Day 15: Wilsons Promontory, Phillip Island

I woke up just after sunrise in my tent in the Tidal River campground.  With the early start, I managed to get in two hikes before leaving Wilsons Promontory: Lilly Pilly Gully and Mount Oberon.

The hike through Lilly Pilly Gully is mostly flat except for the ascent and descent up the side of Mount Bishop.  The low, flat parts are a rainforest, with ferns and ferntrees covering the ground by tranquil streams.

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The gully teems with wildlife, especially just after sunrise when I wandered through the area.  It was here that I saw my first kangaroo in Australia and then more shortly thereafter.  It was hard to get pictures of kangaroos, because typically once I encountered one, it would hop off into the foliage before I could get my camera ready.

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After leaving the gully, I made my way to the Mount Oberon.  The hike from the Telegraph Saddle carpark to the summit and back took me about two hours.  It is mostly on a dirt road up the mountain.  Once at the top of the mountain, you can see the campground and the beaches far below.  The skies were clear and the ocean was a stunning shade of blue, a perfect day for taking in some outstanding views.

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I drove from Wilsons Promontory to Phillip Island, a mostly flat, agricultural island , located about 140 km from Melbourne, with stunning ocean views and lots of opportunities to view and learn about Australian wildlife.  I arrived in Phillip Island at about 3:00 in the afternoon.  Even that late in the day, I managed to see a lot of the island’s major attractions.  I bought a three-in-one pass at the Visitor Center, which got me admission to Churchill Island, the Koala Conservation Centre and the Penguin Parade.

Churchill Island is a working farm that had been the home of a wealthy stonemason from Melbourne.  The beautiful island is well manicured with lovely gardens.  The staff perform various farming demonstrations like cow milking and sheep shearing throughout the day.

The Koala Conservation Centre is home to about 20 koalas.  It was designed to protect the koalas that had lived on Phillip Island but were ending up getting hit by cars and attacked by foxes, which had been unwisely introduced to Australia from overseas.  The koalas are cute little animals, but they don’t really make for exciting viewing because they sleep up in eucalyptus trees for about 20 hours a day.  The centre has excellent displays about koalas though.  I ended up seeing more koalas and getting better pictures later on in my trip.

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I had some time before the Penguin Parade, which starts after sunset, so I went to the Nobbies.  These are craggy cliffs situated at the far western edge of Phillip Island.  You can look through “seal spy” cameras to watch seals playing out on the rocks further off.  The cliffs in the area are beautiful, but the seagulls will remind you of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and the area is practically covered in bird droppings.

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Just before sunset, I made my way over to the Penguin Parade, one of Australia’s most popular wildlife attractions.  The visitor center has several displays about these fascinating animals.  Around sunset, the staff ushers the guests out to a boardwalk and down to an amphitheater at the water’s edge to watch the penguins as they come ashore to their nests.  The penguins wake up early and spend most of the day out in the water.  When the sun goes down, the penguins’ predators, particularly those nasty seagulls I saw at the Nobbies, have decided to call it a night. The penguins begin coming up to the beach in their pods, peeking out to see if everything is safe for their trip back to their nests.  Sometimes the pod will venture out only to turn back if they think they may be in danger.  It was fun watching the penguins march up past the amphitheater and into their nests.  Unfortunately, they don’t allow you to take pictures of the penguins there.

I made the long drive back to Melbourne that night.  Luckily, after seeing lots of Australian wildlife that day, I didn’t encounter any animals on the road on the way back.  I would probably recommend staying overnight on Phillip Island instead of going back all the way to Melbourne if you’re watching the Penguin Parade because the ride is somewhat long and not always well lit until you reach the city.

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