Saturday, 11 February 2012

Exploring Victoria: Melbourne to Phillip Island

After a late night planning our routes to Phillip Island and an early start checking out of the hostel, we picked up our hire car from the city centre to start the first leg of our 6 day road trip across Victoria. However, it wasn't long before we encountered our first problem - the hire car was an automatic and we'd never driven an automatic before! It wasn't as straightforward as you would think to get the car moving but once we got to grip with the controls it wasn't so difficult, although it did feel a bit weird not having to change gear or use a clutch peddle. On the whole, driving in Australia isn't much different to driving in the UK, except you've got far less traffic and more exotic animals to avoid running over!

Lizzie started off the driving for the first stage of the epic journey and she even performed a few of the infamous hook turns in the city centre! They're not as difficult as they're made out to be, all you need to do is pull across to the left hand lane if you want to turn right at an intersection to avoid blocking the tram line. Once the road is clear then you cross all the lanes of traffic to make your turn. Simples!

Unfortunately, there are no short cuts down to Phillip Island so we had to take the long way round the Mornington Peninsula largely down the Nepean Highway to avoid the Melbourne toll roads. It took us a couple of hours to reach our motel at Cowes, the capital of Phillip Island. There's also a town on the island called Ventnor just like the Isle of Wight so maybe there's some sort of historical connection.

Phillip Island is famous for it's Penguin Parade and Grand Prix circuit. The Penguin Parade is the number one wildlife tourist attraction in Australia and as a result it attracts half-a-million visitors annually. There's also a large seal colony to see at "the Nobbies", as well as the Koala Conservation Centre and Churchill Island (a working farm off the main island).

As Phillip Island is only 100 sq km it's quite easy to get around by car. So after dropping our bags off at the motel, the first thing we did was head down to the Koala Conservation Centre to see what else but koalas up close and personal from the treetop boardwalks!

Mrs Koala stuffing her face from the Koala Boardwalk

Cute joey climbing up to see her mum

Walking around the Woodland Boardwalk, we caught a glimpse of a galah (or a rose-breasted cockatoo) in the distance before we decided to head round the short bush walk track where a swamp wallaby (or black wallaby) posed beautifully for us.

Galah (Eolophus roseicapilla)

Swamp wallaby (Wallabia bicolor)

Me taking a picture of the said wallaby

We then went to Penguin Parade at Summerlands in the south-west corner of the island, to watch the Little Blue Penguins (Eudyptula minor), or Fairy Penguins as they're known here, head back to their underground burrows from a day out at sea. The Little Blues are the smallest penguins at the world and the only penguin permanently found in Australia. The tour we did was the Ultimate Penguin Tour where we were taken to a secluded beach in a small group of just five people, away from all the main amphitheatre, to watch the little fellas waddling back to their burrows at dusk (approx. 9pm). On the walk back to the visitors centre we caught a glimpse of a few stragglers searching for their burrows in the car park, hence why it is important to check under your car before you drive away.

Penguins also have burrows in the car park, you have been warned!

An interesting note to the island conservation was that the Victorian government started a compulsory buy-back of the land on the Summerland Estate as it was considered a blight on the landscape and a threat to the last major penguin colony on the island. The plan was to strip back the developments from the land to restore the natural habitat to the area. This started in 1985 and took place over 15 years before any revegetation could take effect.

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