Overnight stays: Woodbyne Resort, Phillip Island; Tidal River Camping & Caravan Site, Wilsons Promontory National Park (2 nights)
There were two buses on our year 9 Victorian school excursion. For whatever reason we split at one point; our bus went to Warnambool to learn how to surf, while the other bus shot to Phillip Island to see the Fairy Penguins.
Although the surf lessons were great, that moment left a hole in my life that had to be filled at some point, and that FOMO has sat with me for nearly 20 years.
So Phillip Island was an absolute Wombatical must-do.
The island is much bigger than we expected, with actual towns, supermarkets, and a motel for every penguin on the island (roughly 25,000). The big and only draw cards for the island are the fairy penguins and the race track that hosts the Aussie Moto GP and part of the V8 Aussie championship.
Once we checked in to our plot of grass at the back of a quasi hotel with an unexplained brontosaurus out the front, we journeyed around the island’s north, checking out some of the nice calm beaches. From there we shot down to the south-west for a ripping outlook at the seriously developed Nobbies, and managed to spot a few hiding penguins in their holes. The scenery here reminded us a bit of Ireland, where the countryside meets the ocean, everywhere. It was so much prettier than we anticipated, and by this part of the trip we were pretty hard to impress.
Every night thousands of penguins return from the sea, on a single beach on the south-west corner of Phillip Island. They call it The Penguin Parade, because that’s exactly what it is – it’s like watching the Tamworth Country Music Cavlecade, but with less hats, whips, and more penguins – heaps more penguins.
The infrastructure is equally impressive, with an amphitheatre setup to house thousands of daily visitors, as they settle in at dusk to watch these tiny legends strut up the beach and into the sand hills.
We arrived just before dusk, found a good posi, and played the waiting game for a little while until the first group of penguins emerged from the sea, marching as a group for safety, ever-so-close to the hundreds of adoring humans surrounding them, and into the sand/grass hills. And one after the other, more and more penguin clusters emerged, providing some of the cutest memories imagineable.
After several scores of penguins had paraded into the mysterious hills, and the sun had long disappeared, the crowds started to disperse and we made our way back along the boardwalk over the top of the sand hills. This is when the fun began…
Everywhere we looked there were penguins, stacks of them. It’s quite incredible to witness – they enter the beach as a group of 20-30, and once they make it into the hills they start to peel off towards their individual addresses. Not kidding, they all have their own home and part ways with their group when they reach their house or turnoff – amazing.
This process multiplied by the dozens of groups that entered the beach results in an absolute chaos of Little Penguins sprawling everywhere. Many are quiet, some are calling out for whatever reason, and some even showed us a bit of penguin porno for good measure 😱.
As we finally decided we should get home to bed, hours after we arrived, we wandered along the final stretch of the path, with a dozen or so penguins marching right beside the path, to the furtherest suburb from the beach, obviously first-home buyers or they just love the outer-suburban space.
Photos were understandably prohibited, as you could imagine thousands of flashes scaring the little legends. It’s just one of those moments for the memory bank only – an absolute highlight of our year! 1,500 penguins were counted the previous night, and I reckon this night would’ve been similar.
Grand Prix circuit
A visit to Phillip Island isn’t complete without a visit to the famous racing circuit. We wouldn’t consider ourselves motorheads by any means, but we figured we should at least check it out, to see if we could run the WomBatmobile around for a hot lap.
Turns out the track is closed to the public, but there’s a replica go-kart track that was screaming our names. With Deb and Stu happy to mind Liv, Loz and I decided it was finally time to see who was the better driver in an environment where we could let our hair down.
It was early so we were first on the track, and the only ones which would mean there’d be no excuses for poor times.
It took only our second lap to have our first and only collision, as Loz couldn’t handle the pressure of me riding her tail, slamming the brakes and spinning around more than Dead or Alive’s one-hit-wonder. I reckon me clipping her tyres put the fear in her as she couldn’t catch me from that moment on, but she did manage to shave several seconds off her best time as the race went on.
The carts and track were excellent, with us averaging just over 50km/h, which feels like the speed of light when you’re bum is basically dragging on the ground.
Our friends, Shahn and Phil reckon that Wilsons Prom is their favourite Victorian destination, so our expectations were rather high as we were driving in. we knew very little about it, except that it’s the Aussie mainland’s most southern National Park, and there would be wombats.
The campsite at Tidal River, the only one accessible by car in the park is mcmassive; like 500 sites massive. Not only is it huge, the sites are worth more than a 2017 Crypto millionaire back living in their parents’ basement. For this reason we decided to share a site with Deb and Stu, which worked out well with heaps of space. After settling in we realised why the sites cost so much – nearly every site is shared between countless couples and groups, meaning the cost per person is far more reasonable.
We were a wombat’s poo from the gorgeous Norman’s Beach, where the tides were more not dissimilar to Cable Beach, where at low tide you’d need a packed lunch en-route to a swim. We also noticed that the sun seemingly never set in this part of the world, still beaming well after our normal bed time.
After some intense rounds of 500 with Deb and Stu when the sun finally set, Loz and I, headlamps fixated, went wandering, searching for wombats. There were wombat burrows every five metres, so we knew they were never far away, it was just a matter of timing. After about five minutes of searching we finally found a wombat, chilling by the side of the road, magnificent.
Oberon Summit Walk
There’s no denying The Prom is a young person’s place. We reckon, out of the 500 almost full sites, we spotted one other Strom couple, apart from Deb and Stu. Perhaps the expensive sites drive the greys away?
There are a squillion walks in the national park, including a number of overnighters. It would be an awesome place to return to and do some overnight hiking/camping. But little Livvy is a bit young at the moment.
After a cracking morning swim, with the weather on-point, Loz and I took full advantage and hit up one of the more popular short walks to the Mount Oberon Summit.
It was a relentless 3.4km uphill to the top, but the payoff at the summit was all-time, offering 360′ views of the white sandy beaches of Norman’s, Squeaky and Sealers Cove on a bluebird day. This payoff made it one of my favourite walks this year, an absolute ripper. A big shout out to Deb and Stu for minding Liv, allowing us some nice time together, and giving us opportunity to at last complete a walk on the short end of the recommended timing, rather than the long end.
For the beautiful afternoon we drove up to Squeaky Beach, named so because of the noise your feet make whilst walking on the sand. It was a beautiful beach, and really popular, which is unsurprising given its’ proximity to Melbourne on a banging weekend of weather.
And so began our winding down, relaxing end to the Wombatical. From hereon-in, our plan was more of the same; beaches, sun, a spot of fishing, and a bit of bingo for the ladies.