The Philip Island Jazz Festival (18–20 November, 2016) serves up three days of jazz music on Victoria’s holiday isle. Jazz fans or not, there are plenty of reasons to visit Phillip Island all year round. From wildlife encounters to world-class surf breaks, family fun to to adrenaline-fuelled action, Phillip Island is home to an array of activities to entertain everyone, and all within 90 minutes drive of Melbourne.
The Penguin Parade
As one of Australia’s premier wildlife experiences, the Penguin Parade draws thousands of visitors each year to the little penguins emerge from the sea and waddle up to their burrows in the sand dunes each evening. It is a bumper season for the Penguin Parade this year, with a new record of 4,398 penguins crossing the beach set this November, smashing the previous record of 3,388 set only one week prior. For an especially intimate experience, Underground Viewing enables onlookers to come face-to-face with the penguins as they waddle past the ground-level window of the underground viewing bunker. And Penguins Plus is an above ground, 300-seat platform that also provides extra special viewing opportunities as they emerge from the water. Guided Ranger Tours are available prior to the parade, offering an insight to the local penguin colony.
Native wildlife encounters
Penguins aren’t the only native animals to call Phillip Island home. Shearwater Birds migrate south from Alaska to breed at Phillip Island from September to April. In spring, visitors can see the birds flock in as they arrive from an eight-week journey, and throughout summer, watch as they find their mates and settle down. Phillip Island is also one of the best spots in the state to get a glimpse of the coveted koala resting in its native habitat. The Koala Conservation Centre provides the chance to walk along the elevated treetop boardwalk, through a native woodland to see koalas sitting in the branches above. Peeled eyes might also catch sight of the wallabies, echidnas and bats that also live there.
A National Surfing Reserve
Victoria’s first National Surfing Reserve, Phillip Island has a rich surfing history and a range of surf breaks – four of which comprise the reserve. Woolamai has world class beach breaks (and is incidentally also the break of choice for Hollywood stars Chris and Liam Hemsworth who hail from Phillip Island). Smiths Beach has consistent waves in most conditions and is therefore a prime spot for surf schools and fledgling grommets. It is also the location of the best big wave barrelling reef break on Phillip Island, Express Point. Summerland is the birthplace of surfing on the Island, with iconic reef breaks, large swells and quality low tide waves. And Cat Bay has a number of left and right hand reef breaks.
Those who don’t want to get their feet wet can enjoy a water-side view of the Island’s rugged coastline while also getting up-close to Australia’s largest fur seal colony at Seal Rocks – home to approximately 35,000 seals. Wild Oceans EcoBoat Adventures offers daily high speed tours to Seal Rocks and the base of Summerland Peninsula’s cliffs with the chance to see an explosive blowhole at the Nobbies. Two new tours will be added to the agenda in late November 2016: a sunset tour to see short-tailed Shearwaters against the backdrop of Cape Woolamai, and the Island Discovery Tour – a three-hour tour that includes a gourmet picnic lunch on a secluded beach on French Island. Wildlife Coast Cruises also offers tours to Seal Rocks along with tours to Cape Woolamai and other destinations. Other on-water activities include Kayaking around the Island and Stand Up Paddle Boarding.
Phillip Island is home to some dining hot spots that are destinations in themselves. At The Cape Kitchen, floor to ceiling windows provide uninterrupted views of the Southern Ocean crashing against the rocks below, and delicious food made using locally sourced ingredients. Fine dining establishment, The Foreshore Bar and Restaurant, offers seasonally inspired menus, and family friendly dining spots like The Cheeky Goose are in plentiful supply. On the outskirts of Cowes, The Shearing Shed is set on 20 acres of farmland and retains the look and feel of its origins as a 1950s shearing shed. Island Whole Foods is the go-to for health food fiends with tasty and nutritious meals and snacks served in the heart of Cowes. Beand is the spot for fresh roasted coffee and The Waterboy Cafe offers all-day breakfasts and freshly baked treats. Set to open in mid-December, a new cafe at Newhaven Jetty will be a hotspot this summer while Purple Hen Wines remains the go-to for wine connoisseurs.
Family fun abounds on Phillip Island and as such it is at its busiest during Victorian school holidays. The award winning A Maze’N Things offers hours of fun, with mazes, illusions, mini-golf and the newly opened Magic Manor with interactive magic displays, illusions, mysterious caves, magic rabbits, a time machine and more. The perfect place to indulge a sweet tooth, Phillip Island Chocolate Factory produces more than 150 varieties of chocolate each year and has an interactive chocolate exhibition where visitors can make their own chocolate. Opened in December 2015, Antarctic Journey at the refurbished Nobbies Centre takes visitors on a virtual voyage to Antarctica using augmented reality, enabling kids to seemingly touch penguins, whales and other sea creatures.
With the bay on its doorstep and Bass Strait to the South, there are ample opportunities to fish. Local charters offer a range of boats and packages to please every angler while the jetties at Cowes, Newhaven, Rhyll and San Remo are perfect places to cast a line out to sea. Flathead, salmon, shark, squid and whiting are among the fish commonly caught. For a guaranteed catch, the Rhyll Trout and Bush Tucker Farm is the place to go – they’ll even cook it up on the spot. If the fishing trip was a fail, fish monger Bass Straight Direct sells scallops and seafood straight off the boat and San Remo Fisherman’s Cooperative serves up the best fish ‘n’ chips in town.
Home to the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix (October), San Remo Channel Challenge (January) and the World Superbike Championship (February), Phillip Island attracts adrenaline junkies from far and wide. Throughout the year, thrill seekers can get their fix at the Grand Prix Circuit Go Kart Track, which is based on a scale replica of the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit. Phillip Island Helicopters offers a birds eye view of the Island. On the water, adventurers can book a session with the likes of Phillip Island SUP or Island Surfboards, or try snorkelling or mountain biking with OutThereOutdoors.
Hidden Gem: Churchill Island
Life in the 1850s is recreated at Churchill Island Heritage Farm, with a restored homestead, original cottages and heritage gardens and orchards. Sheep shearing, wagon rides and cow milking are among the daily activities and visitors have the chance to try cracking a whip and throwing a boomerang themselves. A five kilometre circuit track rewards walkers with views across Western Port Bay and the chance to see some jet-setting birds.
Places to stay
Phillip Island Glamping adds a touch of elegance and lots of luxury to a camping trip, with four or five metre bell tents already set up, cosy bedding and all the amenities needed for a comfortable stay. For an authentic farm stay retreat, Bimbadeen Phillip Island has two brand new eco-friendly self-contained cottages on a 360 acre cattle farm while boutique accommodation options like Oaktree Lodge and Clifftop are stand outs. Phillip Island Apartments and Ramada both offer comfortable family accommodation and holiday parks Cowes and Anchor Belle are perfect for a camping or caravanning escape.
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