As we drove across the large concrete bridge that linked Philip Island to the mainland we really didn’t know what to expect. It certainly looked picturesque as we drove through Newtown coming off the bridge. We had three days to find out what this place had to offer and make the most of our time there.
We were lucky to know the lovely Judy, a family friend, that lived on the Island, this was perfect when deciding what we should see and how to get our priorities sorted. The Island is southwest of Melbourne on the south coast of Australia; being February it was a delightful change from the stifling weather we had experienced in Queensland. The ocean breeze was ideal allowing us to be outside and enjoy the wild life that the Island boasted. Almost 60% of the Island is farmland and with only around 10,000 permanent residents it is a quiet, peaceful place, and although many come to stay during the peak season, it’s great for exploring and enjoying the sandy southern beaches.
Possibly the biggest draw to the Island is the Penguin Parade, one of Australia’s biggest wild life attractions. The small ‘Fairy Penguins’ that live on the Island really are something altogether different. You arrive at the national park for 9pm and have a 180 degree view of these furry creatures leaving the ocean. Also known as ‘Little penguins’, they are predominantly found on the south coast of Australia and New Zealand. We took our seats and waited patiently, as no photography is allowed you can easily get lost in the moment and give your full attention to this incredible parade. Everyone was silent and gazing at the water.
At that moment a tiny ball of fluff emerged from a break in the wave. He looked like he was struggling to battle with the current but after a few attempts he reached the beach, shook himself off, and timidly took a few steps forward, looking all around him. Then, as if with a flash he had turned and ran back into the water disappearing once again. Everyone was in disbelief at the size of these adorable animals. About a minute later the same little penguin had reappeared, stepping forward on the beach, only this time we saw the others bobbing out of the water behind him. It was then that we realised that the head of the group must come out of the water and check for danger or predators before summoning everyone else. Before long there were hundreds of Fairy penguins, heading back to their burrows after a hard day of fishing. They waddled up the beach towards us and into the sand dunes where they have made homes, some were even bringing back small sea animals and squid for the young ones that weren’t old enough to fend for themselves. It was a spectacular evening watching these charming penguins go about their everyday business whilst completely ignoring us as we stared in awe at them.
As if the Little Penguins weren’t enough to get you hooked, Philip Island is packed with an array of wildlife. You have Australia’s largest colony of Fur Seals just off ‘The Nobbies’ lazing around on ‘Seal Rocks’, almost 16000 are believed to live and breed there. ‘The Nobbies’ itself is the rugged peninsular that hugs the corner of Philip Island and has yet more penguin burrows. In the spring this idyllic location also houses Silver Gulls while they nest. If you’re lucky you can also spot the dark shadows in the coastal waters, home to large sting rays that hover just below the surface. One great way to see some of the main attractions is to try and get ticket offers for the three main parks, Koala Park, Penguin Parade and Churchill Island.
All are perfect family outings for finding out more about the Island. However, if you are looking for something a little different you can head to The Grand Prix Track; well known for hosting Australia’s first Grand Prix in 1928, and now has a mixture of supercars and superbike shows. In our three days on Philip Island I didn’t expect to do and see as much as we did, it has a lot more to offer than you think. Although everybody should try to see the Penguins at least once, the Island is an ideal getaway for families. With the reliably mild climate, and plenty of places to visit you won’t be stuck for ideas!