Top Tips for Planning the Perfect Day Trip to Phillip Island, Victoria

Tips For A Good Experience on Phillip Island

Seen all there is to Melbourne City? Why not take a day trip to Phillip Island to marvel at The Nobbies and witness a crowd-favourite: the adorable penguin parade?

Phillip Island is one of my favourite places in the world, and also a must-do day trip if you’re visiting Melbourne. I’ve had the privilege of seeing some really spectacular views in my life but none can compare to the views that Phillip Island offers. Just taking a walk down the Nobbies boardwalk can make me feel so free and at peace at the same time.

travel tips phillip island

Just look at this view and imagine your worries washing away with each crashing wave

Two things are touted as de rigueur when it comes to Phillip Island:

1) the Nobbies boardwalk, and
2) the world famous Penguin Parade

If you don’t have enough time to see everything, make time for just these two!

I will attempt to detail some tips for a Phillip Island half-day itinerary, taking much expert reference from The Little Penguin Bus – a mini tour bus company that I found by chance, LOVED and would strongly recommend. They only take up to ten people per bus, and it really makes a huge difference to your experience.

Day tour or self-drive?

If you intend to go for a full day tour, I recommend that you go with a smaller bus. Smaller buses mean:

  • Lesser waiting around for fellow tourists to be done with their activities
  • More time at each sightseeing spot
  • More personalised story-telling from your guide
  • And overall, a richer experience

Smaller tour buses also mean that you will get to leave Phillip Island much later, as there are lesser people to drop off when you are back in the city! I had a lot of time for shopping at the souvenir shop and got to leave Phillip Island at around 9pm with The Little Penguin Bus.

If you’re going to be doing a self-drive tour, it is a good idea to just plot out the route via GPS at least a couple of days ahead, so that you know how long it takes. The designated driver should also be comfortable with driving in pitch darkness, as it will definitely be dark out when you leave Phillip Island.

I remember the days of being part of a giant 40-pax tour group when I was a kid and having to be herded around by a frazzled tour guide whose only concern was making it to the next stop on time. I hated travelling in large groups as I could hardly ever hear what the guide was talking about at sightseeing spots, which makes for a rather diluted travelling experience.

When to go?

Image credit: The 3B’s

I’ve been to the Penguin Parade and the Nobbies Boardwalk (located at Summerlands, on the way to Phillip Island) twice so far. The first time I went was on a Sunday and it was so crowded!

Things to consider when deciding when to go:

  • Try to do it on a weekday – the crowd is more manageable as compared to visiting during the weekends
  • Consider the season in which you’re travelling. For eg. in the winter months from May to August, the sun sets much earlier. Penguins arrive at sunset every day. So if the sun sets earlier, you need to be at the Penguin Parade earlier, which means you probably need to leave Melbourne by 1pm to be safe
  • If you are visiting during the summer months from December to February, you have more time to play with, and can even leave for Phillip Island as late as 3pm from Melbourne. Remember to factor in some buffer time for traffic jams when going out of the city, especially if you are heading into Phillip Island from Fridays to Sundays!

You can check the penguin arrival times all year round here!

Buying tickets for the Penguin Parade

The first time I visited the Parade, I bought a General Viewing ticket, which costs about AUD$26/pax (~S$26.30). The result was that I could barely see anything because the general viewing platform can take up to 3,000 visitors… Just imagine – with 3,000 heads bobbing around, there’s not much to see! I glimpsed some large shadows of what must be waddles of penguins and that was it.

travel tips phillip island

You can see the general viewing platform along the beach, at the top left-hand corner of this picture – I took this from our tour bus when we were heading over from the Nobbies

I was determined to have a better experience on my next visit. Having read so many good reviews about the Penguins Plus – an exclusive and limited capacity viewing platform – I decided to go with this option. BOY, was it worth every. extra. dollar. From 7.30pm to 8.30pm, I sat out there while the freezing ocean winds whipped at my face… but I didn’t quite notice the numbness because hundreds and hundreds of penguins kept coming onto shore, right in front of me!

I am not exaggerating.

It was so up-close and personal that you can see each penguin observing all these humans in front of them, tilting their tiny heads, and sometimes even airing their fins… which was super adorable.

The walkway leading into the Penguins Plus platform – completely clear!

Penguins Plus are going at AUD$50 (~S$50.70) per ticket and is certainly steep compared to General Viewing at ~AUD$26. But allow me to put forth the case that under general viewing if all you see are 3,000 heads bobbing around, it would have been AUD$26 wasted in any case! So you might as well spend a little more since you apparently already decided to come all the way out. And when you do, know that every cent of your ticket price goes into conserving this beautiful place.

For penguin enthusiasts, you can go all the way and buy Underground Viewing at AUD$65(~S$65.90) – which allows you to access a viewing panel right underneath the Penguins Plus platform. You can see all the penguins up close at eye-level through a glass panel and away from the weather elements, and see them waddling back to their burrows! There are also ranger-guided tours of up to 10 pax per tour, which apparently takes you onto the beach where you can see penguins emerging from the sea. I imagine that it would definitely be an extremely personal and overwhelmingly educational experience!

At the Penguin Parade

Entry point to the Penguin Parade

The viewing area is right in front of the ocean, and there is completely no blockage. Perfect for penguin viewing…but not so pleasant for those who come dressed unprepared!

At any time of the year, I recommend that you prepare for the following types of outerwear, or a combination of a few:

  1. A thick hooded, windproof jacket, with at least another thinner layer underneath. Uniqlo’s HeatTech range is your best friend for inner layers!
  2. A scarf of some sort, if your jacket doesn’t have a sturdy high collar
  3. Headwear, like a beanie or a cap, if you are prone to head colds
  4. A sensible pair of covered shoes and sensible socks
  5. Windproof gloves, if your hands grow chilly easily

I spotted Caucasians wearing board shorts or bermudas, and remember exclaiming to my mum that my legs would become icicles if I exposed any part of my legs like this! Hypothermia is not a good look on anyone, so bundle up!

If you register with a really awesome tour bus company, like The Little Penguin Bus, they even provide blankets for each tourist!

Things to note during the actual viewing:

  • Be patient and stay seated! The penguins take time to appear, so standing up (and blocking those behind you) is not cool at all, guys. On my recent visit, there were some inconsiderate visitors who actually shouted at the rangers who told them to sit down! You are not the only one who paid for a ticket and everyone’s just here to have a good time. A little consideration goes a long way!
  • No photography of the penguins is allowed at all – be it flash or non-flash Read more about their completely reasonable policy here
  • Even if you don’t make it to the viewing start time, don’t panic! The penguins arrive in hordes for at least an hour or so, continuously. The majority of people, especially on the General Viewing platform, tend to disappear after the first 30 minutes or so, because their large tour buses need to leave earlier. For eg. my viewing start time was 7.25pm, but penguins were still arriving even up to 8.30pm!

Here’s the viewing platform at 8.30pm. Completely empty, save for the first row, that I was sitting on when I took this picture

What else besides penguins?

The Nobbies

travel tips phillip island

The spot of the majestic blowhole at the Nobbies

I’ve mentioned the Nobbies boardwalk a couple of times above, and this is really a must-visit spot if you’re going to Phillip Island. Again, consider going on a weekday, because lesser crowds mean more breathing space!

travel tips phillip island

This is the lookout point over the famous blowhole along the Nobbies boardwalk, and it was completely empty on a gorgeous Wednesday evening!

More of the winding boardwalk

Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park

We stopped here on the way to the Penguin Parade, and the name is quite self-explanatory – a wildlife conservation park! This is a delightful place for animal lovers. You’ll get to feed baby wallabies and joeys, and adult kangaroos too if you please (or if you can even get their attention to begin with)! There’s also a wombat, a grumpy emu (pictured below) and a koala show at certain timings. Get your tickets here.

Grumpy emu who must be tired of people peering at it all year round

And… that’s all for now!

I’ve been told that at St Kilda’s Beach (near where the Instagram-worthy Brighton Bathing Boxes are), you can also spot penguins, but I personally haven’t experienced it as I was there only during sunset once for the view. It doesn’t hurt to try though! Just remember that there is beauty around you no matter where you visit when you learn to just appreciate the moment for what it is. Enjoy!

About Author

Bell Yeo
Bell Yeo

Bell enjoys reading, food photography, writing and running. Her meals are filed under #wunderbelly on Instagram, and her favourite author is Khaled Hosseini. She also makes a mean potato salad, and will share if you ask nicely. As for travel, she has a particular penchant for Australia and only has the state of South Australia and the Northern Territory left to conquer in this lifetime! She blogs at


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