Phillip Island is famous for its Little Penguins that waddle from the sea every day at sunset, in all weather. The penguins – and koalas, kangaroos and other nature wonders – can best be explored on a Phillip Island self drive trip.
The island is just two hours from Melbourne which makes a perfect day trip or even better if you stay longer as there is more to see.
Phillip Island has wallabies, koalas, pelicans and whole seal colonies. They have Australia’s oldest farm and scenic trails along the rocky shoreline, and as island is a holiday destination there’s no lack of other activities either.
Phillip Island nature and wildlife, Australia
We decided to stay the whole weekend on Phillip Island. So what did we do there?
First we bought a 3 Parks Pass on the Phillip Island website. With the 3 Parks Pass you can visit three different Phillip Island attractions during the same day. The Penguin Parade is included and in addition the Koala Conservation Centre and Churchill Island Heritage Farm.
Map of Phillip Island Self Drive Trip
The map shows my Phillip Island self drive itinerary and where on the island the above mentioned and other main attractions are. The optimal driving itinerary between the depends on the order in which you visit the sights.
If you have just one day you should begin with other things than the penguins that only appear at dusk and I recommend you drive to the Nobbies viewpoint just before that. We stayed the whole weekend so there was time for driving back and forth as much as we wanted. Phillip Island distances are short.
I will begin with the koalas since they are so cute.
Phillip Island Koalas
Koala Conservation Centre, Phillip Island self drive trip
We met koalas face to face in their natural surroundings, eucalyptus forest. In the heart of the island is a Koala Conservation Centre where koalas live in the woodlands and as a result the number of koalas has been increasing outside the marked area as well.
The reserve has walking trails and treetop boardwalks where you can watch koalas at a close distance. Most of the koalas we saw in the area were quite sleepy since it was daytime and they sleep during the day, but some of them were busy eating eucalyptus leaves and staring at us.
The Phillip Island Koala Conservation Centre has a small wetland area with a lot of birds and wallabies and possums can also be found in the reserve. The life of koalas was explained in a very educative indoor exhibition and we learned a lot about life of koalas in the eexhibition. Recommend!
The reserve offers a great way to observe koalas that are today rare animals in Australia and very hard to see. Afterwards we walked around in other eucalyptus forests on the island to find more koalas but didn’t find more of these cute creatures.
But penguins is what the island is most famous for:
Phillip Island self drive: Penguin Parade
Phillip Island has one of the largest penguin colonies in Australia.
Every night at dusk hundreds of Little Penguins return home from the sea. They come in groups for safety reasons, looking in all directions to avoid enemies, and several times they all rush back to the waters to make a new try. Finally they are brave enough to make their way to their nests in the sand dunes and around the car park.
Watching the penguins at Summerland beach is a big show with hundreds of spectators coming every night. All revenue is re-invested into protecting the penguins.
To protect the penguins, taking any pictures was prohibited, so I don’t have anything to show of the spectacle we were watching. Sorry for that!
Waiting for the Little Penguins to return home
Little penguins can hide anywhere
Looking for a seal colony
Phillip Island self drive tour: the Nobbies Boardwalk
Before the penguin parade we visited the nearby Nobbies Centre. From the Nobbies Centre we walked along the rugged coastline on a cliff-top boardwalk, looking at the wild waters and the seal rocks.
The seal colony was too far away to see with bare eyes, but during high-season there are cruises to the seal rocks.
Driving along narrow country roads
A Phillip Island wallaby
From the Nobbies Centre we happened to see that there was a narrow cliff top road leading towards Summerland beach where the penguins are so we took that road.
The ocean views from the road where fantastic all the way and just had to keep stopping all the time. It was partly for the views and partly for the dozens of wallabies raising their heads from the grass as soon they noticed us coming.
All of them kept staring at us for a long long time before deciding that it’s better to slowly start jumping away.
An ocean beach, Phillip Island self drive trip
Cape Woolamai is the southernmost point of Phillip Island and it has a beautiful, enormous beach and a surfing beach that gets the biggest waves.
A really scenic place that most visitors don’t even know about. Next to the beach is a trail leading to the cape.
Walking along footpaths
Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island drive
Cape Woolamai has walking tracks that start from the main beach following it up to the dunes. The longest walk takes you to The Pinnacles which is a spectacular rock formation.
We took the Pinnacles track which was a very scenic path. On the way back we for some reason took the wrong path that was not meant for walking, it had a deep layer of soft sand. Walking in the deep sand felt just like walking in thick snow at home. But never mind, that was good exercise for legs.
Walking around a little island
Churchill island sheep
Phillip Island has a small side island, the tiny Churchill Island. The two islands are connected by a narrow bridge. Churchill island has many trails and we spent almost the whole afternoon walking around the pretty island.
Visiting an old farm
Churchill Island farm
Churchill Island hides Australia’s oldest farm. It’s and old heritage farm and a picturesque place with a well-preserved main building, other farm buildings, all possible farm animals and a flower and spice garden.
Visiting villages and towns
Rhyll, Phillip Island
These pictures are from the harbour of the little town Rhyll on the east coast of Phillip Island. The photos are taken at low tide.
Rhyll is a small fishing town and worth visiting, like the island’s biggest town Cowes where we stayed.
Cowes has many shops and restaurants but maybe no evening life since they all seemed to close early in the evening.
If you are used to late dinners it might be a good idea to change your habits a little bit when touring Australia, at least if it’s low-season. But you can have a proper late lunch or an early dinner, that’s it.
Phillip Island by Car
So Phillip Island offers a lot and is a must-to-do trip if you’re visiting Melbourne. There is a good selection of organized tours but if you really want to have time to enjoy the island’s nature it’s a better idea to rent a car. Driving in Australia is easy and traffic is nice and slow, so just go ahead!
You can find more information and make bookings to Phillip Island attractions on these websites:
More Day Trips from Melbourne
Great Ocean Road self drive
- Phillip Island is a must and another must is to make a trip to the Great Ocean Road. My post Great Ocean Road Self Drive will guide you.
William Ricketts Sanctuary, Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges
- Yarra Valley is another popular day trip from Melbourne: Melbourne: Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges Drive
My Posts on Melbourne
- If you want to learn about Melbourne and its sights see my post Sightseeing in Melbourne.
- You can see penguins and possums right in Melbourne: Melbourne Evening Nature Tour
- A post about Melbourne winter: Yarra River walk in Melbourne
- A big event in Melbourne is the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix that’s held each autumn.
- How does it feel to return to Melbourne and start living there again? Settling in Melbourne
Drive from Melbourne to Sydney
Melbourne to Sydney coastal drive with campervan
- I have also written about the drive from Melbourne to Sydney along the coast. The itinerary description begins here: Melbourne to Sydney Drive along Coast