Discovering Learning Opportunities on Phillip Island

Discovering Learning Opportunities on Phillip Island

By Pamela Ueckerman

Phillip Island, Melbourne’s playground island, is well-known for its little penguins, Seal Rocks and the Phillip Island MotoGP. Having family who live on the island, we visit multiple times a year and love to see it in all its different guises, and over the years, we’ve found many other fabulous opportunities off the beaten track that are fun, educational and often free. 

The penguins and seals, of course, are must-do experiences. A cruise out to Seal Rock, surfing the choppy surf on the return back to the Cowes jetty, is an unforgettable experience, as is following the Little Penguins from the chilly beach up to their cosy nests. You must also trek the windy boardwalk to see the Nobbies and Pyramid Rock, and while you’re there, check out The Antarctic Journey, which is an interactive educational experience that looks into Antarctic wildlife and landscapes, research and conservation. 

For a broader nature experience, there are two wildlife parks on the island: The Koala Conservation Reserve and The Phillip Island Wildlife Park, both located on Phillip Island Road along the approach to Cowes. If you can nab a keeper at the Koala Reserve to tell you about the koalas, you’ll learn much more than trying to spot them yourself and you might also see other wildlife roaming freely, including wallabies and lizards. 

There are also plenty of free opportunities to view wildlife on the island as. From the boardwalk at Conservation Hill near Rhyll Inlet, you can spot crabs and other creatures in the mudflats. Follow it up with fabulous fish and chips in Rhyll. Swan Lake Park near the Penguin Parade entrance offers an easy walk and the opportunity to do some bird watching over the lake from specially-built huts; or head to the cemetery in the evening to see the Cape Barren geese, kangaroos, and maybe even some feral roosters—with no foxes on the island to prey on them, they’re pretty happy chooks. 

Just off the island at San Remo, there is an opportunity to feed the huge Australian pelicans and spot stingrays while listening to a keeper talk. And speaking of spotting: from May to October, whales journey between their summer feeding grounds in Antarctic waters to their winter breeding grounds up north, often passing by the island. You can spot Southern Right Whales, Humpbacks and, occasionally, orcas. Search online for Phillip Island Whale Trail for more information on the best places to whale watch. September is also the month Short-tailed shearwaters arrive back on the island for the summer until their departure to Alaska in April, so watch out for them too. 

For the budding geologists, Kitty Miller Bay is a wonderland with its basalt formations. Littered with calcite/zeolite crystals embedded in the rocks, it is great for a spot of fossicking. You might even find an agate or two. Make sure you wear some sturdy shoes for clambering over the rocks as well as a windbreaker. Across the beach from Kitty Miller Bay, there’s what’s left of the Speke shipwreck, which is best viewed when the tide is out. Red Rock Beach is also geologically interesting, the rocks are literally red and at low tide you can explore the rock pools. 

If your children are keen palaeontologists, check out Dinosaur Discovery tours with Mike Cleeland and the Inverloch Shell Museum/ Bunurong Environment Centre. It’s off the island, but well worth it when you’re down there. There is an actual dinosaur footprint on the beach and The Caves are fascinating, and if you do one of the tours, you even get to keep a real fossil. 

There are many ways to learn more about the history of the area. As well as the information centre, Churchill Island provides a step back in time with sheep shearing, milking, blacksmithing, historical houses and more. There is also The National Vietnam Veterans Museum and, if you are willing to drive off-island, the State Coal Mine in Wonthaggi is fascinating— tour the coal mine underground and the preserved buildings above (my children loved this so much, we’ve been there twice). 

For a cheaper option, dinner at the San Remo RSL can also provide some information on the area’s history if you read the pictures on the wall while waiting for your meal; highly rated! 

Of course, if the weather is inclement and you’re happy to spend a bit of money, some indoor options include Clip ‘n Climb, tenpin bowling, Grumpy’s Crazy Golf, a wonderful bookshop called Turn the Page, the Cowes Antiques Bazaar, Bill’s Book Shed (Saturday mornings only—a huge selection of second-hand books), and the Phillip Island Chocolate Factory, aka Panny’s—fun AND delicious! Or for something different, try the Pitch and Putt at the Phillip Island Aussie Golf Ranch, catch your dinner at the Rhyll Trout and Bush Tucker Farm or venture into Amaze ‘n Things. 

It doesn’t matter how often we go there, we never tire of Phillip Island and, thanks to the locals, we’re always discovering new things to do. I hope this helps a few families plan for future trips. 


Otherways 174 (Nov 2022)

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