27 to 28 November 2019
Balnarring to Cowes, 112km
Maybe it was in honour of my heritage but when we got to Philip Island we headed straight to Cowes, named in keeping with Australia’s fondness for recycling British town names. At 26km long and 9km wide Philip Island is much smaller than the Isle of Wight
and to be honest Cowes did not look very much like its namesake. It did, however, have the kind of seaside ingredients you would expect with a high street full of cafes selling fish and chips, souvenir shops and the best ice creams we’ve had since Italy. The town was a great base from which to experience the island’s famous wildlife.
In fact we needed to go no further than our caravan park for some close encounters. On our first night we were startled awake by a sound that resembled something like a herd of elephants crashing towards us. This was followed by what sounded like raindrops falling on the tent. Not elephants, possums and not rain, possum pee!! Stefan caught this one on the fence behind us. We quickly regretted taking advantage of the shady tree!
This was not the wildlife we were hoping for. We were after penguins. So we drove to the south western most tip of the island in search.
First, however, we found Antarctica! At the Antarctic Journey we went on a virtual trip to the continent 5000km to the south including a very short stay in the freeze zone to experience the icy temperature we might expect if we were really there.
Thermal imaging cameras taught us that penguins would fare a good deal better than us in that kind of cold.
Enormous multi media screens plunged us into the world of sharks, penguins and seals
and thanks to some augmented reality we got to pet penguins, seals and orcas.
Outside the real coastline was stunning, the green and pink of the cliffs contrasting with the jet black of the rocks and the bright white of the crashing waves.
To the west we could just make out Cape Schanck and the coast of the Mornington Peninsula.
A series of boardwalks took a route around the nests of the famous fairy penguins, some man made and some dug into the dunes. Most of the nests were empty as the penguins spend daylight hours fishing at sea but there were some stragglers who’d stayed behind for the day. Every night 32000 fairy penguins return to their nests watched by 2300 tourists at the penguin parade. We decided to give it a miss. There are colonies of them on Tasmania’s north west coast where we will be for Christmas and hope to see them without coachloads of others.
Out at the Nobbies we could look out at colonies of other seabirds and towards Seal Island where even through binoculars we could see no sign of life.
There were, however, lots of pretty Cape Barren geese everywhere. We had to avoid hitting them on the roads.
Inland we took a short walk to Swan Lake and the wildlife encounters continued. This Swamp Wallaby seemed to be posing for the camera.
And Swan Lake wasn’t named for nothing. It was home to lots of black swans and some relatively rare Black-faced Cormorants.
Returning from the south of the island my Isle of Wight roots drew my eye to signs for Ventnor but Ventnor, Philip Island, turned out to be not much more than a couple of streets of houses and a windswept beach with some very pretty coloured rocks.
By now we had managed a run of 10 nights in the tent and our luck had clearly run out. Heavy rain was forecast so we quickly found an Air BnB for the night back on the mainland where we could come up with a plan for the next week…