Phillip Island, Victoria
is Australia’s wildlife haven. This diminutive island may be just 26 kilometres long and nine kilometres wide, but it packs a real punch when it comes to viewing native Australian wildlife. Everything from little penguins and seals to koalas and wallabies can be seen here, and there are also hundreds of different species of birds who come to the island to nest and feed.
The island is attached to the mainland by a road bridge, which delivers
visitors to Newhaven at the island’s eastern tip.
As you arrive you might find it difficult to pass the first attraction, the Phillip Island Chocolate Factory
, which is located on the main road onto the island. Call in for a brief visit and discover the story of everyone’s favourite food at Panny’s Amazing World of Chocolate, where visitors can see vintage adverts, learn about how chocolate is made and even produce their very own chocolate bar. The factory also has a welcoming café serving cakes, sundaes and even crispy Indian bread with chocolate. And of course there is an on-site shop selling sweet treats of all varieties.
Also on the island’s eastern side is Rhyll
, a sheltered port which is now a charming seaside village. Just outside the town, the Rhyll Trout and Bushtucker Farm
has a picturesque tree-lined lake from which visitors can fish for rainbow trout, with the helping hand of the farm’s fishing instructors. Anything you catch can be cooked for you on-site, or you can take it with you to enjoy later. There’s also a bushtucker trail which winds through three hectares of native food crops. Visitors can learn how the local Koori people harvested and used these plants and even try the edible fruits, berries, seeds, leaves and flowers for themselves.
Rhyll’s main attraction is Rhyll Inlet, a natural tidal inlet enclosed to the north by a series of sandy spits. The resulting landscape of mudflats, mangroves and salt marshes is a popular destination for migratory wading birds who come here to roost and to feed. Look out for pelicans, gulls, ibis and even black swans as you stroll along the boardwalk here. The island’s greatest array of wildlife can be seen at Phillip Island Wildlife Park. This 60-acre park is home to more than 100 different species of Australian animal, many of which can be encountered up close and in some cases even hand fed. Throughout the grounds you’ll see kangaroos (including the red kangaroo, the parma wallaby and the red-necked pademelon) and all can be patted and fed. The raised boardwalk allows visitors to come face to furry face with koalas, who sit high up in the trees munching on leaves.
Even more koalas can be seen at the Koala Conservation Centre. This sustainable centre is dedicated to koala conservation and aims to keep the habitat as natural as possible while also giving visitors the chance to get close to its residents. Ascend to koala-height on the two elevated treetop boardwalks to view the koalas at eye level without disturbing the bush setting, and explore the ground level walking trails for the opportunity to see swamp wallabies, brushtail and ringtail possums, echidnas and more than 80 different species of birds.
At the far western end of the island is the Summerland Peninsula. All public land on this rocky outcrop is part of the Phillip Island Reserve, affording it increased protection – and keeping it in an unspoilt state. At the tip of the peninsula on the headland at Point Grant is the Nobbies Centre. Here you can stroll the boardwalk for panoramic views of the island’s rugged south coast, as well as across the Bass Strait to the Mornington Peninsula, and take in the blow hole, a natural sea cave through which the ocean thunders during large swells. In the spring this is also a fantastic place to see wildflowers, which grow as a carpet of yellow and purple across the grassy headland.
Just offshore from here are Seal Rocks, home to the largest colony of Australian fur seals, believed to number about 20,000. This is an important breeding ground and nursery for the seals, and during mating season (late October to late December) when the boisterous males return to the colony there is plenty of activity to see. Use the telescopes along the cliff edge to check out what’s going on at the rocks or go one better and join a cruise. Wildlife Coast Cruises offer a two-hour boat ride from the town of Cowes on the island’s north coast.
The boat drifts within a few metres of literally thousands of seals, giving you the chance to learn much more about these inquisitive animals (who regularly approach the boat themselves), and providing plenty of unrivalled photo opportunities. You’re also likely to see dolphins and a large variety of seabirds.
Phillip Island may be home to a wealth of wildlife, but it is just one particular animal that brings most visitors to the island. The Little Penguin is the world’s smallest penguin and is only found in southern Australian waters. The largest known colony of these tiny birds is located at Summerland Beach on the Summerland Peninsula. Here you’ll find the fabulous Penguin
Parade Visitor Centre. At any time of day visitors can watch videos about the penguin’s lives, view chicks in nesting boxes and explore the interactive educational displays here, but it is as night falls that the centre really comes alive. Every evening as the sun sets the little penguins return to shore after their day’s fishing and their en masse migration is an enchanting sight.
The beach has a tiered seating area to give visitors an uninterrupted view of this daily spectacle but there is also a Penguin Plus viewing platform which is limited to 150 people and provides a closer look at the penguins as they pass by.
Rangers are on hand to provide information about the penguins and the centre can arrange behind the scenes tours and personalised visits to a secluded beach to view the penguins away from the crowds.
Find out more about nature & wildlife in Victoria