Travel Journal: (Re) Discovering Phillip Island

Phillip Island.POST

Phillip Island, Victoria.

A few years ago, Natalie and I had taken a Girly Getaway to Melbourne. It wasn’t just any quick trip though, it was a full on 10 day trip. We flew into Avalon airport (my airport preference for Melbourne ANY day!), rented a car and then drove around to St Kilda, down the Mornington Peninsula, and over to Philip Island. From there, we took the ferry over to Queenscliff, and ventured along the Great Ocean Road before we spent our last three days in Melbourne itself, wandering the streets. Rather than flying back to Sydney, we took the train.

It was an epic trip and one I still think about in the same vein as our life changing girly getaway from Texas to Mount Rushmore.

One part of that trip that stands out was our adventure to Penguin Parade on Phillip Island. While the name of the experience sounds really hokey, it was really educational and really amazing to see Little Penguins coming in to the beach for the night. Of the astounding number of penguins that call Phillip Island home (32,000), only about 10% of them come back to this area each night.

Sitting on the stone cold metal benches, watching the penguins surf the waves before shaking off the water to waddle up the sand dunes, we were in awe. They were, I dare say it, really cute. I’d seen penguins in the zoos before but seeing them in their native habitat is something else altogether.

Natalie and I were spellbound. She even made the comment that she wanted to get into marine biology after seeing the penguins (which was a goal that died as soon as we were out of the parking lot). It was an amazing experience and when Rich and I were planning our Australia roadtrip, we put Penguin Parade on the list. We had been to St. Kilda, were there is also a colony of penguins, but Phillip Island is a completely different experience altogether.

Photo Credit: Penguin Parade
Photo Credit: Penguin Parade

I was excited for Rich to experience it. While there’s more to do on Phillip Island, the highlight, I feel, are the penguins. Yes, even over those Hemsworth boys (which I looked out for while we were there, but they must have been off in Hollywood while we visited), who call Phillip Island home.

We arrived when it was raining. Of course. It still wasn’t dark yet but Rather than scrambling to see the penguins only to sit in the rain, we decided to wait and visit them the following night. We were on the island for two nights, so decided to get some much needed washing done and visit the penguins the following evening when the weather was forecasted as clear.

When you travel full time, you seek out accommodation that offers a washer and dryer and make it a two night stay, just in case some stuff needs to air dry. You need that time, especially when it’s cold and wet.

The following day, we had a lazy morning. We looked at what else there was to see and honestly, it was the same as what we’d come from. We didn’t want to pay extra to see Koalas (at the Koala Sanctuary) since we Would soon be heading into koala territory and could see them for free. We took a walk on the beach, which was near our accommodation. It wasn’t like Wilsons Prom by any means, but I was able to sit and dig my toes in the sand while I mediated a while. Meanwhile, Rich wandered the beach.

It was cold and windy, but it was a nice way to spend a day. We were ready though to see penguins. That’s why we’d come to Phillip Island in the first place.

We hopped in the car and headed toward the Penguin Parade taking a side trip to The Nobbies. We were kind of surprised to find it because it wasn’t clear on the information that I had read. Everywhere talks about Penguin Parade and the Koala Sanctuary, but there was very little about The Nobbies. It was a vast lookout and was packed with people. We had limited time to get to the Penguin Parade to get decent seats, so we ‘boogied’ as Rich likes to say. We took the ‘back way’ which took us along the coast on an unsealed road. Sadly, tour buses also take this route so we were inching behind the coaches as they shared with their passengers their own version of the area.

By the time we arrived at the Penguins, we grabbed our cold weather gear, a blanket to sit on and some coin to buy some coffee. I chatted with another customer who waited on the correction of her order, laughing because when she received the new one, the staff had screwed that up too. We couldn’t blame them though because they had been indundated by what looked to be about five tour groups right before. Little did we know it would be an indication of what was to come.

When I had visited with Nat previously, it was a magical experience. Natalie was still young and impressionable and was so, so eager. While Rich and I were eager ourselves, we were kind of overwhelmed by the aggressiveness of those around us.

Knowing what was to come, I guided Rich to a seat ‘guaranteed’ for a great experience. Quickly though, we were surrounded by about three of the previously-mentioned tour groups, all squeezing in around us, unnecessarily if you ask me. There was plenty of room but somehow we were where they wanted to be. Instinct kicked in and I spread out. We spread our blanket just a little, scooted outward and I put my bag down between us, off ground where puddles of water pooled at our feet.

The rangers gave their speech. No photography under any circumstances. Put your phones and cameras away. No exceptions. They explained why, but to my surprise it wasn’t nearly as clear of an explanation or as robust of one as it had been when I visited previously. I felt they’d missed the impact of why. The analogy they gave last time put it simply: “Imagine at thousand cameras going off in your face”. Sadly they didn’t say that this time. They’d missed the mark. They looked to overwhelmed themselv

Even after the requests, the reminders, there were still a ton of people videoing, photographing and taking selfies. I got mad. I asked at least ten people to put their phones away. Reminded them that the rangers had just asked them to do that. To respect the wildlife.  More than one person looked at me and ignored me. It may have been a language barrier with some but I believe others felt they were above the rules.

That’s what frustrates me more than anything as a traveller. I hate it when people don’t follow rules. I don’t like it when people aren’t respectful of their surroundings. Especially tour groups. It’s like they are immune to the rules. I feel like I’m Girl Scout Sally about the rules but when it comes to wildlife, rules are there for a reason.

After the initial influx of penguins, the crowds moved on. Rich and I made our way down to the front of the stadium seating, because once the crowds thin out, that’s when the mass of penguins come in. You can sit and watch them for an hour before they close the stands. But in that hour you can watch the tide bring in groups of penguins over and over before you make your way back to the information center, along the boardwalk, where the penguins scurry under before they make their way to their burrows. You can see the penguins within inches but you’re encouraged not to touch them as they bite – hard. I didn’t test it – again I’m the rule follower – but I’ll trust them on it.

The Little Penguins are amazing to watch. They are not only cute but they are entertaining and the Penguin Parade does an amazing job at explaining how they live. They explain everything from their life cycle to how they breed, how they go out into the ocean for days and weeks at a time, and how they care for their young. It’s a really great place to visit and despite the annoying freakin’ crowds, I found the penguins to be the reason I’ll go back again. We shut the place down. We were one of the last to come back up to the centre, one of the last in the gift shop. While we didn’t buy any souvenirs, we donated to the WWF fund and got a reusable shopping bag we can use for groceries (#banthebag).

Beach House Phillip Island

We spent our last night in our AirBnb beach house (Click here for a credit for your first AirBnb stay). It was a lovely spot, certainly close to the beach and I could have imagined spending a month there – but with completely different contents. This place was set up like an architectural magazine. You know what I’m talking about – furniture that looks good but is completely impractical. The kitchen was a disaster. There was no room to cook anything so I figured they must either barbecue a lot or they ate out. There was room for one and the stove was impractical too. I wondered if it’d had ever been used.

Anyway, it was a lovely house but I really had to wonder what the point was with their design and who they were catering too? The Melbourne elite would be my guess.

When we packed up the next morning, I searched for a few things that we’d had with us in Wilsons Prom but could not find. I searched everywhere. Then it hit me. In Rich’s efforts to keep everything tidy, he’d put my makeup bag and some toiletries in the medicine cabinet in our cabin in Wilsons Prom. While I wouldn’t normally worry and would just replace what we forgot, if it was something like shampoo for example, but the thing I couldn’t replace easily was my makeup kit.

Now I’ll admit, I don’t wear a lot. But this 47 year old face needs some help once in a while and when I’m being photographed a lot, well I like to look presentable. As my Mum called it, there were days I needed to ‘put my face on’. My foundation wasn’t easy or cheap to replace. When I’d bought it, I had to buy it online from Singapore and have it shipped because the store I would normally get it was out of stock – everywhere I tried. I no longer had an address to ship things to, so I felt compelled to go and pick up the stuff from Wilsons Prom.

Rich felt bad. He knew it was the stuff he’d put away. And he was okay in returning. When we talked it through, it was cheaper to drive the 2 hours back and then onwards to our next destination in the Yarra Valley than to replace it.

So return we did, after I called and confirmed they had it of course. They’d put it aside for us at the main desk. Just make sure we mention the cabin and our last name and a description of what was left. No worries. I knew exactly what was missing. When you live out of you car and space is a rarity, you tend to know everything you own and are carting around.

The return was pretty quiet. We’d seen all of this only days before and we’d tried our darndest not to go backwards on this road trip, but it was something we just needed to suck up. It was a simple pick up, a thank you and onwards we went. Thankfully our map took us a different route, to our destination was north east of Melbourne: The Yarra Valley.

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