Fresh from six weeks in London, we had begun craving an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Having already recently done mini-trips to the Grampians, Mornington Peninsula, Great Ocean Road, and Wilsons Prom, there was one Melbourne weekend trip glaringly missing from our track record.
Phillip Island is a rugged and popular destination about an hour and a half south of Melbourne. Known for its array of spectacular Australian wildlife, pristine stretches of beach, jagged stone cliffs (and for being the home town of the Hemsworths), this tiny island packs a punch. We couldn’t wait to check it out and recharge!
Whether you are looking for a quick weekend break, a gorgeous day trip, or even a week relaxing in the fresh ocean air, Phillip Island has something special to offer.
Distance from Melbourne: 140km
Time from Melbourne: 1.5 hours
How to get to Phillip Island: drive, tour, V-Line coach, train/ferry
Main town: Cowes
Access to supermarkets: Coles and Woolworths in Cowes
Cost of accommodation: average $100 a night
Best things to do: see the Nobbies, Penguin Parade, watch the sunset by the beach, walk to the Pinnacles and explore Cape Woolamai
BEST THINGS TO DO ON PHILLIP ISLAND
It is hard to narrow it down as Phillip Island has coastal trails, artisanal food, and plenty of beach. During our time on Phillip Island we were only able to squeeze so much in, so I’ll list our favourites here and mention some activities we would love to come back for.
However, the main takeaway from our time on the island was to sit and enjoy the sheer beauty of our surroundings. There was geological beauty in abundance and plenty of friendly wildlife to share it with. Getting back to basics, and enjoying looking out over the Bass Strait with the sea breeze blowing was rejuvenation enough.
HIKE CAPE WOOLAMAI
As the highest point on Phillip Island, Cape Woolamai has some serious views. The walk around the cape supplies turquoise watered coves, dramatic rock formations, and more wallabies than you could ask for. Looking out towards the ocean, if you’re lucky you might spot some dolphins, seals, or even a whale. The most famous part of the track has to be the Pinnacles rock formations. This unique succession of granite columns, formed over thousands of years, is breath-taking and something that has to be seen on Phillip Island.
The walks on Cape Woolamai form a loop, and you can visit as many or as few of the points of interest as you please. If the tides are in your favour, I would recommend doing the full circuit. The tracks are in good condition and the walks are not difficult. All options start and finish at the Cape Woolamai Surf Life Saving Club.
Pinnacles walk (just to the Pinnacles rock formation and back): 4kms and 2 hours return.
Old Granite Quarry Walk (past the Pinnacles and across the Cape to the granite quarry): 6km, 3 hours return.
Cape Woolamai Beacon Walk (to the Pinnacles, the end of the cape ‘the Beacon’, past the Granite Quarry): 6.6km, 3.5 hours return.
PHILLIP ISLAND NATURE PARK
Strolling along the Nobbies boardwalk was one of the most spectacular parts of our visit to Phillip Island. This protected ecotourism area is located on the west of the island and is close to where the Penguin Parade takes place. And yes, you know what that means? If you’re lucky you’ll be able to see penguins on the headland while you walk the boardwalk (totally free of charge). You will find yourself looking out over the ocean and Seal Rock, where fur seal colonies can regularly be spotted. The boardwalk closely follows the rugged coastline through a dramatic extraterrestrial-looking landscape past blowholes and rookeries. Although it can be touristy, it is truly a stunning part of the island.
A note on the penguins: please, please be respectful of them. We saw tourists getting way too close just for a selfie (and even using flash into the darkened nests). Keep your distance and keep quiet — there are plenty of photos already on Google!
Getting to the Nobbies: 15 minute drive West of Cowes
Where to park: there is ample car parking at the Nobbies Centre
Things to do at the Nobbies: spot penguins and seals, walk along the boardwalk, admire the power of the blow hole
Cost of visiting the boardwalk: free
CHECK OUT FORREST CAVES
Forrest Caves are a somewhat hidden gem on the island and not as frequented as places like the Nobbies and Cape Woolamai. At low tide, these caves are really cool to explore. The power of Bass Straight has shaped these caverns which you can get inside and look around. Just make sure you’ve checked the tides before you drive here!
Getting to Forrest Caves: drive to the Forrest Caves car park off Phillip Island Road, go down to the beach and walk for about 5-10 minutes East
Where to park: Forrest Caves car park
VISIT PYRAMID ROCK
As the name suggests, Pyramid Rock is a triangular rock formation jutting out of the south coast of the island. With two separate viewing platforms, you can admire this geological beauty from a couple of angles. The view from the walkway is stunning, looking out over the Bass Straight and down over Cape Woolamai. This is an easy, accessible and beautiful place to explore on Phillip Island (even when the wind was blowing a million miles an hour).
Distance: 0.8km, 20 minutes
Getting to Pyramid Rock: a 15 minute drive South of Cowes
Parking at Pyramid Rock: there is a decently sized car park at the entrance to the walkway
VISIT FLYNN’S BEACH
This lengthy and pristine stretch of beach is an incredible place to catch the sunset on Phillip Island and take a romantic stroll. Our particular sunset was somewhat hampered by Victoria’s questionable winter weather, but the beach itself was a beautiful place to wander and look out over the Mornington Peninsula.
Getting to Flynn’s Beach: 12 minute drive West of Cowes
Car park: ample car parking at the Flynn’sBeach car park
THINGS I WANT TO COME BACK AND DO
- Penguin Parade: this is perhaps Phillip Island’s most well-known attraction. We opted to skip it this time as we had seen an abundance of cute penguins in Tasmania in the wild and needed to save some cash.
- Visit a Phillip Island winery!
BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT
Obviously the weather will be best from late Spring – early Autumn, so if you’re looking for beachy weather then this is the ideal time to visit. We visited in May which didn’t have the best weather but had the perks of (almost) no tourists and a nice cozy, coastal vibe.
If you can help it, avoid Phillip Island during the school holidays and Grand Prix. There will be a lot of people around during this time, price hikes, and significantly less peace.
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU SPEND?
Although it’s possible to get to Phillip Island and back in a day trip, I would strongly recommend spending longer. The island is jam packed with activities and it’s nice to have some buffer time to just sit back and relax, too. If a day is all you have then you should still go for it, but I would recommend staying for 2-3 nights.
PHILLIP ISLAND ACCOMMODATION
There is plenty of accommodation available on the island ranging from hotels and motels to guest houses. You can either stay directly in Cowes or further out from the town by the beach. We managed to get a good price at Ramada Resort which was a few minutes out of Cowes, it did the job but we will try to stay closer to the coast when we come back!
Hostels: there is one hostel in Phillip Island, the YHA Phillip Island, which is around $30-50AUD a night for a dorm room. If there is more than one of you, it might be cheaper to stay elsewhere.
Hotels/Motels: there are numerous hotels and motels on the island ranging from $79-250 a night. You can find the full range of Phillip Island accommodation on offer for your dates through booking.com.
Guest houses and Airbnbs: if you can afford it, staying at a nice coastal Airbnb or guesthouse would be the best way to experience Phillip Island.
HOW TO GET TO PHILLIP ISLAND
Getting to Phillip Island from Melbourne is quick, simple and there are a couple of options for your journey. I would recommend journeying by car, but it is possible to do without.
This is the easiest method of getting to Phillip Island. The island is connected to the mainland by bridge, so you have a non-stop drive from Melbourne. The drive takes about an hour and a half.
From the CBD or Eastern Suburbs, you take the following roads: Monash Freeway (M1) > South Gippsland Freeway (M420) > Bass Highway (A420) > Phillip Island Road (B420) > over the bridge and onto the island!
USING PUBLIC TRANSPORT
It is a little more tricky to get to Phillip Island using public transport (known in Victoria as PTV), but is definitely still possible and affordable. Just remember that once you’re on the island it will be harder to get to the various viewpoints, beaches and walks without a car.
You can catch a V-Line coach to Phillip Island which makes several stops on the island (Cowes, Cape Woolamai, Sunset Beach, and several more). There are two options:
- Catch a coach leaving direct from Southern Cross Station in Melbourne’s CBD to Phillip Island (2.5 hours)
- Catch a metro train from the CBD to Dandenong Station in Melbourne’s South-East and catch a connecting coach from there (3 hours)
The V-Line timetable (effective 8/9/2019) can be found here.
Train and Ferry
Another option is to catch a metro train from the CBD to Frankston Station (1 hour and 15 minutes), connect to the diesel Stony Point line (35 minutes) and then onto the ferry service to Cowes (45 minutes).
If you are without a car, you can sign up to one of the many tour operators running day trips out of Melbourne to Phillip Island. These tours usually cost $90 – $150 but often include entry to the Penguin Parade.