Phillip Island is a large island at the mouth of Western Port Bay, less than two hours drive from Melbourne in Victoria. Because of its proximity to the state capital, it's a popular weekend tourist destination, especially during the summer months. The island is separated from the mainland by just a channel and is connected by a bridge. It is part of the Bass Coast Shire of Gippsland.
Cowes is the main town on the island, and in addition there are other smaller towns such as Rhyll, Cape Woolamai, Ventnor (closest town to the Penguin Parade) and Newhaven. The principal source of income is tourism, and there are many cafes, restaurants, etc., to cater to the appetites of the tourists.
The island is steeped in motorsport history. Australia's first ever international Grand Prix was held in 1924 on the original circuit comprising the still existing roads on Phillip Island. The annual Australian Grand Prix, an official round of the World MotoGP plus a round of the World Superbike (WBSK) is held at the 1950s purpose-built Motor Racing Circuit, and draws a massive contingent of motor sport fans (colloquially known as "petrolheads") every year.
There are a multitude of ways to reach the Island.
The journey from the Melbourne City Centre to Cowes is just over 140 km and takes about 2 hours (it can take up to 3 hours during major events such as the Grand Prix). The main route is down the Monash Freeway towards Warragul, turning off at the South Gippsland Freeway (M420), South Gippsland Highway (M420) and Bass Highway (M420/B420) and following the signs. Phillip Island is connected by a two-lane bridge to the small fishing town of San Remo on the mainland.
V/Line runs public coaches from Southern Cross Station in Melbourne's CBD to Cowes and Inverloch via Dandenong & Koo Wee Rup. You will need to catch the coach towards Yarram in the state's east, alighting at the town of Koo Wee Rup. From there, you can transfer to another coach towards Cowes. The buses are timetabled to connect, so there should only be a 5- to 10-minute wait at Koo Wee Rup. There are 8 departures daily on weekdays, with 4 departures daily on weekends. The trip should take no more than 2½ hours. You can plan your journey at Public Transport Victoria.
A range of companies offer tours of Phillip Island if you don't want to self drive. These typically include the Penguin Parade and a range of other wildlife experiences. Grayline, APT and AAT Kings all offer 'Big Bus' tours down to the island daily, whilst Posh Penguins offers private and smaller group tours down to Phillip Island.
If you're after a more scenic journey, a ferry departs from Stony Point on the Mornington Peninsula to Cowes daily.
- From Flinders Street Station, take a metro train to Frankston
- Transfer to a diesel train at Frankston station, alighting at the last stop, Stony Point.
- Board the ferry at the Stony Point Wharf, adjacent to the station, towards 1 Cowes Jetty.
In total, the journey should take about 2½ hours, the same as the bus. However, you will need to pay for a ferry ticket on top of a Zone 1+2 Myki fare. The ferry departs weekdays to Phillip Island between 7:10AM and 7:25PM, on weekends ferries run less frequently. For timetabling and costs, see Western Port Ferries.
Phillip Island is not a small island. Walking from Newhaven to the Nobbies, on opposite ends of the island, would take upwards of 5 hours. Such large distances generally require a car to get around. The island's main road is Phillip Island Road, running from the bridge near Newhaven to Cowes. The turn-off to the left near Sunset Strip onto Back Beach Road provides the direct route to the Penguin Parade and the Nobbies. Most rural roads on the island have a speed limit of 80 km/h, although be wary of wildlife such as kangaroos which are known to wander onto the road.
The island has very little in the way of a public transport network. The Cowes Line bus runs six times each way weekdays, and four times on weekends; it travels between Cowes and Wonthaggi, via Anderson and San Remo along Phillip Island Road. The V/Line bus to Melbourne also follows the same route from Anderson, and can be used for making short hops along the island. Tickets can be purchased on-board both buses. There is no public bus service to the Penguin Parade, Rhyll, the Grand Prix Circuit or the Nobbies.
Phillip Island Designated Driver (☏ ) operates an on-demand transfer service around the island, including to destinations such as the Penguin Parade. Booking required, and a deposit must be paid in advance.
- 1 A Maze'N Things, 1805 Phillip Island Rd (nearest bus stop in Sunset Strip, 30 min walk), ☏ , [email protected]. 10AM-5PM daily. A number of indoor and outdoor family activities, including a hall of illusions, mini-golf, adventure ropes course and the famous maze, which takes an average of 45 minutes to complete. Popular with kids and young families. All activities entry: $33 adults, $23 children, $26.50 concessions, $99.50 families.
- 2 Churchill Island, 246 Samuel Amess Drive (nearest bus stop in Cape Woolamai, 30 min walk), ☏ , [email protected]. 10AM-5PM daily, 2PM-5PM Christmas Day. The 57-hectare island was originally inhabited by the indigenous Bunurong people, until European settlement in 1801. Lieutenant James Grant planted a number of crops, making it the first European agricultural site in Victoria. A number of the historical buildings still remain, including the original homestead. Today, the island is a fully-working heritage farm, with a number of activities for kids and families, including cow milking, sheep shearing and whip cracking between 2-3:30PM daily. Horse and cart rides also operate from 1PM during school and public holidays. The island is popular to walk around, taking about 1 and a half hours; during the walk, it's possible to see a variety of bird species and farm animals. A modern café and visitor centre also operate on the island. $12.25 adults, $6.15 children (4-15 yr), $8.55 concessions, $30.65 family (2A+2C).
- 3 Koala Conservation Centre, 1810 Phillip Island Road (nearest bus stop in Sunset Strip, 30 min walk), ☏ , [email protected]. 10AM-5PM, with extended hours in Spring/Summer. Two tree-top boardwalks allow visitors to observe koalas up-close in their natural habitat in the gum trees. The centre also has a scenic stroll through Australian bushland, where there is the possibility of seeing wallabies, echidnas and other wildlife. A visitor centre and park rangers provide information on the koalas, their habitat and the conservation effort, while there is also a small gift shop and café. $12.25 adults, $6.15 children (4-15yrs), $8.55 concessions, $30.65 family (2A+2C).
- 4 The Nobbies and Seal Rocks, 1320 Ventnor Rd, Summerlands (Free parking, although no public transport access; transfers available with Phillip Island Designated Driver), ☏ , [email protected]. 11AM-4PM (5PM in Autumn, 6PM in Spring, 8PM in Summer). An educational centre on the island's south-west tip, documenting its flora, fauna and natural rock formations. Visitors can stroll along the windswept boardwalk and potentially see penguins and the gull rookeries for free. Seal Rocks are home to Australia's largest fur seal colony, but at 1.5 km off the coast, can be difficult to see with the naked eye. Instead, there are pay-to-use binoculars or boat tours can be arranged in Cowes. If nothing else, there are spectacular views of coastal scenery. Free.
- 5 Penguin Parade, 1019 Ventnor Rd, Summerlands (Free parking, although no public transport access; transfers available with Phillip Island Designated Driver), ☏ , [email protected]. 10AM-sunset. The island's most popular attraction, the Penguin Parade allows visitors to see dozens of little fairy penguins waddle up from the sea to their nests at sunset. Penguin arrival times vary throughout the year, from about 5:15PM in June to 8:45PM in January; estimated time can be checked on the website. Viewing areas are outdoors, unprotected from rain and wind, and photographs are not allowed after dark. Try and arrive early before the tour buses to get a good seat! There are a variety of more expensive ticket options which offer seats with a better view, enclosed viewing, small group up-close encounters on a private beach, accompaniment by a park ranger, among others. You can also walk around the visitor centre and boardwalks during the day before the parade begins. $24.50 adults, $12.25 children (4-15), $17.15 pensioners, $61.25 families (2A+2C).
- Rhyll. A small, pretty, peaceful fishing village at the north-eastern tip of Phillip Island. To the west of Rhyll is the Rhyll Inlet and Conservation Hill Reserve. This network of waterways and wetlands is a significant feeding and breeding area for resident and migratory birds. A pathway which features several sections of boardwalk extends along the coast from Rhyll's town centre and along the southern side of the inlet, then heads inland to the Rhyll Wetlands.
- 6 National Vietnam Veterans Museum, 25 Veterans Drive, Cape Woolamai (Nearest bus stop in Cape Woolamai, 20min walk), ☏ , fax: , [email protected]. 10AM-5PM daily. Dedicated to exhibiting and preserving memorabilia from Australia’s longest war. Completely run by volunteers, it houses over 5000 items throughout the fairly basic shed complex, including a full-sized tank, helicopter, howitzer plane and other vehicles at the back. An engaging light and sound video tells the story of the Vietnam War, with some of the displays being interactive. A small café and gift shop are also located on-site. $15 adults, $10 children (5-15), $12 concessions, $40 families (2A+3C).
- 1 Phillip Island Helicopters, Phillip Island Airport, Phillip Island Tourist Rd, Cape Woolamai (nearest bus stop in Cape Woolamai, 20 min walk), ☏ , [email protected]. 9AM-5PM. Offers 7 different tours of the island and surrounding region, from up in the sky! Requires a minimum of 2 passengers and photography is permitted at all times. The airport can also arrange transfers from local accommodation or Melbourne, and can create custom flights on request. From $80 pp for 8 minute flight, to $395 pp for 42 minutes.
- Phillip Island Chocolate Factory, 930 Phillip Island Rd Newhaven, ☏ . 9AM-5PM. A chocolate factory with a difference. Consists of a large retail store and cafe (free entry to both) and a paid tour of Pannys Amazing World of Chocolate. This consists of 6 rooms of interactive displays, games and exhibits all dedicated to chocolate. It includes the world's largest chocolate waterfall, robots that dispense chocolates and a squirl machine that creates chocolate patterns on a conveyor belt which can be eaten after they set. Every visitor gets a free chocolate on entry
- 2 Phillip Island Nature Parks EcoBoat Tour, 11/13 The Esplanade, Cowes (a short walk from the Cowes bus stop), ☏ , [email protected]. The not-for-profit nature parks organisation operates two boat tours to the Seal Rocks area from Cowes Jetty (and sometimes Rhyll Jetty, depending on operational requirements). The EcoBoat Express takes one hour, visiting Seal Rocks, the Nobbies and the surfing hotspot, Cat Bay; the tour operates daily year-round, with 2-3 departures in the busier Summer months. The EcoBoat Adventure runs for an hour and a half, visiting Seal Rocks, the Nobbies, Cat Bay, the Blowhole and a viewing of the Summerland Peninsula cliffs; it operates only in busier months at 3PM daily. Free Wi-Fi is available on-board. Participants must be at least 4 years old and 100cm tall. Express: $85 adults/pensioners, $65 children (4-15), $235 families (2A+2C); Adventure: $110 adults, $65 children (4-15), $87 pensioners, $285 families (2A+2C).
- 3 Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, Back Beach Rd, ☏ , [email protected].
- 4 Rhyll Trout and Bush Tucker Farm, 30 Rhyll-Newhaven Road, Rhyll (Free parking, although no public transport), ☏ , [email protected]. 10AM-5PM daily. An engaging trout farm just out of Rhyll which offers two pools of varying difficulty where fish can be caught. Caught fish can then be cooked on site at complimentary BBQs or by a chef at the café where it can be eaten for lunch. Fishing lessons included in admission, although rod hire, keeping the fish and fish cleaning, marinating and cooking cost extra. A bush tucker trail also allows visitors to learn more about edible, native Australian plants used by Aboriginal people for thousands of years. $9.90 adults, $7.50 children (4-15), $8.50 concessions, $36 families (2A+2C+2 rods). Rod hire for $4, $19/kg to keep fish.
- 5 Purple Hen Wines, 96 McFees Road, Rhyll (heading towards Rhyll from Newhaven, turn right at McFees Rd, follow for 1 km and on the right; no public transport access), ☏ , [email protected]. Jan-Apr: daily 11AM-5:30PM; Mar-Dec: closed Tu W. Phillip Island's most popular winery is set in a beautiful landscape overlooking the Rhyll foreshore. Wine tasting available for $5, which is refunded on purchasing a bottle. Wine can be purchased by the bottle or glass, and snack food is also available. Occasionally holds live music days for the public.
- Cape Woolamai. There are several loops of walking tracks of various lengths. Doing all the walks might take up to 3 hours. Most of the cape is a huge mutton-bird or shearwater colony and the birds’ burrows are everywhere. There are few trees in much of the area but there is a section of regenerating bush. The first part of the walks is along the beach, starting near the lifesaving club.
- Beaches. There are a large number of beaches (both sheltered beaches on the inland side and surf beaches on the ocean side of the island)
- Scuba Diving. Phillip Island is home to some of the most spectacular scuba diving destinations in Victoria.
- Rusty Water Brewery Restaurant and Bar, 1821 Phillip Island Rd, ☏ , [email protected]. Modern European food and handcraft beers. Try the ales.
There are many and varied accommodation options available for the visitor to Phillip Island. These range from hostel accommodation, caravan parks, motels to "bed and breakfast" and private short-term holiday home rental.
- Cliff Top Boutique Accommodation, 1 Marlin St, Smiths Beach, ☏ . Check-in: 3:30PM, check-out: 10:30AM. $130-230.
- 1 Phillip Island Waterfront House (Luxury Holiday Home on swimming/surfing beach), 144 The Esplanade Surf Beach (drive onto Phillip Island, turn left on Dunvegan Cres then right onto The Esplanade), ☏ , [email protected]. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 10AM. 3-storey holiday home, 4 bedrooms all with private en-suites (6 wc), billiard room, table tennis and beach front with 270-degree ocean/bay views. $199-499.
- Silverwater Resort (Phillip Island Accommodation), Silverwater Resort, Phillip Island Tourist Road,17 Potters Hill Road, San Remo VIC 3925 (drive towards Phillip Island; travelling on the Phillip Island Tourist Road leads directly to the bridge; the resort is up on the left about 2 km before San Remo; if you get to San Remo or the bridge to Phillip Island, you have gone 2 km too far), ☏ .
- 2 The Island Accommodation (Phillip Island YHA), 10-12 Phillip Island Rd, Newhaven (a short walk from Newhaven bus stop), ☏ , [email protected]. Housed in the 'Big Wave Complex', a development just over the bridge, The Island Accommodation plays host to a number of different room types, suitable for couples and families. It is home to the island's only backpackers, with 4-, 6- or 8-bed dorms. Includes free parking, communal kitchen and lounge and free Wi-Fi. Dorm beds from $30/night, double/twin room from $135/night, family room from $179/night.
Avoid the gravel/unpaved roads at night unless you want to be hit by a roo going 80 km/h. If you absolutely have to, slow down to 60, and don't go 80.
Telstra, Optus and Vodafone all have coverage in at least the towns. But going out of the towns may be a bit and miss for Optus and Vodafone, but not a problem for Telstra.