a migratory sea bird that arrive in the thousands between November and April.

Wallabies, wombats, emus, dingoes, Tasmanian devils, koalas and other native birds and animals are on display (mostly enclosed) at Phillip Island Wildlife Park, 1 km south of the island’s main town of Cowes. Not all are native to Phillip Island, however. The park displays a broad cross section of Australia’s unique fauna (around 100 different species), and is a good place to see the most well known all together in one place and up close. Each visitors gets a bag of food to feed the kangaroos and wallabies that roam the grounds. The island is also home to Mutton Birds, wallabies, wombats, possums, echidnas and other wildlife.

Coastal scenery: Phillip Island has some spectacular coastal scenery, being exposed to Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean and boasts such features as Cape Woolamai, the Blowhole, Seal Rocks, the Collonades, The Nobbies, Pyramid Rock and the Pinnacles. As Phillip Island is 26 kilometres long and 9 kilometres wide, you will need either to be travelling by car or on a coach tour to see much of it, since there is no public transport.

Water sports: During the warmer months, the island offers plenty of swimming opportunities with sheltered bay beaches and 26 wild surf beaches. These are generally located towards the south coast of the Island, facing the ocean (Bass Strait), while swimming beaches are generally to the north, facing the bay (Western Port Bay). World renowned Woolamai beach at Cape Woolamai is recognised as one of the best surf beaches in the country. More sheltered swimming beaches are located on either side of the Phillip Island Tourist Road Bridge.

Children’s Beach, another sheltered family beach, lies just across the Tourist Road Bridge in San Remo. Fishing boats are available for charter at San Remo and Rhyll, or you can try casting a line yourself at the numerous well known fishing spots around the coast. Phillip Island has several outstanding dive sites. Favourites include the Pinnacle, a granite rock swarming with fish life, and Collins Cave with its towering vertical walls, its swim-throughs and its profusion of fish and crayfish. Night diving on a large wrecked ship is also spectacular.

Surrounding Area

Phillip Island Motor Racing Circuit: the island’s motor racing circuit is home to the International MotoGP Motorcycle Grand Prix, World Championship Superbikes and Australian Touring Car Championships and a host of other events. Go-karts are available to try and race on a miniaturised version of the track.

Cruises, charters and ferries: A selection of cruises, seal, dolphin and whale watching (July to October), are available from the jetties of San Remo, Cowes and Rhyll. Boats can also be chartered for fishing. Ferry services operate between Phillip Island and French Island and between Phillip Island and the Mainland.

The towns of Phillip Island


Cowes is the main commercial centre on Phillip Island and has a wealth of charming cafes and restaurants for visitors to enjoy. Wildlife cruises to the large fur seal colony on Seal Rocks leave from Cowes.

San Remo is the gateway to Phillip Island and an important fishing port.

The first town on the island is the small fishing village of Newhaven – a popular place for fishing from the pier, surfing one of the best surf beaches in Victoria, walking along the beautiful Cape Woolamai or exploring nearby historic Churchill Island.

On the south-east tip of the island is the quiet village of Rhyll. Here visitors can wander through the Koala Conservation Centre to see koalas at close range or view birds on a walk through the famous wetlands at Rhyll Inlet.

National Vietnam Veterans Museum: this museum is dedicated to the preserving and displaying of photographs, memorabilia, vehicles and aircraft that accurately detail the history of Australian involvement in the Vietnam War from 1962 to 1972. The Museum currently displays around 6000 artifacts, memorabilia, documents, photographic material, vehicles, aircraft and weaponry which are viewed either under glass or in walk-through area.

Woolamai Picnic Races: Horse Racing and Picnic Lunches are combined at the Woolamai Picnic Races. Many families enjoy the casual atmosphere of these country race meets which take place on Sundays in January, February and March. Woolamai Race Track is located on the mainland.

Churchill Island

Churchill Island: accessed by bridge from Phillip Island, Churchill Island is steeped in history. The island is a working farm with Highland cattle, sheep, ducks, chickens and Clydesdale horses. Ranger talks, machinery demonstrations and festivals bring the island to life throughout the year. Fragrant gardens surround the island’s historical homestead. Entry fees apply.

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