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10 reasons to wander Phillip Island

Things to do

  • Cowes Pier at sunset, Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia

Ten little penguins would probably do it, but there are plenty of other reasons to plan an adventure to Phillip Island. This little island is big on activities for almost any kind of weekend wanderer: surfers and sand-castle builders, wildlife watchers and sports spectators, foodies and fishing aficionados, jazz cats and history buffs. The best bit (aside from the penguins)? It's only a 90-minute drive from Melbourne. Jump in the car and you'll be there before the first "are we there yet?"

Reason 1: Swell beaches
Wave hello to some of the best surfing in the country. Declared Victoria's first National Surfing Reserve for its quality breaks and pristine environment, Phillip Island has four sites along its coast: Cape Woolamai, Smiths Beach, Summerland and Cat Bay. 

Its big wave conditions, left and right breaks, and small, consistent waves suitable for learners makes the island popular with grommets and seasoned board riders alike. Hang about and hang ten. There are plenty of places around the island to hire gear and sign up for lessons.

Reason 2: Destination dining 
Freshly caught seafood and locally sourced produce are served up with spectacular views at Phillip Island's dining hot spots. Chew with a view of the Southern Ocean at The Cape Kitchen or take in the Rhyll waterfront from the deck of The Foreshore Bar and Restaurant. On the outskirts of Cowes, The Shearing Shed is worth a visit for the sheer expanse of its farmland home.

For a drop, visit family-run Purple Hen Wines for a cool climate wine, or take caf-fiends to micro-roastery and eatery BEANd.  

Reason 3: Cute suits
Fact: the collective noun for little penguins on land is a 'waddle'. And they waddle in seriously cute suits. Pay a visit to the Penguin Parade to watch them surface from a day's fishing and waddle up the beach to their burrows in the sand dunes. 

These little penguins are the smallest of their species and grow to only 33 centimetres, so for a face-to-face sticky beak, book a spot in the underground viewing bunker.    

Reason 4: Koalaty time
Phillip Island is home to a huge population of koalas. For guaranteed sightings of our furry friends dozing in their eucalypt environs, visit the Koala Conservation Centre and wander along the treetop boardwalks.

Twitchers, visit Phillip Island in spring to see shearwater birds flock from Alaska to the warmer climes of the island to breed. The birds breed from September to April, so keep an eye out over summer as they find their mates and settle down.

Reason 5: On the rocks
Some 35,000 seals make their home at Seal Rocks, Australia's largest fur seal colony, off the coast of Phillip Island. Venture out on a boat cruise with Wild Oceans Eco Boat Adventures or Wildlife Coast Cruises to see the seals fish from the rocks, taking in the rugged coastline along the way.

Reason 6: A-maze-ing family fun   
This little island is big on family fun. Let the kids channel their inner Charlie at Panny's Phillip Island Chocolate Factory and burn off the sugar rush among the mazes, mini-golf and mysterious caves at A Maze'N Things. For a virtual expedition to the Southern Ocean, take the family on an interactive Antarctic Journey at the Nobbies Centre: big deep-sea adventures without all the extra packing.

Reason 7: Holiday catch ups
Angling for a fishing holiday? This is your island. Join the locals and snapper up an excellent catch from the jetties at Cowes, Newhaven, Rhyll and San Remo. Cast your net further afield and take a fishing charter or your own boat out onto Westernport Bay.

If you happen to return empty handed, stop by San Remo Fishing Co-operative to buy seafood straight off the boat. No one ever need know. They also do the best fish and chips in town.

Junior anglers in tow? Head to Rhyll Trout and Bush Tucker Farm.  

Reason 8: Circuit breakers
Torque about motorsports: the famed Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit plays host each year to the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix (MotoGP – October), World Superbike Championships (February) and the V8 Supercars (April). Any time of year, satisfy your need for speed on the go-kart track – a scale replica of the actual circuit – at the Grand Prix Circuit Visitor Centre.

Reason 9: Island grooves
Cats, the Phillip Island Jazz Festival is the toe-tapping-est way to get into the island groove. Every November, local and touring jazz bands bring three days of swing, gypsy and trad sounds to Cowes.

The island tunes don't stop when the festival ends: live bands and solo acts can be found adding beats to sunny afternoon sessions and late night revelry at venues around the island all year round.  

Reason 10: Churchill Island
For a two-fold island experience, venture over to Churchill Island. History buffs, this is your dream island home. The site of the first farm in Victoria, this is the place to delve into pioneering history and nineteenth-century farming techniques. Watch whip cracking, sheep shearing and working dogs doing the hard yards. Jump aboard a Clydesdale-driven wagon or wander through the original homestead and traditional gardens at your own pace.