Best known for the world-famous Penguin Parade, Victoria’s Phillip Island is high on many people’s list of destinations to visit as part of a bigger trip to Melbourne.
And while the penguin population does get much of the attention, there is so much more to this island destination which is conveniently connected to the mainland.
After many trips to Phillip Island over the years, I’ve compiled my best advice into this blog post to help you in planning your own trip there for the first time, or even just the first time in a while.
Where is Phillip Island
Phillip Island is south of the Victorian capital of Melbourne. Roughly about a two and half hour drive outside of the city.
Located in the Westernport Bay just off the Mornington Peninsular. One side of Phillip Island is relatively well protected by the bay, while the other side directly faces the Bass Strait. A famous, even notorious stretch of water between the coastline of Victoria and the island state of Tasmania.
Phillip Island is connected to the mainland by a 640-metre bridge at the township of San Remo and I’ll get into the easy ways to get to there a little later in this post.
The Best Things To Do On Phillip Island
Just by reading the introduction, you will have worked out that the star attraction on Phillip Island is the Penguin Parade.
Home to the largest colony of Little Penguins in the world, it’s a stunning spectacle each and every night, just after sunset, when they return from the ocean and make their way back to their burrows.
If you do nothing else on your trip to Phillip Island, please make sure you do complete this one-of-a-kind experience.
The Penguin Parade precinct has been really well set up with a dedicated seating area and a boardwalk to allow large amounts of tourists to witness the Little Penguins make their way up the beach and into the hillside where they nest while not interfering with their movements.
I would strongly recommend getting there early to secure a good spot, while the Penguin Parade visitor centre is also worth exploring to get more information about these amazing animals.
Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit
If by some chance it’s not the wildlife you know Phillip Island for, maybe it’s the island’s motor racing history.
Dating back to 1928, motorsport has a long association with Phillip Island, starting out with a simple street circuit just outside of Cowes, to the now world-renowned Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit.
Hosting rounds of the MotoGP and World Superbike Championships each year, the circuit is particularly popular with motorbike riders, but it also hosts car racing events as well with a consistent schedule of events year-round.
If you happen to be on Phillip Island during an event, it’s well worth checking out. If you do, I would still drop into the circuit to visit the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit Visitors Center.
A purpose-built facility to showcase the rich motorsport heritage of Phillip Island, the home of motorcycle racing in Australia. The visitors centre features a Motorsport Museum as well as several interactive experiences.
You can also try your hand at the Slot Cars or the Motor Racing Simulators. But to really get the full experience I would recommend either signing up for one of the organised passenger rides on the actual race track or at the very least race a go-kart on the 750-meter scale replica Go-Kart Track version of the circuit.
A Maze’N Things
A Maze’N Things in Cowes is an adventure of puzzles and mazes ideal for kids and families.
With a variety of activities and experiences from mini-golf and a ropes course, to puzzles, magic and a maze, there is plenty in this themed park to keep you entertained for hours.
The optical illusions and interactive displays of Magic Manor as well worth the price of admission alone. Definitely worth including on a family trip to Phillip Island.
National Vietnam Veterans Museum
Put together by volunteers and donations; the National Vietnam Veteran Museum is a compressive history of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
Unlike other military museums around Australia, Phillip Islands’ National Vietnam Veteran Museum has been set up to support and provide insight into the experience of veterans, specifically the conflict in Vietnam.
You’ll learn quite a lot about the conflict as well as what it was like returning home for the veterans, while the museum also features an impressive collection of equipment that served during the war. Notably a Centurion tank, UH-1 Iroquois (Huey) and a DHC-4 Caribou that takes pride of place out the front.
Nobbies Ocean Discovery Center
Also known as the Antarctic Journey, the Nobbies Ocean Discovery Center is the place to go to get a much better understanding of the unique wildlife that call Phillip Island as well as the other islands between Australia and the Antarctic home.
The centre has a number of stunning displays and interactive exhibits to really help you understand the unique nature of this region.
It’s also home to a kiosk/cafe so even if you decide not to explore exhibits, you can still enjoy the views and escape the sometimes harsh weather that can impact Phillip Island.
That said if the weather is favourable, make sure you also take a walk along the boardwalk that starts (and finishes) at the Nobbies Center. You’ll get great views of the rugged coastline of Phillip Island.
If you keep an eye out, you’ll also spot the largest colony of Australian Fur Seals, the endangered Cape Barren Geese and for the particularly keen you’ll also spot some of the famous little penguin nests.
Located across the road from A Maze’N Things, the Koala Reserve is a great way to come face-to-face with koalas in their natural habitat.
Take a stroll along the two treetop boardwalks for the best vantage points to see the koalas nestled amongst the trees.
And if you’d like to see more native wildlife (wallabies and echidnas in particular) explore the trails of the six hectares of Australian bushland.
Once you’ve enjoyed the outdoors drop into the Visitors Center to learn more about the koalas with the interactive displays.
Cape Woolamai/Phillip Island Nature Park
Cape Woolamai also referred to as the Phillip Island Nature Park is another stunning spot on the island to explore.
Predominately a nature reserve this part of the island is best known for its pristine beaches and typically good surf and is extremely popular during the summer months.
But what really makes this part of the island stand out is the handful of walking trails around the cape.
Most notable is the main loop route of the Cape Woolamai Coastal Walk which offers stunning views along the rugged coastline including the pink granite of the pinnacles rocks that is the most prominent feature.
Cape Woolamai is not only the southernmost point of Phillip Island, but it also features the highest point with the Beacon Walk trail taking you up to the peak where you will be presented with uninterrupted views over almost the entire island.
If you really want to stretch your legs and take in the fresh air, Cape Woolamai is the place to go.
Phillip Island Chocolate Factory/Panny’s Amazing World of Chocolate
Worked up a sweet tooth while taking in all the Phillip Island has to offer? It’s ok; the Phillip Island Chocolate Factory has you covered.
Definitely different from the other attractions around the island, this festival of chocolate is both fun and educational.
If you are short on time you can just visit the chocolate store, but it’s the Panny’s Amazing World of Chocolate experience that makes the visit really worthwhile. I mean who doesn’t want to see a chocolate waterfall?
There is also some chocolate art and other interactive experiences, some of which include samples. But what I really enjoyed the most was seeing behind the scenes of the factory in action.
Pyramid Rock Lookout
Another unique feature of Phillip Island’s rugged coastline is Pyramid Rock.
Located at the end of the aptly named Pyramid Rock Road, this rock formation loosely resembling something you might find in Egypt juts out off the coast into the Bass Straight.
You can’t get out onto it, but the lookout offers a stunning view that’s probably best taken in at sunrise or sunset.
Where To Stay On Phillip Island
As a popular tourist destination, there are a number of places to stay on Phillip Island.
Cowes is where you’ll find the best mix of options for somewhere to stay on Phillip Island. It’s the biggest town on the island; it’s also the best setup to cater to tourists with cafes and restaurants all within a reasonable walking distance.
My top suggestion for somewhere to stay is the Ramada Resort by Wyndham Phillip Island. This resort-style accommodation has everything covered with self-contained units, a couple of pools, and an onsite gym as well as a bar and cafe ideal after a big day of sightseeing.
If you are really chasing water views during your stay, your best bet is The Waves Apartments. For something a little bit cheaper, I’ve found that Villas and Studios of Amaroo Park is a solid option as well.
That all said, there are numerous holiday houses scattered all over the island which would most likely suit you better if you are travelling as part of a larger group.
The Best Time Of Year To Visit Phillip Island
Phillip Island is an extremely popular weekend destination from Melbourne during the summer. The pristine beaches and typically good surf are good reasons why.
If you want to make the most of your trip to Phillip Island I would really recommend visiting during the summer, just keep in mind the accommodation prices will be at a premium.
That’s not to say you can’t visit during the cooler months but just be prepared. Winter days can be quite brutal due to the weather that makes the Bass Straight such a notorious stretch of water for boating. It’s not every day, but it does happen.
Getting To and From Phillip Island?
The simplest way to get to and from Phillip Island is by driving there yourself.
As I mentioned before it’s about a two and half hour drive from Melbourne and a relatively simple one, depending on the traffic, along the Monash Freeway (M1).
The signposted M420 route (B420 as you get closer to the island), will take you down through Cranbourne, which is great if you want to stop for lunch etc along the way. But I’ve found continuing on the motorway until Pakenham and following the C442 route until you link back up with the M420, is the faster option.
Having a car with you is just going to give you the most freedom to explore all of what the island has to offer; just watch out for the Cape Barron Geese.
With that in mind, there is a V-Line coach service that stops in San Remo in the mainland, just across the bridge. While the Western Port Ferry Service links Cowes with the Stony Point on the Mornington Peninsula where you can catch the train.
Getting Around Phillip Island?
Again, having a car during your stay on Phillip Island will allow you to make the most of your trip. There as so many fantastic beaches and lookouts that are only accessible by driving.
That said, bike riding is another popular way to get around on the island. While there is a limited public bus service operated by South Coast Bus that does service the major towns and some of the key attractions.
Where To Find Food/What To Do In The Evenings?
No matter what you are looking for breakfast, lunch or dinner, Cowes is your most likely option. There are a couple of cafes and boutique restaurants in some of the other towns around Phillip Island, but Cowes has the majority of your options.
My number one suggestion for a place for dinner is Pino’s Trattoria. If you are a motorsport fan, the decor of MotoGP and World SuperBike memorabilia will have you hooked straight away. But they also do the best Italian food on the island.
After something a bit more casual and a few drinks? Then might I suggest the newly refurbished and rebranded The North Pier Hotel, formerly the Isle of White Hotel.
Otherwise, just take a stroll along Thompson Ave, the main road through Cowes and you’ll no doubt find something to suit your tastes.
If you’d like to get more information to help plan your trip to and around Australia… Check out the rest of my blog posts.