See and do
Yes, you really do have to see Phillip Island's famous little penguin parade. These tiny birds (also called fairy penguins) come in from a hard day's fishing at sunset every night of the year, parading up the beach to their burrows in the sand dunes. Thousands of little penguins nest here, and more than a thousand make the journey from sea to burrow each night, unfazed by the hundreds of people who turn up to watch them march. For primo penguin viewing you can opt for the Penguins Plus area, which will get you within a metre of the tiny critters, close enough to hear the slap-slap of their little flippers on the wet sand. You'll still get to see plenty of penguins if you buy tickets for the general viewing area, and keep an eye out for flippered friends as you walk back along the boardwalk to the visitors' centre. You'll see plenty waddling very close to where you're walking, and if you're lucky you will witness family reunions as adult penguins rejoin their offspring to share in the day's fishing.
But penguins aren't the only animals to call Phillip Island home. The island's Koala Conservation Reserve is the place to get a good look at one of Australia's emblematic animals. You can explore six hectares of native bushland via easily accessible walking tracks, and make sure you keep your eyes on the trees. Boardwalks will take you to within a few metres of more than a dozen koalas. If you're lucky, they'll be up and about and enjoying the fresh eucalyptus leaves keepers bring in each day.
If you want your animal encounters kicked up a notch, Ocean Adventures offers snorkelling and scuba diving around the island. Underwater kelp forests attract dozens of fish species to the waters around Phillip Island, and scuba diving and snorkelling are fantastic ways to explore sheltered coves and gorgeous underwater worlds. Ocean Adventures offers Yamaha Sea Scooters to pull snorkelers along underwater, making crossing distances a breeze. There are also numerous other aquatic offerings, including jetskis, a scuba school and rides on the cheek-flattening Thunderkat. The super-fast boat will take you past jaw-dropping sea caves and cliffs, and you might get lucky enough to see some of Phillip Island's many seals.
If you want to see seals en masse, book yourself passage on a Wildlife Coast Cruise. The two-hour return trip will take you out to the aptly named Seal Rocks, 2km off the coast. You'll see hundreds of seals basking in the sun and swimming in the chilly waters surrounding the rocks, barking to each other and playing. Tours depart Cowes Jetty.
You'll see plenty of other wildlife, including wallabies, Cape Barren geese and bandicoots if you take one of Phillip Island's many scenic walks. The biggest bang for your walking buck is at the Nobbies, a clifftop bushland area with 500m of boardwalk out to an explosive blowhole. The Nobbies area is at the very tip of the island, and you'll get gorgeous views out over the sea as you walk. Our tip: wear warm clothing, even in summer. It's the coldest part of the island, and the wind is fierce. There's also a visitor centre, so you can go inside and warm up if you need to.
The 5km return Pyramid Rock to Berrys Beach walk is also well worth your time. The clifftop walk offers pretty spectacular views, and the path is wide, mostly flat and easy to navigate. There are a few steps and undulating terrain, but for the most part it's easy on the calves. The Berrys Beach end of the walk is along a paved road, but most of it traverses grassland. Keep an eye out for wallabies and the ubiquitous Cape Barren geese.
Bored with keeping your feet on the ground or your flippers in the sea? Hop aboard a flight with Phillip Island Helicopters and take a scenic tour of the island. Get a different perspective on the island and check out Phillip Island's natural beauty and famous Grand Prix track from the air. The company also offers a trip to a winery in nearby Inverloch for lunch, if you really feel like living it, er, up.
If you're visiting during the Motorcycle Grand Prix, check out the action on the waterside track. If the GP isn't on, you can out on the track and feel the wind in your hair yourself - kind of. There's a go-kart track set up next to the real GP track, matching every twist and turn in miniature. DIY 'vroom' noises.