What to See and Do on Phillip Island

by | Jun 24, 2019 | Discover Australia Now, Victoria | 24 comments

Last updated on October 11th, 2023 at 10:57 am

The bridge from mainland Victoria to Phillip Island


Phillip Island is a popular holiday destination in Victoria not only for visiting tourists but many Australians who take weekends away or longer holidays there. And they all come to spend time on the beaches, getting up close and personal with the local wildlife, being amazed at the rugged coastline and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of the main town of Cowes. I have been to Phillip Island a number of times and love it even more with each visit. Even though many visitors may go for the day I would suggest you try to stay at least a couple of days. Then you can truly appreciate all the things to see and do on Phillip Island. Here are my top things to see and do on Phillip Island.


The Best Time to Visit Phillip Island


When is the best time to Phillip Island? Phillip Island can be visited any time of year. During the summer months though the island’s population swells with services stretched, accommodation more expensive, cafes pumping, over crowded beaches and busy roads. Many people come to the island to see the nightly penguin parade and if this is your goal you might consider going in the warmer months as sitting on a freezing beach may be a deterrent. Note that over summer the penguins come ashore later to coincide with darkness. So if you have come only for a day trip expect to be arriving home late. And if you have little kids with you, they may miss thei bedtime and be vey tied.


Where is Phillip Island and how to get there


Phillip Island is located around 140 km from Melbourne and takes around 2 hours to drive. The island can be reached by driving along the M1 Freeway before taking the A440 then the M420. Traffic can be horrendous at times as there is only one way on to the island – over the bridge that connects the island to mainland Victoria.

It is best to get to the island by vehicle. If you don’t have a vehicle I would highly suggest you rent one because this is the best way to get around the island. You can rent one here.

If you don’t want to drive yourself then sit back and relax on a tour. There are many tours available which you can book and be picked up from your accommodation in Melbourne. The one thing I would advise you here is that if you plan on seeing the penguin parade, the penguins don’t come ashore until the sun is setting and by the time they have arrived you will be leaving the island late and be arriving home late. This is why many stay on Phillip Island for a couple of days.


Accommodation on Phillip Island


Phillip Island has a plethora of accommodation available ranging from camp grounds to hotel rooms to units to holiday homes. I often choose a holiday home near a beach to stay in because I usually stay for a few days to around a week or two. However, choose what style suits you and your budget. Check out the accommodations options here so you can compare and book.


What to see and do on Phillip Island


Feed the Pelicans at San Remo


San Remo is technically not on Phillip Island but it is the last town on mainland Victoria before you cross the bridge to Phillip Island. Each day at 12 noon on the San Remo Beach beside the pier local pelicans line up waiting to be fed. The area is coned off so you can get up close and personal with them. Watch them be fed, which takes about 20 minutes. It is an interesting thing to watch and a great pre-cursor to all the wildlife on the island. I would suggest you stand well back from the pelicans, particularly if you have little kids with you because these pelicans are big and nothing will separate them from their lunch.

San Remo is more than feeding pelicans, it is a cute little seaside town where you can chill in one of the cafes or have some fish and chips along the shoreline.


The Penguin Parade

The nightly Penguin Parade is the most popular thing to do on Phillip Island. The penguins have long been coming ashore. 1985 saw a dramatic decline in penguin numbers due to houses, shops, traffic and bushfires. So the penguin parade was introduced to ensure penguin numbers didn’t decline further. Today, the colony of little penguins is around 30,000.

Every night at sunset penguins that have been out hunting for food for most of the day return to the island and their burrows. The phenomenon is so popular a special viewing area has been built. This is so us humans can see nature at its best, and to keep us at an appropriate distance. The parade is extremely popular so I suggest you ensure you pre-purchase your ticket as there may be a long que if you don’t. I would also suggest you take a blanket and a cushion to sit on as the viewing area can be very cold even during summer. The wind off the ocean is brutal and goes straight through you and the seating isn’t that warm either so wrap up. Some people bring a picnic with a warm drink with them to enjoy while waiting for the penguins. I don’t think I have ever been so cold as I was waiting for the penguins!

As well as the penguin parade there is a very interesting program centre to learn more about the penguins before walking along the boardwalk to the viewing area. Along the boardwalk you can see many nests. A word of warning, there are few rules when you watch the Penguin Parade that mostly with no flash photography as the light can harm and frighten the little penguins. There are security guards on watch who will kick you out if you use a camera during the parade.

If you would like to book a ticket for the nightly parade and be brought from Melbourne you can purchase your ticket to just the parade here. If you would like to book a 12 hour day tour which takes you to a number of places and includes a ticket in to the penguin parade then you can purchase your ticket here.


Nobbies Centre


The Nobbies Centre is an ecotourism destination located at Point Grant, on the western tip of Phillip Island (see map). It features educational displays and the usual cafe and gift shop. However, it is the magnificent rugged scenery that steals the show. Go for a stroll along the Nobbies boardwalk and see the blowhole which has been created by the large southern swells that can hit the coast. Hopefully, if the weather is right you will be treated to a blowing blow-hole with water crashing and splashing everywhere! Maybe see some Silver Gulls nesting while you walk around, usually during spring and early summer. Rug up here as the wind can be chilly.

The scenery is just fantastic on this part of the island and if you stand at The Nobbies and look across the ocean you will see seal rock in the distance. This is home to the largest colony of seals in Australia. To see the seals up close and personal you will need to take a cruise, if you would like to purchase a ticket for the cruise you can purchase one here. You can also book a cruise while on the island. If you would like to include the seal cruise as part of a full-day tour to the island then you can purchase a ticket for the tour here.


Phillip Island Circuit


The Phillip Island Circuit is a major sporting arena that hosts motor sporting events such as the Moto GP and the World Superbikes. If you are a bit of a speed demon and interested in motorbikes then this is the place for you. You can take a guided tour of the circuit which includes access to trackside areas. I would suggest the track is on the island because of the noise. The track is by the water and there are some great views.


Koala Convservation Centre


The Koala Conservation Centre has done a great deal for saving the local koala population of Phillip Island. The centre is not only an educational experience but it allows you to get up close and personal to the koalas while experiencing them in their natural habitat. It is wonderful walking around the boardwalks up in the trees seeing them in their native habitat.


Cowes – the main town on Phillip Island


Cowes is the main town on Phillip Island and provides all visitors and locals with the most food options and local shops and services to explore. There are many cafes, restaurants and pubs catering to many different tastes and budgets. It is well worth a walk up one side of the street and down the other to visit everything that is along this strip. From craft shops to surf shops to medical centres to there is plenty to see. The main road ends down at the wharf where there is a big park to enjoy. This area is popular during ‘Schoolies’ with the school leavers enjoying Cowes.


The Chocolate Factory


The Chocolate Factory is a great place for all things chocolate and is one of my favourite places on the island. There are interactive exhibits so you can learn about the cocoa bean before taking part in designing your own chocolate to eat. Of course there is plenty of chocolate on offer to purchase as well as experience many delicious chocolate things in the cafe. I must say I really enjoyed the Chocolate Factory, but I love chocolate.


Enjoy the beaches


There are many beaches on Phillip Island, some are surf beaches while others are bay beaches. Here is a quick lowdown on them. I particularly like Smiths Beach myself.

Woolamai Surf Beach

If you’re looking to hit the waves then head to Woolamai Beach which is famed for its strong rips and currents. It is patrolled over summer and if you love the sun and surf you will be kept busy.

Smiths Beach

Situated to the south of the island, Smith’s Beach is tucked away in a secluded bay. It offers calm waves and gentle surf for beginners and its bay-side location provides a very relaxed atmosphere.

Summerland Beach

If it’s wildlife you’re seeking then Summerland Beach is a must-visit as this is the scene of the famous Penguin Parade. You can access the white sandy shores until dusk but then, the area is cleared to make way for the penguins to come ashore.

Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach boasts small waves perfect for beginners, but this can depend on the swell. It is also great for water sports and has great views of the surrounding areas.

Ventnor Beach

Ventnor Beach is great if you don’t want to surf but spend your day swimming and sunning yourself. It is a great place to relax and offers breath-taking views towards the horizon.

Cowes Beach

Cowes Beach is a stretch of sand situated at the end of the Main Street of Cowes. It’s a popular place for families who have accommodation in Cowes and it has shallow waves and plethora of facilities and amenities close by.

Red Rocks Beach

Set against a backdrop of impressive red rocks, this beach is sheltered and sandy, providing the perfect place to splash around in the shallows and relax in front of amazing sea views.

Surf Beach

For hardcore surfers, Surf Beach is the place to go. It has large waves and strong currents and is not ecommended for swimming, but it’s ideal for pro surfers looking to catch some waves against a backdrop of incredible landscapes.


Other things to see and do on Phillip Island


The things I have mentioned above are the main things to see and do while on Phillip Island but there is still more to see and do. These things include visiting the Vietnam Veterans Museum, the Maze or take a helicopter flight over the island to see its rugged coastline. No matter what you have come to see there is plenty to see and do on Phillip Island.

And if you don’t want to drive yourself consider taking an all inclusive tour to Phillip Island.



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  1. Michelle

    Ooh I didn’t know about The Chocolate Factory! Will have to check that out next time we go. We really enjoyed glamping at Cowes Caravan Park on Phillip Island and Nobbies Boardwalk is truly spectacular as you say 🙂

    • Sharyn McCullum

      Yes the Chocolate Factory is a wonderful place to visit for kids and adults. I loved it. I haven’t stayed at the Cowes Caravan Park I rented a lovely house at Smith’s Beach but might consider it for the future.

  2. Katie Jane Collins

    This looks like a fab island to visit! I didn’t get down this far on my trip to Australia unfortunately – maybe next time.

    • Sharyn McCullum

      If you can definitely include Phillip Island on any trip to Australia. It is only a couple of hours drive from Melbourne and well worth it.

  3. Margarita

    Penguins and chocolates – what a winning combo! I am putting together a bucket list of places to check out in Oz until we can venture further afield and Philip island is definitely going on it. I didn’t know about half the places you mention in your post.

    • Sharyn McCullum

      Penguins and chocolates are a winner for me too! There is loads to do on Phillip Island so if you have the chance definitely try to do it all.

  4. Jaime

    Love Phillip Island. I spent a lot of time down there. Thanks for sharing such a great post!

    • Sharyn McCullum

      Glad to hear you have spent a lot of time at Phillip Island. It is a great place to visit.

  5. Hillary Newman

    The penguins! I had no idea this was an attraction here. Awesome post.

    • Sharyn McCullum

      Seeing the penguins come ashore is one of the biggest attractions in Victoria. So if you can, definitely include it on your list of things to see and do when in Victoria, or particularly, when on Phillip Island.

  6. Cindy Scott

    Wow, I think that penguin parade needs to be added to my bucket list! Thanks for the informative post!

    • Sharyn McCullum

      Definitely add the penguin parade to your bucket list. It is truly and amazing sight. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  7. Shannon

    Ooh, I want to see the penguin parade! The island looks lovely, great post!

    • Sharyn McCullum

      If you can, definitely see the penguin parade – it is one of the greatest things to see while on the island.

  8. Brianna

    I’ve never heard of Phillip Island before! It looks like a fantastic destination for people who want to see some of Australia’s wildlife. The penguin parade is the cutest, I would love to see that. The koala boardwalk also looks like a must do. Thanks for sharing, I will definitely be keeping this in mind for if I visit Australia!

    • Sharyn McCullum

      If you do visit Australia seeing the penguin parade would be one of the highlights. I hope you can make it one day.

  9. Cassie

    I would love to visit Phillip Island one day. It would be cool to see the penguins!

    • Sharyn McCullum

      If you can I suggest you visit Phillip Island as there is so much to see and doo. And the penguins are really cool.

  10. Katie

    I loved Philip Island and the penguin parade! I went in winter and it was crazy cold, but I hope to make it back on a warmer day to see more of the Island

    • Sharyn McCullum

      It is extremely cold to see the penguins during winter – and the concrete seats make it even colder. You should visit again in summer – though it can still be very cold at night with the sea breeze (or wind) coming off the ocean.

  11. Ann

    Phillip Island is just gorgeous! I visited many years ago and just loved seeing the little penguins. Great post!

    • Sharyn McCullum

      Phillip Island is gorgeous. And seeing the penguins always brings a smile to my face. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  12. Krystianna

    The chocolate factory sounds great. I’d love to visit one day!

    • Sharyn McCullum

      It’s a great place to visit even if you don’t like chocolate!


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G’Day! Sharyn here, an Aussie who loves discovering Australia. Let me show you around so you can discover Australia now too.  Read more about me here.

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