Phillip Island
Photograph: Supplied

Weekend Getaways: Phillip Island

Take a break on Phillip Island with activities for nature lovers, thrill seekers and families

Adena Maier
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Phillip Island has long been one of Melbourne's top destinations for a weekend away, mostly because of its adorable colony of little penguins (yes, that's what they're actually called). And while those penguins are 100 per cent worth a visit all on their own, the island is full of other fun things to do for all ages. It's home to the most spectacular Grand Prix Circuit in the world, used in the annual Superbike World Championship, as well as scenic walks offering up-close encounters with iconic Australian wildlife. 

The ultimate guide to Phillip Island

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 of 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 they make the journey from sea to burrow each night, unfazed by the hundreds of people who turn up to watch them march.

Ticket options range from tiered seating in viewing grandstands and the Penguins Plus package, which will get you within a metre of the tiny critters, to guided ranger tours that offer additional commentary. Keep an eye out for eastern barred bandicoots, too. 

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. 

Sea caves seen from an Ocean Adventures boatPhotograph: Leslie Haworth

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 also has Yamaha sea scooters available to pull snorkellers along underwater, making crossing distances a breeze. There are numerous other aquatic offerings, including jetskis, a scuba school and rides on the cheek-flattening Thundercat. The super-fast boat will take you past jaw-dropping sea caves and cliffs, and you might just get 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, two kilometres 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 from Cowes Jetty.

Wallabies in Phillip IslandPhotograph: Leslie Haworth

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 500 metres 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. 

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. 

If you're visiting during the Tissot-sponsored World SBK or the Motorcycle Grand Prix, check out the action on the waterside circuit. If the events aren't on, you can go 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 course, matching every twist and turn in miniature. DIY 'vroom' noises.

The five-kilometre return Pyramid Rock to Berrys Beach walk is also well worth your time. The clifftop trail 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.

Phillip Island Helicopter ToursPhotograph: Leslie Haworth

 

Eat

There are plenty of good food options on the island, and we'd highly recommend stopping in at Wild Food Farm and Café in Rhyll for breakfast or lunch. The property is a labour of love by Jude Mayall, whom you may know as the founder of bushfood company OutbackChef (and author of a cookbook of the same name). The farm grows native bush tucker like wattleseed and lemon myrtle, which is then used in the café as well as being packaged and sold online, in the gift shop and wholesale to chefs, distillers and brewers all over Australia. Fresh, native ingredients make the food here sing, and you can have a wander through hectares of native bushland and carefully cultivated bush tucker plants before or after your meal. 

Many have tried, but most have failed to treat the humble toastie with as much grace and reverence as the folks at the Store, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it (literally, we did exactly that) café and shop. The menu is limited to pies and toasties, but what toasties they are. The pies were sold out when we visited, but the sandwiches more than made up for their absence. We tried the Cubano and the spicy tuna, and both approached the platonic ideal for toasties. The bread was perfectly crisp, plucked from the grill just before it turned a shade too dark, and the fillings were fresh, abundant and well-considered. The coffee is also excellent, the kind of moreish brew that practically begs you to have a second cup. 

Carb-loving locals will be spoiled for choice; make your way to Pino's Trattoria, which was established in 1991 and is renowned by locals for its simple and honest Italian food. Just down the road is Isola di Capri, a beachside Italian restaurant known for its housemade pizza and pasta. Gluten-free pizza bases are available, and the restaurant ensures it uses the freshest ingredients in everything it makes. Ask for a seat by the window if you can get one – the view out over the adjacent beach is just lovely. 

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Stay

If you're looking for a relaxing and bucolic place to stay, Five Acres farm stay could be just the place to unwind. Spanning the titular area, the farm has views across fields to the sea and friendly chickens, goats, sheep and two highland cattle, Rory and Ivy. The guesthouse is fully equipped with everything you need, including breakfast provisions procured from the farm's resident chickens. There are three luxury guest cabins on the property, which all have the same lovely views and pastoral outlook with total privacy. Katie also has plans to offer classes in everything from beekeeping to jarring and canning in the onsite commercial kitchen, and an events space is also in the works. 

Over in nearby San Remo, oft-referred to as the gateway to Phillip Island, you'll also find Silverwater Resort. Choose from studio or one, two or three-bedroom apartments, all fitted out with balconies offering sweeping views of the picturesque landscape. The resort features a heated indoor lap pool, solar-heated outdoor pool and spa pool, and if you're keen to stay active, you can enjoy lit tennis courts, basketball courts and bocce courts. For the little ones, there's table tennis, an arcade and a playground. And while you'd be remiss not to explore the nearby eateries, if you can't be fussed leaving, you can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner at the hotel's restaurant, Watermark Restaurant and Loungebar.

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