Phillip Island Penguin Parade
THE PENGUIN PARADE is at Summerland Beach, 22 kilometres from the San Remo Bridge along Phillip Island Road then Back Beach Road (taking you right past the Phillip Island Winery).
Little penguins are the smallest of the penguin family, growing to just 33cm, tip to tail. Every evening at dusk, hundreds, sometimes thousands, totter out of the water in little groups (or ‘rafts’) – stomachs filled with pilchards and other small fish – to make their way back to their burrows in the dunes.
The viewing area is outdoor, so dress warmly. All profit from gate charges is directed to protecting the penguins’ habitat and other conservation projects.
For more information: www.penguins.org.au
PHILLIP ISLAND’S VOLCANIC pre-history is evident in the The Colonnades – a basalt rock formation extruded from deep within the earth’s core and weathered over millions of years to create a dramatic ‘organ pipe’ geological effect on the cliff face.
Accessed from Woolamai Road, The Colonnades are best seen at low tide. There is a good walking track to the site, taking about an hour, accessed from the Woolamai Surf Beach carpark.
LESS THAN a kilometre further west along Phillip Island Road from the Woolamai Road intersection, is the turn-off left to ‘Forrest Caves’. Take the road to the carpark, then follow the track to the water’s edge.
From here, also best seen at low tide, there are views of the Forrest Caves – large caverns in the rock created by the unceasing erosive action of the waves.
There are also muttonbird rookeries nearby. The muttonbirds, or short-tailed shearwaters, often numbering thousands, are best observed at dusk between the end of September and April.
SITE OF THE FIRST European settlement in what later became the colony of Victoria, Churchill Island is a tiny island of just 57 hectares.
The turn-off to Churchill Island is well sign-posted, just past the Tourist Information Centre at Newhaven. After crossing onto the Island, stay on Phillip Island Road, look for the turn-off to the right one kilometre west of the bridge.
Now managed by the Phillip Island Nature Park, historic Churchill Island abounds in birdlife along its northern shore and is a serenely beautiful place to visit. Aside from the historic buildings (dating back to 1872) and historic farm machinery displays, there are beautiful grounds, herb and flower gardens and remnant stands of ancient Moonah trees.
Open from 10.00am-4.30pm. For more information: www.penguins.org.au
Cape Woolamai and The Pinnacles
CAPE WOOLAMAI, the highest point on Phillip Island, is a prominent headland jutting into Bass Strait. Shaped like a snapper’s head, it inspired explorer George Bass to name P
hillip Island Snapper Island when he first entered Westernport Bay.
The Cape Woolamai State Faunal Reserve takes in the whole of the headland and is accessed from the carpark at Woolamai Beach Surf Lifesaving Club. Just take Woolamai Road and follow the signs to the beach.
(Woolamai Beach, incidentally, is one of the Island’s most popular surf beaches, but, caution, strong rips mean it is best to only swim between the flags.)
The walk through the Reserve across the top of the rugged coastal basalt cliffs is one of the best walks on the Island. It can take a little effort in parts to get all the way to the summit, and a good few hours, but it’s well worth it.
In warmer months, the rocks and shorelines abound with nesting muttonbirds. And the views into the crashing surf below the steep cliffs and across The Pinnacles – an unusual offshore rock formation – are truly spectacular.
(There are also diving charters operating out of San Remo that can give experienced visitors a special look at some of the deep coves off the Cape.)
THE KOALA CONSERVATION CENTRE at Fiveways on the Phillip Island Road, is about 10 kilometres from the bridge. This is one of few places in Victoria where koalas can be observed in the wild.
There is a Woodland Walk which is a one kilometre loop along a boardwalk, and The Koala Boardwalk that starts at the visitors’ centre, rising into the tree-tops to give visitors a close-up look at the koalas.
The modern visitors’ centre is open from 10.00am-5.00pm daily. For more information and online ticket bookings go to www.penguins.org.au
Oswin Roberts Reserve and Conservation Hill
OFF HARBISON ROAD, which runs behind the Koala Conservation Centre, is the Oswin Roberts Reserve. Maintained as bushland – a significant remnant of Phillip Island’s original native forest cover – it connects with the Conservation Hill reserve and the Rhyll Walk.
The walk through the Oswin Roberts Reserve to Conservation Hill provides numerous opportunities for spotting native birds and wildlife. The observation tower at Conservation Hill sits above the Rhyll wetlands and mangrove swamp.
Here, there are a number of boardwalks along the shoreline mudflats and into the mangroves.
There is also a walking and cycling track to Rhyll along the edge of the shallow lagoon, often teeming with waterbirds: swans, pelicans, royal spoonbills, straw-necked ibis, little pied cormorants and the rare hooded plover.
A POPULAR SURFING and swimming beach, Smith’s Beach sits overlooking Bass Strait, just eight kilometres from the San Remo bridge.
Follow the signs to the racing circuit and Penguin Parade, veering left off Phillip Island Road onto Back Beach Road. Just two kilometres past the turn, there is a turn-off to the left (well sign-posted) to Smith’s Beach.
NOW FAMOUS for the annual rock festival (www.thepyramidrockfestival.com) held over the New Year holiday overlooking ‘the Rock’, Pyramid Rock, as its name suggests, is a large pyramid-shaped basalt rock outcrop sitting just off the shoreline.
In heavy seas, the crashing of the waves and boiling swell around its base can be a spectacular sight. There is an observation viewing area just off the carpark.
The turn-off to Pyramid Rock is just two kilometres past the racing circuit, heading west towards the Penguin Parade.
THE PHILLIP ISLAND WINERY is in Berry’s Beach Road, a further two kilometres past the turn-off to Pyramid Rock.
Continue past the Winery (you can call in on your way back) for another kilometre to the carpark above the small but spectacular rugged cove of Berry’s Beach.
There is a viewing platform, good surfing and very good fishing off the beach or rocks (for snapper, flathead and salmon).
There is also a quiet walking track (you will often have it to yourself) that heads eastward along the coastline to Pyramid Rock.
Kitty Miller Bay and wreck of the S.S. Speke
JUST THREE KILOMETRES past Berry’s Beach Road and the Phillip Island Winery is one of the Island’s most beautiful and secluded coves, Kitty Miller Bay. Look for the turn to the left off Back Beach Road
Almost a perfect crescent, it creates mesmerising unbroken wave patterns that, when conditions are right, can stretch the full width of the bay. It is also a haven for birdlife and a nesting
area for the rare hooded plover.
To its east, the Kitty Miller Shipwreck Walk leads to the jagged rusted remains of the S.S. Speke, one of the largest three-masted clipper ships of its day which ran aground in 1906, breaking up soon after.
SWAN LAKE, the only permanent freshwater lake on the island, teems with a profusion of native and migratory waterbirds.
It is accessed off Ventnor Road, turning west toward the Penguin Parade at the intersection of Back Beach Road and Ventnor Road. The turn-off to the left, which can be easily missed, is 300 metres past the first traffic control roundabout; it leads to a carpark and information shelter.
The walking track, just 500 metres or so, leads to birdhides at the edge of the lake. Depending upon the time of year, it can be a ‘twitchers’ paradise.
Flynns Beach, Cat Bay
NEARLY OPPOSITE the Penguin Parade is Flynns Beach on Cat Bay. A popular surfing area, it also offers beautiful quiet walks along the beach at sunset, with the sun setting over nearby Cape Schanck.
SITTING ON POINT GRANT at the south-western tip of the Island is the Seal Rocks Sea Life Centre overlooking the Nobbies and Seal Rocks. Entry to this attraction is free.
Ventnor Road terminates here; to find it just continue driving west past the Penguin Parade.
The rock platform of The Nobbies just offshore is home to a bustling colony of Australian fur seals and is one of Phillip Island’s natural wonders and premier attractions. These are the largest fur seals in the world, weighing up to 350 kilograms, and were once prized by sealers for their oil, meat and skins (they were hunted nearly to extinction when European settlers first arrived).
They have been protected since 1891 and numbers have recovered across much of their habitat. At the peak of the breeding season, there may be as many as 10,000 individuals clustered on the rocks or lolling in the shallows.
They can be observed from the shore, there are telescopes at the kiosk and information centre, but can also be observed much closer at hand from cruises that runs most days out of Cowes. (For more information: www.wildlifecoastcruises.com.au)
The nearby Blowhole, which can put on an impressive display in heavy seas, is just a short walk away. There are numerous boardwalks fanning across the steep shoreline, accessed from the carpark. (The road closes beyond the Penguin Parade from sunset to sunrise all year round.)
For more information: www.penguins.org.au
FOUR KILOMETRES from Cowes, heading west along Ventnor Road, is the turn-off right to Grossard Point. This is a beautiful wind-swept headland carrying a warning beacon for ships using the deep channel into Westernport Bay.
It is also the site of the lonely grave of Captain Grossard, an early settler who was accidentally shot in 1868 while visiting the McHaffie family, the Island’s first European settlers.
(Photos courtesy of Destination Phillip Island)