Keira and I regularly go to Sydney to visit her best friend Bella who she met when we were living up there. This time we had the pleasure of having Bella and her family here in Melbourne for the Australia Day long weekend. As we had a four day break we decided to head off some where nice for the weekend – Phillip Island was the choice. Having been there a few times before, I knew there is plenty of things to do in Phillip Island with kids.
Phillip Island is approximately 150kms from Melbourne. It’s a 2 hour run from the city and consists mostly of freeways so it’s a very easy drive. I know Phillip Island enough to get around, my brother once had a holiday house there and we had stayed down there a couple of times but it was a few years ago now. I know it enough to get there without directions and know round about where I am most of the time.
My friend and I had four kids under ten with us, Alannah decided to stay home with Dad this time. Phillip Island has a lot for kids to do especially kids around the same age as ours. In fact Phillip Island Nature Parks has taken over the management of the four main attractions and you are able to get bundle packages to save a bit of money on each of the attractions.
The new Antarctic Journey opened to the public on the 23 December 2015 and is located at the Nobbies Ocean Discovery Centre. It’s an interactive learning experience about all the inhabitants of Antarctica, including whales, sharks, sea krill, penguins, sea birds and seals. The kids are able to feel the fur of a seal, look through a microscope at all sorts of sea particles (seal skin, sea krill, feathers). The kids enjoyed the Antarctica Chill Zone which was a mirrored room simulating what the weather would be like in Antarctica. There were big screens with short documentary style shows covering the main antarctic animals listed above.
But the show stopper was the ‘virtual reality ice shelve’. This provided the kids with a simulated Antarctic environment where they were able to fully understand the full size of orca whales, penguins and seals while interacting with them on a massive screen. Provided they were standing in the right spots, you could make it look like you were patting the animals. It really is amazing and the kids loved it, we were there for 40 mins and I still had to drag them away!
Allow half a day to really explore this attraction, the kids will really enjoy the virtual reality ice shelve. That will also allow you time to look around the Nobbies Ocean Discovery Centre. If the weather is behaving you can walk out on the boardwalk and take in the beautiful but very rugged coastline down there. There are also heaps of penguin homes in the sand dunes and if you are lucky you might be able to see a few penguins in their holes. We were lucky enough to see a few, they may have been chicks waiting for their parents to come back and feed them.
The Penguin Parade a popular attraction and there are a number of tour groups that operate day tours to see the penguins so if you do need a specific date make sure you book it ahead. As it was January long weekend we organised ours about 2 weeks prior. The penguins start to come in just after dusk so in the summer months its a late night for little ones with dusk being around 9pm give or take a few minutes.
The viewing area is very well organised with tiered seating to allow maximum viewing for everyone. The little kids are able to sit up the front on the sand and it also provides a bit of entertainment as they were digging holes and making sandcastles until the penguins started to come in. As it is a little dark it is best that an adult sits down with the kids (me!) to point out when they start to come in as it can be a bit difficult to spot them.
They waddle in from the ocean in small groups of around 10 or so and once they are up on the sand they are much easier to spot. The penguin at the front sets the pace, he bobs down and goes hell for leather once he has spotted the path up to their homes. Its the cutest thing you will ever see. Unfortunately you are no longer able to take any photography which is for the betterment of the penguins, flashes can disorientate them and they would be unable to find their way home and no matter how often people are told not to use their flash.. Well lets just say, there’s always one! So I get it, even if it did kill me because they’re so cute!
Once you have watched a few groups come up the beach, it is best to walk out and have a look on the boardwalks. Its the best opportunity to see them really closely. The boardwalks are built to take maximum opportunity for spotting whilst ensuring that the penguins are very safe. We stood in one spot and the penguins were walking from underneath us and up to the homes.
As it was breeding season we were able to see lots of the chicks and as we walked along the boardwalk you could see them coming out looking for the parents to feed them. Their parents come in each night and regurgitate the fish to feed them. The chicks weren’t fussy and would try and feed off any penguin but the parents will only feed their own. We saw lots of chicks going up to the penguins and wrestling with them to try and get the food. You could also hear them call for their parents. The chicks are about the same size as the adults but with a grey fluffy down over them. Once the grey fluffy down goes, they have their black feathers underneath.
The penguins homes are situated right up to the entrance building so you can slowly make your way back to the exit while watching them. We took nearly 90mins from when the penguins came up the beach to getting back to the car. We could have taken longer but the kids were getting tired.
You are best to get there early and spend some time having a look around the Penguin Parade visitors centre. There are things to eat and drink, a souvenir shop and Penguin World providing a great amount of information about penguins and there lives. We spent an hour having a look around the visitors centre. You can also have a superimposed souvenir poster with the penguins which we had for the kids. They are a little on the steep side at $18 for one photo or $30 for the package deal.
The Koala Conservation Centre you can do in half a day. The visitors centre at the front has a cafe and souvenir shop. There is also an information centre explaining all about koalas, what they eat, how they grow and what environment they need to thrive. Its a good interactive environment with plenty to touch, feel, smell and read.
Once you leave the visitors centre, you walk through some bush area to a built up boardwalk so that you are able to spot koalas at eye level or just above. The park rangers place healthy eucalyptus branches a little lower to encourage the koala’s to come a bit lower. The kids were very excited to see the koala’s so close up and luckily for us we saw a few that were surprising active! We know koala’s sleep approximately 22 hours a day!
There are two fenced off areas with built up boardwalks, the first one had four koala’s and the second one have five. We were able to easily spot all of them. One koala had lost its eye to an infection but it didn’t seem to bother it any. Another one was making his way from the top of one tree to another. We watched him for a while as we thought he was going to jump. He made a few good attempts but he eventually chickened out and came back down a bit. He had a heap of go in him though and it was lovely to see them so spritely.
As we were walking back to the visitor centre, there were a few wallabies around in the natural bush habitat. A couple of them frightened the life out of me as I hadn’t spotted them and the rustling in the bush sounded what could have been a snake. It was snake weather and there are plenty of them around! Not that they are looking for me, like I seem to think all the time! We did see the cutest baby wallaby, the kids thought that was wonderful.
I had set aside half a day to visit Churchill Island, luckily enough I had nothing planned for the afternoon as the kids loved Churchill Island and we ended up there all day. We had to drag the kids away after all the activities had finished for the day.
The visitor centre has a souvenir shop and a cafe. The free activities are all in the afternoon so we spent the morning looking around and seeing all the animals and checking out the old homestead. The house was a weekender for a wealthy man built back in the late 1800’s. The house is fully restored to what it would have been like back then with a lot of the original furniture still there. The kids weren’t too impressed with the kids room and thought that they would much prefer the ones they have at home!
We stopped and had lunch at the cafe, they had a vegan options for my friends son as he is gluten, dairy and sugar free due to allergies. It is sometimes difficult to find him something but the cafe was able to accommodate him and saved us going back to our accommodation for lunch and then returning later. The meals were a little expensive but were convenient and healthy with a small but good choice of meals.
After lunch we went and participated in the activities, starting with a ride on a wagon. We went around the farm in the wagon being pulled by the tractor. Next was the cow milking, the kids were excited about this and the general consensus was that ‘it was slimy and yuk!’. Not a fan but they all had a go which was great. They then sat and watched a sheep shearing demonstration and got to feel the wool afterwards. The world record for sheep shearing was 600 and something in one day which equals one sheep every 40 seconds! Pretty impressive I think!
Now I was thinking the kids would have had enough by now but no, off we went for the whipping cracking demonstration. The cowboy had a few whips out and the kids thought for sure they would be able to do that! Luckily the rules are ‘no kids’ which suited me fine! A couple of the mums and dads had a crack and it was decided that its a bit harder than it looks when cowboy does it!
Last event for the day was the working dog demonstration. There were a couple of dogs, a kelpie and a border collie and a about 6 sheep. The park ranger brought the sheep out and then got the dogs to show how farmers herd them up. All the while explaining all about the working dogs and how much of a priceless commodity they are to the farmers, making there jobs so much easier. A good working dog could sell for as much as $10,000! Not bad I say.
You are able to purchase the attractions as a bundle package as they are all centralised now and managed by Phillip Island Nature Parks.
Costs for Antarctic Journey, Penguin Parade, Koala’s and Churchill Island:
Adult: $ 56.00
Child: $ 28.05
Cost for Antarctic Journey & Penguin Parade:
A family ticket consists of two adults and two children.
The kids loved it. The favourite was the penguin parade followed by Churchill Island. The best thing is that its all educational and interactive which is what kids love. I actually love doing all the animal based activities so even as an adult these activities are great.
I also think its great value for money. Where else can you get fours days entertainment for under $150.00! You do have to allocate and book a night for the penguins but all other activities have a six month validation on them. So if you don’t have enough time off work, you can do it over a few weekends spaced out over a 6 month period.
If you are looking for other great activities in Victoria, I highly recommend visiting the Great Ocean Rd, the 12 Apostles you will have seen in many advertising campaigns for Victoria. The Cape Otway Lighthouse is another awesome place to visit and you will mostly likely have the opportunity to view some of our most beautiful and famous native animals, koalas! The Otway Fly Treetop Walk is a great place to explore with kids. All these are great activities for kids and definitely should be on the list if you are planning a trip to Australia and in particular Melbourne.
Sal and Co!
Disclaimer: We had a mutually beneficial financial arrangement with Phillip Island Nature Parks, as always our opinion is our own.