Phillip Island is justifiably famous for its penguin parade. However, there is so much more to do on Phillip Island than watch penguins, and the other Phillip Island Nature Parks are a great place to start. Why just visit penguins when you can also see koalas in their natural habitat, milk a cow and check out seal colonies?
The Phillip Island Nature Parks are a not for profit organisation with four parks: the Penguin Parade; Nobbies Centre; Churchill Island Heritage Farm; and the Koala Conservation Centre. All revenue is invested into conservation and research endeavors on the island.
The parks each have a different focus and are all worth a visit when you are on Phillip Island. You can buy a great pass which covers all parks, or individual tickets at each attraction. Currently, a family pass costs $101 and you can buy tickets online.
In a day, you can visit all four parks as part of a trip to Melbourne. However, I recommend you stay at least overnight so you can take your time and perhaps check out some of the many other attractions that Phillip Island has to offer.
If you are going for just a day to see the Phillip Island Nature Parks, I recommend you visit the Koala Conservation Centre in the morning, Churchill Island Heritage Farm in the early afternoon (and perhaps have lunch here too), then visit Nobbies Centre before finishing up at the Penguin Parade.
The Koala Conservation Centre is an opportunity to spot koalas in their natural habitat, high in the trees.
It is a low key attraction which starts with displays and information boards before heading out into the bush. There are three signposted walks. One is 1.6km and the other ones are shorter on boardwalks which take you closer to the tops of the trees. This is to give a better view of the koalas who were mostly sleeping high in the tree tops.
We did the two boardwalk walks. Apart from one spot where there was a koala very close to us munching away (see photo below), the koalas were high above us and we didn’t really get good views. It was fun to walk around trying to spot them for J and I, but the kids were bored quickly.
There is other wildlife as well, although we only spotted two wallabies. We spent about 45 minutes here which was enough time to see quite a few koalas. It is a nice to see koalas in their natural habitat, but if you need to miss out one of these attractions, this is the one I would miss.
There are no stairs and we walked around with our pram without any issues.
Churchill Island Heritage Farm is located just off the coast of Phillip Island. It is not only a scenic and historic location, but there are also some fun farm activities. It was one of our favourite attractions in the Phillip Island Nature Parks.
We started our visit here with a delicious lunch. This is a great spot to get something to eat. There is a kids menu and I absolutely loved my beef burger. The wide verandah would have made the experience even better had there been nicer weather for our visit.
On the site, there are many small buildings. Some house animals, some are set up the way they would have been when a farm was first established on Churchill Island and others are home to things such as a blacksmiths and old grinders. It is all very interesting. S particularly enjoyed the old baby’s bassinet and high chair in the house.
We enjoyed seeing many animals – cows, sheep, horses, dogs, cockatoo, ferret, guinea pigs, rabbits, hens, roosters, turkeys, peacocks, pigs, ducks and more. The highlight was definitely the farm activities though. From about 2pm – 3:30pm, we saw cow milking, sheep shearing, whip cracking and working dogs. Anyone who wants to try the whip cracking and cow milking gets to have a turn. The whip cracking scared both S and I, but we enjoyed milking a cow.
It was quite educational for S as she did not understand where milk or wool came from. I very much enjoyed the working dogs demonstration. Two different dogs demonstrated their skills rounding up sheep. One was only 5 month old and the other 2 years old. It was interesting to see the differences and have the trainer explain how they teach them and how quickly they learn.
All in all, we had a great time at this attraction. It is a lovely place and the activities were very interesting. It is definitely worth timing a visit for the afternoon for the activities. It would not have been nearly as much fun had we visited at a different time of day.
The Nobbies Centre consists of an information centre complete with cafe, Antarctic Journey (read more here) and fabulous boardwalks to check out the surrounding scenery.
I visited this alone with the kids and had no problems pushing the pram along most of the boardwalks. They enjoyed running around and checking out the views.
The Phillip Island Penguin Parade is the biggest draw card of the Phillip Island Nature Parks. It is famous and rightfully so. When I was growing up in Hobart, it was one of the few attractions on mainland Australia that I had actually heard about and I always wanted to attend this event.
Every night at sunset, you can see these wild penguins arrive back on the beach to waddle up into the scrub to go to sleep for the night. It is quite an event, with over 1100 penguins waddling back home the night we attended.
There are several big bleachers constructed above the beach where visitors can watch and wait. It is quite exciting when the first little penguins make their appearance on the beach. They mostly arrived in groups, although there were some that arrived alone and waddled up the beach.
The “parade” up the beach is what this attraction is most famous for. However, I think the highlight is actually after you leave the beach area and walk along the extensive board walks back to the information centre. There are so many penguins walking around on the way back. They literally seemed to be everywhere. We were often able to get quite close and the kids just loved it, after having been a bit bored sitting above the beach. Z got so into it that he kept pointing out more, would narrate what they were doing and then would try to act like one. It is the first time he has got into any attraction in such a way (he only recently turned two), and it was very very cute.
It is often recommended to get to this attraction an hour early. I would actually recommend against this. It is obviously important not to be late and the time does vary from night to night so do be a bit early – maybe half an hour. We attended the penguin parade a couple of years ago and arrived an hour early. By the time the penguins came, we were so frozen and over it that it ruined our enjoyment. This time we got to the beach about ten minutes early and that was perfect.
Many people leave the beach area after seeing only a few penguins arrive. My tip would be to move forward once people start moving (assuming you don’t get front seats to start with). It did not take long for us to get great seats near the front after moving forward when people left. After you have seen enough at the beach, take your time walking back to the information centre – it is awesome!
Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos. Taking the pram was actually a great idea. The boardwalk was fine with a pram and it made it harder for some of the rude tourists to be able to squish in front of Z when we were watching the penguins (something that happened occasionally to S).
The kids (currently 2 and 3) had a great time at Phillip Island Nature Parks. Unfortunately, Z missed out on Churchill Island Heritage Farm as he needed a nap but they both went to everywhere else.
These attractions work well with young kids as they all involved animals and open space, so they could run around and be their loud selves without an issue. The animals generally kept them interested, and there were also information boards so we could all learn a bit more.
We had a fabulous time visiting the Phillip Island Nature Parks. They were all very well presented and incorporated great scenery. It made for a great break from Melbourne. The Penguin Parade was definitely the highlight, but the activities from Churchill Island Heritage Farm came in a close second!
We received free entry into the attractions listed above in return for a review. However, the content and views expressed in this article are my own. I love Phillip Island!
Have you ever seen penguins in the wild?