From speeding through a go-kart circuit to watching little penguins waddling out of the ocean, a day on Phillip Island is a day well spent.
It was early morning when we embarked on our 90-minute drive from Melbourne. Home to a smorgasbord of natural attractions and destinations for everyone, Phillip Island always feels magical regardless of the season. It was cloudy with a bit of rain when I visited in May on an invitation from Tourism Victoria but weather was the last thing on my mind as I marveled at the island’s wonders.
Our day on Phillip Island began with a warm cup of chocolate at Panny’s Amazing World of Chocolate. Panny, the owner took us around to explore the imaginative displays, interactive mechanics and little games whose reward is, of course, chocolate. We also learned about chocolate making and watched as a large machine produced an alleged 400kg of liquid chocolate every 3 minutes.
The whimsical journey continued to the A Maze’N Things, a funhouse filled with stimulating optical illusions, mazes, puzzles and mind games. This place provides a lot of “selfie” photo opportunities; you can see yourself teetering impossibly from the edge of a staircase, shrunk to half your size or whooshing down a vertical slide. The best part is seeing your severed head on top of a table. It doesn’t take long before your inner child re-emerges.
The “bigger kids” might prefer the haven of racing enthusiasts, the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, famous for hosting international motorcycle and car racing events. There were no ongoing races when we visited, but we got to appreciate the vintage and contemporary motor sport displays. Of course, the visit wouldn’t have been complete without an adrenaline rush. While you can sit shotgun with an experienced race driver through three high-speed laps around the renowned circuit, we chose to take the wheel – racing go-karts over a 760-meter replica of the Grand Prix Track. The winding track had plenty of turns and slopes and challenges to raise excitement levels.
The island also offers culinary exploration with magnificent coastal views. We had lunch at Harry’s on the Esplanade, a charming establishment by Cowes Beach. The menu changes as the produce changes, but you can expect European-inspired dishes featuring the best ingredients, personally selected by Harry himself from the nearby docks, markets and farms. Later that night, we enjoyed dinner at Isola di Capri, the first Italian restaurant on the island established in 1972. The family-run restaurant offers authentic taste throughout its ever-popular pizzas, pastas and desserts.
After lunch, we were all psyched up to explore what the Phillip Island Nature Park had to offer. The self-funded, non-profit organization is involved in vital conservation, research and education programs, offering a range of tourism and recreational experiences.
The first place we visited was the Koala Conservation Center where two elevated treetop boardwalks allowed us to view the cuddly, eucalyptus-eating bears up close. The center is home to dozens of koalas, and you can expect to see them spread throughout the vast area, sleeping on overhead perches and climbing tree branches. We also spotted some wallabies and birds, and apparently there are also ringtail possums and echidnas around.
Before heading off to see the penguins, we dropped by The Nobbies at the southwestern tip of the island. Despite the strong wind, it was worth the long trip along winding boardwalks, offering spectacular coastal scenery and the lively sounds of seagulls. A little way from the shore is the Seal Rocks, where Australia’s largest colony of fur seals makes their habitat. You can see them if you bring your own binoculars, zoom in through one of the cameras available in the vicinity, or join a wildlife tour for a closer encounter. It’s a year-round attraction, although the males leave around December and January, returning only at the end of October to resume their fight for territory.
The sky was beginning to darken when we arrived at the Penguin Parade. Each night at sunset, hundreds or thousands of penguins waddle across the beach and return to their burrows in the sand dunes. Sunset time varies throughout the year, so make sure to check first or else you might miss some of the spectacle. Inside the center, there are small manmade burrows for observation. Save for a few eggs, the burrows are empty before the penguins return, but you can watch them fill as the penguins make their way back from the ocean.
We entered the Penguin Plus viewing platform, located right next to the main path of the penguins. It was cold outside, but the wait was short until we saw the first wave of penguins bounding out of the sea. It was exciting to see them standing on the beach, shaking themselves dry and observing their surroundings, perhaps even wondering what were we doing there. Some started waddling straight to their homes while others took the opportunity to mate. It was not yet mating season, but apparently the temperature had made a few penguins think otherwise. The boardwalk leading up to the platform soon became a long viewing platform itself as the penguins waddled alongside us humans, who followed them obligingly because we weren’t quite ready to say goodbye.