Travelling Australia - Journal 2014
23-26 March 2014

Phillip Island
Phillip Island is generally known as a holiday and tourist destination from Melbourne. The island is also very well known as a place for watching Little Penguins walking up the beach as they return to their nests among the rocks and dunes after a day fishing at sea. But there is far more to Phillip Island than penguins.

Phillip Island lies across the entrance to Western Port with a road bridge connecting to San Remo on the mainland at the eastern end. The village of Newhaven is on the island at the end of the bridge. The main settlement is at Cowes, and Rhyll is a small village a few kilometres from Cowes.

Visitors flock to the island, often for the penguin parade when the Little Penguins come ashore at dusk; while we in the Information Centre the person behind the desk commented that being a Saturday they expected at least 1500 people to attend the penguin parade that evening. On Saturday we saw an almost continuous line of cars coming onto the island, mostly going to Cowes; on Sunday we saw a similar line of cars going in the opposite direction.

Traffic levels in Cowes on Saturday and Sunday morning were high and the shops were crowded. But on Monday the number of people in Cowes and other places on the island was quite low (this is not the tourist season and the weather was challenging).

Housing developments are common but tend to be clustered; when driving around some parts it would be easy to believe the goal is to have Phillip Island covered in houses from coast to coast. But other parts of the island are still rural with cows (and sometimes sheep) grazing and bales of hay in paddocks waiting to be collected.

The island has a complex geological history with evidence of considerable volcanic activity in the past. There does not appear to have been any attempt to present the geological past to tourists.

The geological history has caused the north and south coasts to be different in appearance. The north coast is mostly long, sheltered, sandy beaches between rock outcrops. Extensive mud-flats and mangrove systems are found in the north-eastern corner (around Rhyll). The south coast is often steep and rocky with spectacular rock formations based on black basalt rock. At the south-eastern tip, Cape Woolamai combines beach and cliffs with a long sandy, surf beach linking the pink granite of the cape with the rest of the island.

The primary attractions for tourists to Phillip Island is the penguin parade but considerable effort has gone into developing the seal colony on Seal Rocks near the Nobbies as a tourist venue and sight-seeing boats make daily trips from Cowes so visitors can see seals close up. The island is also famous for Koalas and there is a Koala Conservation Centre where koalas can be seen close-up. Numerous swamp wallabies on the island are not particularly afraid of people although they still remain wary of intruders.

The bird population includes many Ibis (White and Straw-necked) in paddocks. Masked Lapwings are prominent around houses and lawns usually in pairs but sometimes in larger groups; this bird is often said to be one of the few species that has benefited from human settlement, seeing such large numbers on settled Phillip Island gives credibility to that claim.

But the most obvious bird is the Cape Barren Goose. Frequently seen in pairs grazing on grass and alongside roads or in flocks in paddocks this bird is in the same class as the emu as far as road sense is concerned. They wander across intersections and road without any regard for traffic and show no awareness that motor vehicles can be dangerous. Fortunately for the geese, drivers are prepared to wait while the birds dither.

Phillip Island - page 2
A less obvious aspect of Phillip Island is the availability of walking tracks at a variety of scenic or interesting places. These are controlled by an organisation called Phillip Island Nature Park which is a not-for-profit organisation owned by the Victorian Government but required to be self funding. The name Phillip Island Nature Park rarely appears in advertising, although it is often seen on signage at venues, but the organisation controls the penguin parade, Seal Rock, Pyramid Rock, Cape Woolamai, Rhyll inlet, the Koala Conservation Centre, the Oswin Roberts Reserve and anything else with a nature orientation.

Although the organisation keeps a low profile, as far as advertising attractions on Phillip Island goes, it maintains a network of well designed and implemented nature attractions with appropriate car-parking, good signage, high quality walking tracks and a variety of excellent boardwalks allowing visitors to see natural features but which also subtly control walkers by providing boardwalk access to the best vantage points so visitors are less tempted to leave prepared tracks and boardwalks.

More details about Phillip Island Nature Park can be found on their website at

cowes building
Cowes has a wide range of tourist and visitor accommodation such as this one overlooking the beach.  
cowes trees
The main road into Cowes (Phillip Island Road) is lined with bright green trees forming an avenue.  
Phillip Island - page 3
cowes beach
The beach at Cowes is more sheltered than many other beaches on the island.  
nobbies boardwalk
Boardwalk at The Nobbies takes visitors onto exposed cliff tops with a view along the south coast cliffs and headlands. Penguins are sometimes seen under the boardwalk during the day.  
san remo boats
Commercial fishing boats are based at San Remo.  
Phillip Island - page 4
rocky coast
Rocky coast near Pyramid Rock formed from black basalt is routinely pounded by southerly seas. Basalt is cooled lava.  
rhyll boardwalk
Boardwalk passing along the edge of the mangrove swamp lining the Rhyll Inlet. This excellent walk has been implemented by Phillip Island Nature Parks.  
cape barren goose
Cape Barren Geese wander around Phillip Island in pairs or congregate in flocks of twenty or thirty birds. They have no road sense at all and wander aimlessly in front of vehicles.  
Phillip Island - page 4
Woolamai Surf Beach with the Cape Woolamai Fauna Reserve in the background. There are walking tracks in the fauna reserve.  
swamp wallaby
This Swamp Wallaby in the Cape Woolamai Fauna Reserve was wary of a person on the track but not frightened enough to frantically hop away.