Teeming with passionate producers, nature-based experiences and oh yes, those famous surf breaks, could Phillip Island be the ultimate seaside getaway?
Dreaming about simpler times when the biggest stressor in your life was the queue in your local beach fish and chip kiosk? Or perhaps it was getting mugged by a ‘spirited’ seagull for your last remaining prawn, or a little too much sun on your nose after those ill-advised breakfast cocktails? You don’t need a DeLorean, or a pair of Dorothy shoes to recapture the joys of a carefree, endless summer: by crossing the bridge onto Phillip Island (a 90-minute drive from Melbourne), you leave the world behind and stumble into a place and time where things are exactly as you remember them.
Surrounded by pristine, golden beaches and endless surf breaks, the island is perhaps best known for its parading penguins as well as its high-octane sports (Phillip Island is home to the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix). A surprise for first-timers, perhaps, is that the island’s multitude of passionate food producers and providores, charming coastal stays and nature-based experiences make this the perfect long weekend escape to make those long summer days (and nights) last and last.
Will you devote your time off from reality to eating fresh seafood plucked from the sea or sipping the crisp, cool-climate wines the region is famous for from the deck of your coastal retreat? How about starting your day by kayaking around spectacular inlets or ending it with a coastal walk with scenic views? The correct answer, of course, can only ever be, ‘All of the above, all at once, all the time’.
When you’ve got 97 kilometres of coastline to work with (not to mention a wildlife-heavy landscape), it’s easy to spoil visitors with an eye-watering number of adventures for every kind of traveller. The best way to get to know the island? By tackling one (or a couple) of many spectacular trails that snake around the fertile grounds such as the show-stopping Cape Woolamai Circuit. A combination of all three Cape Woolamai tracks, the eight-kilometre walk will take you to the highest point on the island, offering a bird’s eye view of the surrounding coastline. Not so sure about a four-hour trek? The Pyramid Rock Walk to Berry’s Beach takes place along a gently undulating clifftop and can easily be completed in an hour.
Of course, nothing says summer quite like taking a dip in the ocean to cool down. When it comes to how you’ll enjoy the deep blue however, Phillip Island is very much a ‘choose your own adventure’ wonderland. Those keen to unleash their inner Kelly Slater will appreciate the four breaks that make up Phillip Island National Surfing Reserves (you can take a surf lesson or hire a board at Island Surfboards), while those who’d much prefer to date or have beers with the surf legend might prefer a swim at Smiths or Cowes Beach, considered two of the island’s top beaches.
Organised tours, too, are plentiful; Ocean Adventures has a range of heart-in-the-mouth activities such as a Thundercat experience and diving and drift tours, while a guided sea kayak tour by Pioneer Kayaking will help you make the most of the island’s coastline and waterways.
As the sun begins to dip its sleepy head, there are two key ways to make the most of a balmy summer’s night: by enjoying a Twilight Bay Cruise – drink in hand – with Wildlife Coast Cruises, or by booking a seat to watch the unique runway show that is the infamous Penguin Parade. What better nightcap than the sight of thousands of little penguins making their ways up to their burrows around Summerland Beach?
Food, glorious food
Is any request in the English language more beautiful than ‘Please arrive hungry’. It’s a well-meaning plea to keep in mind as you settle into the island lifestyle and give your mind, body and soul over to the quaint beachside eateries, family-run wineries and charming farm gates that dot Phillip Island.
Like any good Australian worth their salt, you’ll want to start your gastronomic journey by devouring salt-tickled seafood straight from the sea. Bass Strait Direct is the island’s go-to for that, but passing up the opportunity to experience a little pickled octopus, Greek-style, would be foolish. Bani’s Restaurant & Bar, serves up that Mediterranean fishing village vibe on a plate. After a long day at the beach, head to Bang Bang Bar and Food, a breezy coastal bar where a wide range of beer, gin and rum are served alongside fragrant Asian fusion dishes (should you still be peckish).
Did a trip to Phillip Island even happen if you come away from your trip without a bottle of the award-winning Purple Hen 2017 The Rooster Shiraz? It’s a question worth asking yourself as you take in the winery’s view of the shimmering waters of the Bay of Western Port. Don’t stop there: armfuls of crisp sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio await at Phillip Island Winery or, if you prefer a cold one, craft beers at Ocean Reach Brewing. The relaxed summer venue offers 12 rotating taps, as well as a food van designed with beer drinkers in mind. Think burgers, tacos and wings.
You wouldn’t dream of going back to your accommodation empty-handed would you? Before the sun sets, be sure to pop into The Store, a one-stop shop for all your gourmet needs and Wild Food Farm to load up on their range of native teas, herbs, preserves and relishes (perfect if you have a barbecue ready to go back to your pad).
Do away with all thoughts (or fears) of generic hotel rooms and soulless serviced apartments; here, in what is quickly becoming Australia’s ‘OC’, accommodation runs the gamut from affordable coastal chic to beachside luxury.
Those who ‘summer’ like a verb will appreciate the striking good looks of Currawong Close, a four-bedroom home with an indoor heated pool, theatre room and a generous deck that begs for an afternoon cocktail in the sun.
For those who prefer charming guesthouses, Genesta House Bed and Breakfast and Grey Goose @ Smiths are two solid options. The former – located five minutes’ walk from Cowes Beach – offers three suites with private, in-room breakfast and a verandah overlooking the gardens. The latter, two delightfully appointed guest rooms located on four lush hectares with stunning ocean views towards Cape Woolamai.
Of course, if you’re up for something a little more… different, Phillip Island has that, too. Bimbadeen Phillip Island Farm Retreats offers eco-friendly, self-contained accommodation in secluded surrounds on a 137-hectare family-run working farm. The mod-cons are a given, the rural landscape views a delight, but nothing beats sharing your holiday with the resident sheep, alpacas or hens in this property to remember.