If you're visiting Melbourne then there's a good chance that a visit to Phillip Island is on your bucket list of things to do. We've put together a handy guide for travellers out there to help them get the most out of their experience.
Where is Phillip Island?
Situated 140 kilometres south of Melbourne Phillip island is a 1 hour and 45-minute drive from Melbourne, keeping in mind this is with no traffic so if travelling at peak times and in holiday season it will take you a little longer to get there. The main draw card for Phillip island is it’s colony of little penguins (formerly fairy penguins) that call the penguin parade home. Being an island Phillip island definitely offers a lot more to do than just visiting the cute penguins as well.
How to get to Phillip island
Rent a car or take a day tour, V Line buses operate from Melbourne to the Town of Cowes but it will take a long time to get you there and once on the island you are very limited for transport options with the penguin parade being at least a 2 and a half hour one way walk.
If you plan to stay the night and spend more than one day on the island then renting a car is definitely the best option for getting around.
On the other hand, if you only have time for a day trip then a day tour is definitely the best option. In the height of Summer, the penguins won’t start coming into the beach until after 9pm, which means you’ll be leaving at 10 to 10:30pm with a 2-hour drive back to Melbourne (providing you don’t get lost). It’s best to let someone else do the driving in this case!
What can I do on my way there?
There are multiple wildlife sanctuaries on the way down to Phillip island that you can visit, and we recommend Moonlit Wildlife Sanctuary. Home to some of Australia’s famous and favourite creatures such as wombats, Emus, Kangaroos, Wallabies and Koalas means that there is plenty to see and do here. Highlights include close up photos with a koala and hand feeding wallabies and kangaroos!
A stark contrast to Phillip island and just a short ferry ride away is French island on Western Port Bay. A 1-hour drive from Melbourne will get you to Stony point where the ferry departs from, it is only a foot ferry so to explore the island you will need to book a tour with Naturaliste tours or take our full day Phillip island tour where it Is included.
On the island you’ll explore the wilderness and wetlands and learn about and view the various wildlife on the island. French island is home to Australia’s largest disease-free Koala population giving you a great chance to see these furry critters up close in the wild. There’s also the chance to pull fresh oysters off the rocks as well and 4-wheel driving around the island in the custom-built OKA is awesome fun!
5 minutes after arriving onto Phillip island you’ll come across the Phillip Island Chocolate Factory, for a small fee you can do a tour of the factory which has all sorts of crazy gadgets and cool contraptions. Just don’t forget to get yourself a treat at the shop on the way out!
The turnoff to Churchill island is right next to the Chocolate Factory and is definitely something you should consider adding to your list. Just a short drive up the road and you’ll cross a short bridge over to the island and arrive at the Churchill island Heritage farm, a 57 hectare property boasting plenty of activities for one and all to do.
The island was named after John Churchill who gave seeds for wheat and corn to Lieutenant James Grant who planted them here making it Victoria’s first working farm way back in the 1800’s. The farm was purchased by the Lord Mayor of London – Samuel Amess back in 1872 and was opened to the public for visitation 100 years later.
Visitors to the farm can expect to see sheep shearing, working dogs in action, whip cracking, beautiful views of Western Port Bay and French island as well as Samuel Amess’ house still standing since it was built in the 1800’s.
Phillip island is a great place to go surfing so it’s got its fair share of classic Aussie beaches, Woolamai is the main beach to visit which is only a short drive from the chocolate factory but there are plenty of other beaches such as smiths or berry’s beach as well.
Nobbies Boardwalk & Seal Rocks
Only a short drive from the Penguin parade is the Nobbies Boardwalk and Seal rocks including the visitors centre. Stroll along the boardwalk and enjoy the splendid views and if you’re lucky you may see some little penguins in their burrow as you walk. Directly out on the water from the boardwalk you’ll see the Seal Rocks which are home to the largest colony of Australian fur seals in Victoria.
Inside the visitors centre you can explore the Antarctic journey exhibition for a small fee and learn about all the different wildlife living in cold climates.
Where can you see the little penguins?
At the Phillip island Penguin Parade of course! Located at Summerland Bay, the penguin parade is operated by Phillip island Nature Parks which is for a non-profit organisation that looks after the wildlife on the island. It was started back in 1996 when the Penguin population had plummeted from 70,000 in the 1940s to 13000, it was predicted that unless something was done we would have no penguins left. This was due to the impact of humans moving to and visiting the island as well as the sardine population leaving the area.
Today thanks to the work of Phillip island nature parks the penguin population is back up around the 35,000 mark with over 6000 penguins calling the penguin parade home. Each night you can see between 200 to 2000 penguins stroll up the beach back to their burrows after their time fishing out on the ocean.
How much does it cost to visit the penguins?
General Viewing - Adults: $26.60 Children: $13.20
This gives you access to the general viewing area on the beachfront at the parade. We recommend getting in early to get a good seat and also to listen to the ranger talk before the penguins come out! Once you see a few groups of penguins waddle up the beach head back up the walkways and explore, you'll see penguins everywhere even the ones that haven't been out on the ocean will pop out of their burrows to say hello.
Penguins Plus - Adults: $55 Children: $27.50
Superior up close viewing area for the penguins, satellite tracking shows that approximately 70 percent of the penguins access the beach via this area and what a spectacle it is to behold. It literally is the march of the penguins and on holidays it will book out far in advance so it is best to book ahead if you want this viewing experience.
Penguins Plus Underground - Adults: $70 Children: $35
This experience allows you to get an eye level view with the little guys directly under the penguins plus viewing area.
VIP Tour - Adults: $85
Be treated like a VIP with an exclusive guided tour followed by viewing from the skybox and also penguins plus underground.
Guided Ranger Tour - Adults: $85
Enjoy a tour guided by one of the rangers through the penguin colony and get a real insight into the lives of the penguins.
How long should I spend on Phillip Island?
How long is a piece of string? But seriously if you just want to spend the day and see the penguins then jump of a guided day tour, otherwise rent yourself a car and stay at one of the accommodations on the island.
Where can I stay?
The Island Accommodation
Just after arriving on Phillip island the Island accommodation will present itself on the left hand side. Dorm beds and private rooms are available for the night as well as handy bicycle hire.
Phillip island Apartments
Situated just off the main street of Cowes this accommodation offers lovely apartment rooms for your overnight stay and is only a short walk from the restaurants and bars of Phillip island's main town.