Growing up in Melbourne it was practically a fineable offence not to see the fairy penguins at Phillip Island. Whether with your parents or by school camp at some point in your Melbournian childhood penguins would make an appearance. It was these childhood memories in mind that I decided the time had come to initiate my own offspring with the beauty of Phillip Island.
As it had been 4 scores and something ago since my last visit to the island I was surprised at how many other fabulous family activities there was to add to the penguin parade. We began our visit with a helicopter flight over the island, which is definitely the rock star way to orient yourself on the lay of the land.
With the wealth of fun facts our pilot bestowed upon us it was a great way to plan the next few days at Penguin central. Phillip island helicopters have all manner of packages available from an 8-minute scenic flight to a Mornington Peninsula day trip package.
Ten minutes from the airport is the main town of Cowes, which has an array of dining options. I wanted to hit it old school, as we would have done back in my childhood by heading to the local pub. The hotel sensibly called ‘Hotel’ was a perfect spot to sit outside for a bite over looking the water. Hotel was looking a bit different to the last time I saw it which was way back in the olden days before Wi-Fi, fire and the wheel.
Classic pub grub with some modern culinary enchantments such as the spicy squid salad made the menu the best of new and old. Servings are generous, perfect for ordering share plates and kicking back with cleansing ale whilst resisting the temptation to give the sea gulls the left over chips.
For something a little fancier The Cape Kitchen is a decadent combination of breathtaking ocean views with beautifully prepared fine local produce. The setting is stunning and the food a culinary journey of the Island.
At two-o-clock daily the Wilderness cruise sets sail for Nobbies where you can get up close to Australia’s largest fur seal colony. We were lucky enough to have 27-degree heat and water like glass something I’m told is not the norm for an afternoon in April.
Motoring out, my munchkins loved being up the front of the boat where it was easy to spot penguins swimming alongside the boat as we headed to Seal Rock. Boat crew are super helpful with giving you information about the area, it’s wildlife and even letting the kids come and stand at the wheel.
Once out at Nobbies the boat goes right in close. Lucky for us with the time of year the water was teaming with adorable seal pups. Lying on the rocks were 100’s of adults catching some rays while the youngsters frolicked in the water coming right up the boat.
If you are too busy watching to get the phone out and start clicking the crew have a giant selfie stick attached to the boat with a camera for the ultimate seal pic, which you can order and print on board. On the sail back afternoon tea is served and it’s a trip I just can’t recommend highly enough.
There are many other attractions on the island including the chocolate factory, which is like Phillip Islands own Willy Wonker. Aside from the most delectable chocolate on sale in the shop you can opt for the chocolate factory tour which will have you immersed in the wonderful world of Panny’s chocolate. Fun facts and interactive games and displays make it a fabulous family activity not to mention a delicious one. Make your own chocolate; see how it’s made and marvel at the fabulous creations in the gift shop.
Amaze and things with optical illusion rooms for fun photos, puzzles, mazes, mini golf and a high ropes course is fabulous family fun. The Maru Koala Park just off the island at Grantville is where kids can feed the kangaroos and get up close to our beautiful Australian native animals. Kangaroos roam around an open space where you can feed and observe as well as enclosures for Tassie devils, emus, koalas and some very talkative Major Mitchel cockatoos.
If you purchase a Phillip Island experience pass you can choose 3 out of four attractions including A maze n things, Rhyll trout and bush tucker farm, Maru koala park and Panny’s amazing world of chocolate for a well discounted price.
Then there’s the star attraction the penguins. Back when I was a child just after the big bang, and before electricity we stood behind a roped off area and waited for the adorable little sea birds to waddle their way up the beach. Now there’s seating for the start of the show when the little guys make their big entrance before you can then walk along the many board walks interwoven around the vast sea of burrows making it a magical way to view them in their natural habitat.
Many viewing experiences are available enabling you to get a front row seat or even an underground position to really give you the bird’s eye view. Limited to 70 people you can see the parade at eye level from behind a viewing window.
Due to my need for speed a visit to the GP track was always going to have high priority. For Team Walsh! Go Karting is another great family activity as there are tandem karts for younger racers to get the experience with mum or dad driving. If you are over twelve you get to race with the big kids in the fast karts. Was it wrong I wouldn’t let my kids win and am a bad mummy encouraging them to drive faster? Either way the chorus of ‘Can’t we just have one more race?’ was deafening.
The facility at Phillip Island GP track is nothing short of outstanding. From V8 super car simulators, to good old-fashioned slot cars on a replica of the GP track allow plenty of time, as it’s not easy to leave. There’s a podium for taking some shots of your end placing’s, a gift shop for some cool GP logoed gear and plenty of car experiences including hot laps for the grown ups. It is, by far, the best track I’ve been on in Australia.
There are loads of great accommodation options from resorts to home rental. For the resort experience the newly built Silver water resort is not actually on the Island but is superb. just off the island at San Remo. Huge apartments with water views and all manner of activates for the kids it’s my pick of the bunch. The Ramada on the island is an eco resort with cabin style accommodation. It has fantastic facilities including an indoor heated pool plus an outdoor pool. Gymnasium, bikes for the many bike and walking paths that snake around a lovely nature setting. Restaurant and games room mean you can kick back and not go into Cowes for dinner but here comes the But… I guess in the off-season cabins are closed up and skeleton staff put on.
We went to check on at 12pm (2 hours before check-in) and were promptly told that check-in was at 2 and our room wouldn’t be ready so we should come back. Given there were tumbleweeds rolling though the place and nearly every key was on the wall behind reception not granting an early check-in seemed as bizarre as Pauline Hanson’s views on anything. When we finally got in to the room it was so musty it seemed it hadn’t been opened since the 80’s and it was poorly maintained. Having been recommended it by friends who had stayed in the summer I can only assume poor maintenance and rude reception staff are a special feature of the off-season.
A better option is The Silverwater resort, just off the Island in San Remo. The resort rooms are huge and everything is chicly styled and new. There’s loads of entertainment features such as swimming pool and indoor heated pool, tennis courts, jumping pillows, games rooms, gymnasium, steam room, spa pool, Bocce and basketball courts make for hours of family entertainment. Panoramic indoor/outdoor dining, at the sublime Watermark restaurant is fantastic for breakfast lunch or dinner. The menu is extensive and offerings such as pan roasted clams and slow cooked lamb shoulder make it a foodies delight. The bonus is you are just over the road from where the kids can feed the Pelicans while enjoying San Remo’s famous fish and chips.
A weekend or a whole week the Island’s so packed with things to do it’s hard to fit it all in. I guess a return visit or two is on the cards.
Phillip Island Helicopters http://www.phillipislandhelicopters.com.au/
Wildlife Coast Cruises http://www.wildlifecoastcruises.com.au/
Silverwater resort http://www.silverwaterresort.com.au/Ramada
Ramada Phillip Island www.wyndhamhotels.com
Phillip Island Chocolate Factory http://phillipislandchocolatefactory.com.au/
Amaze n things http://www.amazenthings.com.au/
Phillip Island Penguins https://www.penguins.org.au/
Phillip Island Go Karts https://www.phillipislandcircuit.com.au/family-fun/go-karts
Maru Koala Park https://www.marukoalapark.com.au
Phillip Island Information and
PIE pass purchase (Multi attraction pass) http://phillipislandexperience.com.au/
Mrs Walsh X