More than just penguins

Discovered in 1798 by George Bass, Phillip Island has blossomed from land which was leased to graze sheep into one of Victoria’s most visited tourist areas. The tourism boom began when the wealthier inhabitants of Melbourne took off to the coast for their holidays. The building of the Isle of Wight hotel, which sadly burnt down in 2010, marked the beginning of the town of Cowes and was where Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck stayed while filming the movie On the Beach in 1958.

Nowadays, Phillip Island is largely known for the famous Penguin Parade, but it has so much more to offer. Below are our suggestions for where to eat, stay and be moved by one of Victoria’s gems.

Harry’s on the Esplanade in Cowes offers a memorable combination of old fashioned, white napkin dining (at tables spaced far enough apart so that you can hear your companion’s murmured sweet nothings absolutely clearly), magnificent seafood and an unbeatable view of the sea. Owner and chef, Harry Schmidt, is originally from Germany, but has spent years in Mornington honing his skills, cooking local produce and offering true hospitality. 

The island has many great hotels and resorts but, as is often the case, the personal attention and service which you receive in a good B&B or guesthouse is difficult to beat. Genesta House, in Cowes, is over 100 years old and has many period features. The rooms are traditionally decorated with just a hint of contemporary touches, giving them a luxurious feel. There are four ensuite rooms from which to choose and the large buffet-style breakfast will hold you in good stead as you take off for the day to explore.

While there are plenty of opportunities to spot Phillip Island’s much-loved wildlife, taking some time out to remember those who fought in Vietnam provides a different dimension to a stay on the island. Opened in March 2007, the National Vietnam Veterans Museum is dedicated to the preservation and display of photographs, memorabilia, vehicles, weapons and aircraft, which tell the story of Australian involvement in the Vietnam War from 1962 to 1972, (Australia’s longest war). Don’t miss the very moving Light and Sound show.

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