Going to Melbourne and spending some time with family is always something I look forward to. Besides being able to put up at Mom’s place for as long as I wish, my two married sisters will always make sure that my time in Melbourne is well-spent – be it catching up with close relatives, window shopping, visiting Melbourne’s historical monuments and city attractions, or joining their famiies for outings to explore Victoria’s many natural attractions.
This time round, my sister announced that she and her family would be bringing me to Philip Island, staying for three nights in a time-share resort. This would be my first time to Philip Island so I was pretty excited about the prospect of getting some great photographs. Getting the chance to join my sister, brother-in-law and nephew was the icing on the cake as the family are nature lovers, spending weekends in the outdoors and making short trips to those places less trodden without burning a big hole in the pocket!
The drive from Melbourne to Philip Island is about 130km and takes about an hour and forty-five minutes. Due to the after-office crawl on the highway, however, we only arrived in Phillip Island two-and-a-half hours later and checked into the villa after dark.
The next day, we drove to Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island’s most southerly point that’s world renown for its surf beaches, natural beauty and shearwater rookery (mutton birds). In fact, Cape Woolamai has been declared a National Surfing Reserve, where you can just enjoy the beach and watch daring surfers in action. If coming here is in your itinerary, make sure you are prepared to walk a few kilometres in from the Woolamai Beach Surf Lifesaving Club carpark.
From the carpark, we walked down a wooden ramp to the beach and made our way along a wide strip of sand towards an outcrop that juts out from Cape Woolamai. On the other side of this rocky point is the spectacular granite formation called the Pinnacles.
About 700 meters before reaching the end of the beach, we came to a wooden staircase leading up to the sandy grass-covered bluffs that connect the rocky end of Cape Woolamai with the rest of Phillip Island.
Once at the top, the rugged landscape of Cape Woolamai opens up to views of red cliffs, blue oceans, rocky shores and golden beaches.
There is a sign here highlighting four of the most rewarding walking track loops that run along the coastline and are interspersed with viewing platforms that offer superb views of Phillip Island. Each track is identified with a different colour marker, and varies in distance and terrain.
- Pinnacles Walk – The green track is 4.5km long, with an estimated walking time of 2 hours return. The path winds along rugged granite cliffs and impressive rock formations known as The Pinnacles.
- Cape Woolamai Beacon Walk – The black track is 7.4km long and continues past the Pinnacles to the light beacon at the high point of Cape Woolamai (118m) before looping back around the end of the cape. It has an estimated walking time of 3.5 hours
- Old Granite Quarry Walk – The blue track is 5.6km long with an estimated walking time of 3 hours. It crosses over to the east side of the cape that was once the site of an old rock quarry.
- Cape Woolamai Circuit Walk is 8km return and takes about 4.5 hours to compete all three walking tracks.
Our initial plan was to take the shortest of the three walks – the Pinnacles Walk (2 hours round trip), leave Cape Woolamai by 4pm and finish the day with a hearty dinner in town before returning to the resort.
However, by the time we arrived at the junction where the walking trails branched out, all initial plans were forgotten. Since my sister’s family had not tried out the inland route, we decided to start with the Cape Woolamai Beacon Walk first, and then head back via the Pinnacles Walk so that we could take in the ocean scenery for the remainder hike back to the carpark.
The Cape Woolamai Beacon trail enters some woodlands, which provide the only shady area in Cape Woolamai. As we approached the beacon, the trees gave way to shrubs and we continued the long hike on undulating terrain before finally arriving at Cape Woolamai’s beacon.
At an elevation of 118m, the beacon sits at the highest point on Cape Woolamai and all of Phillip Island. While looking seemingly ordinary, this light beacon is responsible for keeping ships from running into Phillip Island!
It is also from this lookout point that we got to see stunning panoramas of the island, including the Bass Strait that separates Victoria from the island of Tasmania.
From the beacon, we took the left trail that looped round along the sheer cliff tops towards the direction of the Pinnacles. You know you’ve reach there when you see a wooden bench at the edge of the grassy bluff with spectacular views of granite formations that make up the Pinnacles. Here, sea stacks resembling connected rock columns rise out of the water and strong waves crash into the rocks, exuding energy, anticipation and excitement to the seascape. If the views are so mesmerising from the top, how stunning the Pinnacles must look if seen up close from the rocky shoreline!
However, none of us attempted to venture down the rocky shoreline as it was already getting dark and the path looked rather unsafe. You need to go down the narrow trail leading towards the steep embankment overlooking the bottom. Extra care is needed to make sure that you don’t slip on the soft soil held together with loose vegetation. I wasn’t prepared to take the risk of injuring myself so early into my stay in Australia.
During the hike, we spotted a number of curious wallabies and one echidna which was trying its best to hide away from us. Dotting the cliff sides, we also saw many burrows dug by short-tailed mutton birds.
Mutton birds are plucky creatures. Around the last week of September every year, they brave a 15,000km journey from Alaska via Siberia, South America, Antarctica and Japan to arrive on the shores of Philip Island. They remain for nearly six months to rest, build their burrows and mate, with each pair producing one large egg. The newly born chicks have an extraordinary penchant for survival – waiting up to two weeks between meals whilst the adult birds travel to as far as the Antarctica to feed on krill, which they regurgitate for their waiting chicks back in the burrows of Philip Island. We managed to see the occasional mutton bird and spotted a chick or two peeping out from their burrows.
While the walking routes at Cape Woolamai appear generally flat and undulating, it is a physically challenging one. The first half of the trail is over deep sand that gives way with every step. It was energy-draining and exhausting to walk on. Near the stairs, the beach becomes somewhat rocky and rough and the rest of the walk along the cliff is laden with loose stones that are quite slippery. If you’re not confident with your level of fitness, you might want to give this place a miss and check out Philip Island’s other natural but less strenuous attractions.
It’s also best to be accompanied by someone if you are thinking of doing this track. Should the unthinkable happen, at least someone can go for help.
In addition to your camera and binoculars, I would bring along a jacket, biscuits and a plentiful supply of water. While it may have looked like a nice, sunny day, the winds were strong and it was actually very cold. I had my jacket on during the entire 8.5km walk. A torch would be worth packing especially during the winter months when daylight hours are shortened. The most important thing is to make sure you wear solid shoes with a good grip for traction on the slippery rocks.
By the time we got back to the carpark, everyone was very hungry and looking forward to having fish ‘n chips for dinner. To our utter disappointment, most of the eating places in town were already shut by 7pm. We finally ended up having Chinese food in a small cafe.