After taking in the vibrant culture of Melbourne, get ready for 4 days of exploration on Phillip Island and Wilsons Promontory. Where are the most beautiful hiking tracks? And where are the best places to see penguins and wombats? Here are Yoann’s tips for making the most of the region.
Wilsons Promontory National Park – a true gem!
Hikers and campers alike love this location! “The Prom”, as locals call it, is predominantly suited to those who are interested in hiking – featuring numerous trails, and a very hilly terrain, many of the sites are only accessible by foot. But is there any point in visiting if you’re not a fan of walking? ABSOLUTELY! Read on to learn why.
Wombats – Australia’s bear cubs!
As it’s located less than 3 hours’ drive from Victoria’s capital, “The Prom” is a popular spot for Melbourne residents to spend a weekend away – it’s such a quick and easy detour! A single road crosses through the park, and there are many spectacular views to be seen along the way, such as Squeaky Beach – a stunning white-sand beach that creaks underfoot. The 50,000 hectares of the park are home to a range of native Australian wildlife. It’s easy to spot kangaroos, and it’s also a great place to see very cute wombats, a bear cub like marsupial! Another highlight is the chance to enjoy ocean sunsets, as the most accessible part of Wilsons Promontory is located to the west. Best of all, entry to the park is free.
Welcome to the Seychelles!
Wait, we haven’t told you everything yet. Another great reason to visit this national park is to get the chance to enjoy the rich diversity of the landscapes. Not only will you get to explore the park’s forests and visit its rocky coasts – you’ll also have the opportunity to experience pristine beaches with granite boulders and turquoise water. It’s like the Seychelles! And as if those attractions weren’t enough, there are other worthwhile locations fairly close by – for example, the impressive sand dunes of the Big Drift (a 1.5-hour round trip on foot) or the forests of tree ferns on Lilly Pilly Gully Track (2 hours there and back).
Walks and sunsets
Convinced? Once there, you won’t be able to resist making the extra effort to ascend Mt Oberon (a 2-hour round trip). An exceptional panorama over the entire coast awaits you at the top. Less popular (and somewhat more trying) but still spectacular is the journey up Mt Bishop (also a 2-hour round trip). Its granite boulders have one of the best spots for you to take in the sunset (if you do, don’t forget a torch for descent).
Good to know: past the gatehouse that marks the entrance to the national park, the solitary road running through reaches Tidal River village after 30km. It’s the only village in the park, and along the way you’ll find all the locations of interest mentioned above. Tidal River has a range of accommodation options: places to pitch tents and park camper vans, bungalows, and small fully-equipped houses. The atmosphere is more like a large family campsite rather than a seaside resort. There is also a mini-mart (limited in choice – better to stock up before going) but keep in mind that there is no gas station – you will find the nearest one in Yanakie just before entering the park. There are several further campsites (with very limited infrastructure) scattered around Wilson Promontory National Park, accessible only by foot. Also, there are other options for accommodation just outside the park – for example, in Yanakie and in Foster.
The mini-celebrities of Phillip Island
If an island is connected to the mainland by a bridge, is it still an island? In any case, whoever wants to visit Phillip Island has free and easy access! You can get there by car in just 1 hour and 45 minutes from downtown Melbourne. Crossing Phillips Island by car takes just 20-25 minutes. Such short travel times are extremely rare in Australia! We still haven’t told you about the number one attraction of the island: the thousands of little blue creatures that make their home there – pygmy penguins! Also known as “Blue Penguins” or “Fairy Penguins,” they are the world’s smallest penguins, and only live in New Zealand and on the south coast of Australia. There are nearly 30,000 of them on Phillip Island, and every evening, these little birds gather on the beach before heading to their nests after spending the day at sea. You can sit on bleachers to observe this enchanting spectacle. As it’s so popular, sometimes there are more spectators than penguins present. However, the “Penguin Plus” and “Underground Viewing” options are available too, if you’re after a more intimate experience.
Other (paid) activities on Phillip Island
Phillip Island has so much to offer visitors. The island’s other celebrities live in the trees in Koala Reserve. There are two different trails which allow you to get up close in order to see these adorably fuzzy marsupials. If you pass by the Great Ocean Road during your stay, you’ll be able to see them in their natural environment quite easily. Koala Reserve is also home to wallabies and echidnas, which can be more challenging to spot in the wild.
On Churchill Island, which is also reached by a bridge, there’s the opportunity to learn a little more about the history of the settlers in the region. Churchill Island also has walking trails which crisscross all over. In the centre of the island, you can visit a farm, where you can see sheep-shearing demonstrations, as well as sheepdogs in action – a fun insight into Australia’s agricultural practices.
Also available to visit are multiple vineyards, and a chocolate factory.
Other (free) points of interest on Phillip Island
A breathtaking panorama awaits you on the pink granite coast, leading to the rock formations of the Pinnacles which stand at the south-eastern tip of the island (about a 90-minute round trip by foot). The first part of the journey there is on the beach (low tide is the best time to go) and the second half is along the top of the cliffs.
Another spectacular panorama which you’ll be sad to miss is located at The Nobbies, 3km on from Penguin Parade. Taking this loop is definitely worth the detour. The large tourist complex there is always busy, especially at the end of the day when visitors are stopping in before heading to see the penguins. Fur seals live close by at Seal Rocks, but they’re hard to see without a good pair of binoculars, unless you take a guided boat tour. Nevertheless, the jagged coastline is worth visiting anyway. If you are not going to see the penguins, why not stay at The Nobbies for the sunset? You may just have the view to yourself.
Bird-watchers are advised to make a stop at Swan Lake (near Penguin Parade), where two observatories allow you to watch the birds frolic on the waterfront. Opposite Phillip Island, near Rhyll, a few short trails which wind through mangrove swamps are a prime location to see various species of birds, including king spoonbills.
Good to know: If you are not a motorcycle fan, make sure not to schedule your trip to Phillip Island on the weekend of the Australian Grand Prix, which is held in October.
There is no shortage of accommodation on this small island, but Cowes has the biggest range of options.
Between Wilsons Promontory and Phillip Island
You can make your way from Wilsons Promontory to Phillip Island by following the coast. Along the way there are sights including the Cape Liptrap Lighthouse, and a spectacular stretch of scenic road between Inverloch and Cape Paterson. And if you happen to be at Sanremo around noon (the last village before crossing the bridge to Phillip Island), don’t forget to stop and watch the pelicans feeding near the pier.
I recommend combining the visit to Wilsons Promontory and Phillip Island over 4 days, after departing from Melbourne: two nights at Wilsons Promontory and at least one night on Phillip Island – ideally two if you like to take your time when moving from one region to another.
Yoann Feillet, May 2021