Phillip Island, penguins and cool beach retreats

phillip island beach

A weekend sojourn to Phillip Island shows why the outcrop off the coast of Victoria is such as a popular destination for Melbournites looking to escape the big smoke.

We hadn’t even reached the island, a mere 90-minute drive down the M1, before we were lured off a side-road at The Gurdies to sample local wine and cheese at Ramsay’s Vin Rose cellar door — quite presentable cab sav and pinot noir accompanied by mild brie and blue, amongst others.

As if that wasn’t enough temptation, the Phillip Island Chocolate Factory lurks on the main road, just after you’ve crossed the bridge from the mainland, and it’s wares are very tasty indeed.

We spent the night at the Banfields motel, a very tidy, very friendly and very quiet conference centre boasting the only cinema on the island, though alas we’d missed the Sunday matinee. Not that we had time. We were on a penguin mission! A stop to see Captain Grossard’s lonely cliffside grave — and feel the icy wind blowing in from the sea — was enlivened by the presence of two quite unconcerned cape barren geese as we made our way to the parks complex at the Nobbies.

We arrived in plenty of time for our dusk penguin parade viewing. No pictures are allowed at the wildlife centre, a welcoming commerical building with oodles of duckboards to ferry the crowds to their stations. We forked out for Penguin Plus tickets, giving us a secluded, small stadium by the beach where the penguins have worn a wide track as they make their way from the sea to their burrows littering the foreshore and surrounding cliffs. There are some 60,000 of the little birds in the rookery — the last on the island. (The little penguins were once known as fairy penguins, but political correctness has apparently kicked in.)

The penguins were awesome, coming up in waves. It was like something from the D-Day landings, with little penguins advancing in platoons, flankers and point men out, a little hesitant about entering our softly lit viewing area, then charging: some hobbling, some weaving, some tripping, others darting forward at a furious clip. Some went under our platform, others paused at the very edge, only metres away, to give us the beady eye. We had about an hour of viewing before having to make our leisurely stroll back along the boardwalk to the complex.

Pino’s Trattoria, still open post-penguins on a Sunday night, provided the perfect remedy for the night chill, though the beachside viewing platform hadn’t been as windy nor as cold as we’d expected.

On Monday, the breeze was still up, but we found it fell away to nothing on the lee side, offering very pleasant conditions for beachcombing — not a bad way to spend the day after our seal tour was cancelled only two hours from departure. We had time to only see a few of the parks and beaches, but it was enough to know we want to return and spend more time taking in the natural sights. Red rocks, black basalt formations, wild flowers, and some truly amazing waves got the cameras clicking.

We topped up with a massive coffee at the Lil’ Honey Cafe at San Remo before cruising back to Melbourne.

This was my first real sample of regional Victoria since moving to Melbourne, so it bodes well for further exploration. I can certainly see myself hitting the island again — but not at Grand Prix time!

More Phillip Island pictures are on Flickr.

memento mori

My weekend was a no-news weekend. My head and my heart were elsewhere. So here’s the thing. I get to work this morning, pick up the paper. The cover is black. A real rip snorter of a Big News Day. The newsroom is in a lather. The TVs are turned up. Never a good sign. The paper was hours old, of course. The net gave me the figure. 120 dead, and climbing. It hit 131 before I logged off. It’ll go higher, they say. Possibly much higher.

I’ve been in shock most of the day. Maybe we all have. Even the politicians were lost for words. How the fuck do 131 people die from a bushfire in 2009?

It makes you want to check the calendar. Stick your head out the window and look for smoke.

This was, we’re told, the motherfucker of all bushfires, in all its fractured number. One quote that struck me, paraphrased: they had a 30m dead zone, gutters full of water and a wet roof, and he told me the kitchen just exploded.

The kitchen just exploded.

How do you deal with that? How much of a firebreak should you need to stop your kitchen from exploding?

My country is burning and we’re reeling because the damage is staggering. All we can do is count heads and hug each other, donate to those who survived with nothing and mourn those who lost it all.

Now, add in the floods that are devastating my home state. Nowhere near the loss of life, but the property damage is massive.

Floods in the north, fires in the south. And there’s more.

Five dead in a head-on, both cars aflame. Miraculously, one woman survived.

And a five-year-old gets taken by a crocodile. It’s almost surreal, isn’t it? Five, a crocodile, amid all this other horror and misery.

The country feels like one massive wound tonight, shell-shocked from its Big News Day.

Ready for the kicker? You won’t read about this in the paper. There won’t be a headline, an interview, not that I’m aware of. It wouldn’t rate on a Big News Day.


I’m looking at a MySpace page because I got sent a message. One of my MySpace Friends has died, peacefully, of a brain tumour. She was 26. Her page is bright, vibrant, filled with attitude and pictures of smiling young people and what I would count as an admirable taste in pop culture. I reckon I would’ve liked her, if we’d met, her and her friends swapping messages about gigs and other ordinary stuff we use to fill her lives. Twenty-six.

And it’s not over yet. Rain’s still falling up north, fires are still burning down south, the funerals haven’t started yet.

Front page, back page, MySpace page: doesn’t matter which, it’s a Big News Day. Every day is a Big News Day for someone, and maybe that’s the point I’m looking for here as I try to make sense of today.

Not what’s worth dying for but what’s worth living for. And making the most of it while we can. Because we just don’t know, do we?

Go safely, friends. There’s been more than enough news today.