I didn’t meet a lot of backpackers on Phillip Island and the ones I did see were mostly on day tours because it can be tricky to navigate without a car. However it is possible to do it yourself and it’s worth it!
Here’s how you can spend 2 whole days on the island for a fraction of the cost more than a day tour and get see the best of the attractions.
Take the V/Line service from Southern Cross Station to Cowes (change at Koo Wee Rup).
You could also take the V/Line train to Stony Point and then catch the passenger ferry to Cowes if you fancied it.
WHERE TO STAY
THE ISLAND ACCOMMODATION
The Island is the cheapest accommodation you’ll find but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to rough it – it’s actually really nice! It’s purpose built and eco-friendly and because it’s relatively new everything’s still clean and shiny.
It’s located in Newhaven, where there isn’t much besides a surfing museum, but San Remo is about a 15 minute walk over the bridge and it’s also within walking distance of the Chocolate Factory and Woolamai Beach. Plus the bus stops right outside if you don’t have a car. There is also a cafe on site for breakfast if you don’t fancy the walk into San Remo.
You don’t have to stay in a dorm at The island. They have a range of other options from family rooms to studios and as such you’ll find people from all walks of life staying there – not just backpackers.
They also have a great deal where if you do plan on staying in a dorm room you can purchase the 3 Park Pass Accommodation & Travel Package which gives you a night’s accommodation and entry to the Penguin Parade, Koala Conservation Centre and Churchill Heritage farm for just $70.00.
Some of the Phillip Island attractions are not particularly accessible without a car. There is of course the v/line bus service that runs from Newhaven to Cowes but it doesn’t go to the Penguin Parade area of the island.
THE ISLAND EXPLORER
If visiting between 28th December – 13th March 2016 you can utilise the free bus service that travels between all of the major attractions on the island. Check the timetable and plan your activities ahead (the itinerary below will work with catching the first bus from The Big Wave (outside The Island Accommodation) and gives you enough time to spend in each area until the next bus.
Arrive at WOOLAMAI BEACH in the morning as in the summer you’ll want to avoid being there at the peak of the day when the sun is at it’s strongest. If it’s warm enough the water here is beautiful to swim in but watch for strong currents and the surfers (Woolamai is a famous surfing beach). Always swim between the flags.
Walk right to the end of the beach and you’ll see the magic steps which will take you up to some walking tracks around the Cape Woolamai State Farm Reserve. From here if you turn right and follow the main track around you’ll reach the highest point on the island for a great view of THE PINNACLES.
Once you’ve retraced your steps to the car park/bus stop, head to the KOALA CONSERVATION CENTRE, which is the first entry ticket on your 3 Parks Pass. This is a great place to spend around an hour. There are two walking trails and the elevated boardwalks mean that you get to see the koalas much closer than you usually would and in their natural environment. It’s not just koalas at the conservation centre, there are wallabies and if you’re lucky you might spot an echidna shuffling around in the undergrowth – stay quiet as they are easily spooked!
As it gets towards the later part of the afternoon travel to THE NOBBIES. Take the boardwalk which goes around the discovery centre and up by the coastline to look at the blowhole – a natural tunnel carved into the rock face. This is a really picturesque area which great views of the coast and is well worth getting there early for. Look out for the famous fur seals on the seal rocks (but you might need to use the boardwalk binoculars to spot them).
The Nobbies Discovery Centre is a good place to stop for dinner as it has a much larger restaurant than there is at the Penguin Parade. It’s a little pricey because it’s a tourist attraction (and there’s no local competition!) but the huge glass windows of the centre mean you get a pretty special view to go with your meal.
When you exit the centre go right through the drop-off point and follow the dirt road which will take you all of the way to the Penguin Parade. The walk is around 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on how many times you can resist stopping for photos. All of the tour buses take this route and there’s no pavement but the road’s not busy so you won’t get run down! You might however get offered a lift a few times and warned to stay on the path because of snakes but don’t be deterred (I didn’t see any snakes!) This walk was one of the highlights of my trip. The views along the coast are beautiful and there’s an abundance of wild wallabies hopping all around you – if you ever wanted to feel like you’re in Australia then this is the walk for you!
You’ll reach the PENGUIN PARADE with plenty of time to get a good spot on the viewing decks set up along the beach front. As the sun starts to set you can watch hundreds of tiny penguins emerge from the water and waddle back up to the beach to their homes. It’s a magical experience and you can see why it’s such a big tourist draw – just don’t be one of the disrespectful people who takes photos when you’re not supposed to – it’s harmful to the penguins!
Oh and don’t stay down on the beach too long, once you’ve seen a few come up go back and walk along the boardwalks where there are penguins all around you. This gives you an opportunity to get really close to them. You can also access the Penguins Plus area (which is a more expensive ticket) for free after about half an hour, where the penguins walk right alongside you up the beach back towards the visitor centre.
Enjoy a lie-in and after breakfast walk 15-20 minutes across the bridge to SAN REMO. Know that as you walk across the bridge the materials used to build it were actually shipped from leftover materials used to build Sydney Harbour Bridge (a fact I learnt on the Island Explorer commentary).
In San Remo daily at noon the Fisherman’s Co-Op provide fish for the park rangers to feed the wild pelicans along the beach and you can go watch for free. It’s a great experience as you are able to get so close to the pelicans and the ranger gives you lots of interesting information about the birds while they do it. Personally I think they should start charging!
Next up is the CHURCHILL HERITAGE ISLAND FARM which is on it’s own tiny island off Phillip Island. The turn off isn’t too far from Newhaven but there’s a bit of a walk to the actual farm from that turn off so you’ll save yourself a lot of time if you can catch the Island Explorer.
The farm is a great attraction in and of itself but luckily you will arrive just in time for the daily demonstrations. You can also try your hand at a lot of them including milking the cows and whip-cracking (a source of great amusement as it’s harder than it looks!)
With the way that the bus times work you can spend 1.5 – 2 hours at the farm, which is enough time to see everything there. If you have longer you can take a walk around the island which takes around 50 minutes which I would definitely have done had I not had to get back to Cowes.
COWES is the biggest town on Phillip Island and it’s where you’ll find all of your amenities – the major supermarket, a pharmacy etc. You can also catch a boat trip from here to see the fur seals up close if you have the time and funds (adults @ $78.00). If you’re just here as a stopping point though, enjoy some fish & chips on the beach and take a walk along the jetty to kill some time before catching the last v/line back to Melbourne at 18.40.
TOTAL SPEND: $168.00
- Accommodation/3 Parks Pass @ $70.00
- Return transport to Melbourne @ $28.00
- Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner x 2 @ $70.00