Don’t rain on my (penguin) parade – Phillip Island and The Mornington Peninsula

Phillip Island and The Mornington Peninsular

Last year Phil and I were lucky and had glorious weather when we visited The Mornington Peninsula with Melbourne Coastal Touring. This year, let us say, the weather was varied.  We are pretty much used to the unpredictability of Melbourne weather – after all this is the city that has four seasons in one day. We had booked again with Melbourne Coastal Touring, this time to extend the trip to Phillip Island, to see The Penguin Parade.

Penguin Parade on Phillip Island

The forecast was not good. Maximum of 12 degrees and lots of rain. Rug up we were told.

 

We looked like this before….                and like this afterwards.

We took a rug. Did not/could not use it. Sitting down was not an option. It was cold, windy, dark and raining stair rods. What use would a rug be?

Most people wisely bought these plastic rain covers, they still got soaked.

However penguin parade was worth getting drenched for.

OK. These are not real penguins. You are not allowed to take photos of the penguins. But you are allowed to take photos of toy penguins. So we did.

While the penguins were a joy to observe, I would recommend you do the trip in the summer or spring. Or choose a clear, dry autumn or winter day (and rug up). Check that weather forecast folks. It was cold and wet and the maximum anyone held out was fifteen minutes. A long way to go to see penguins in a squall.

Phillip Island

Before we went to the Penguin Parade, Campbell took us to see a few other highlights of Phillip Island, including a blustery walk at The Nobbies to see some nest boxes and Woolamai Beach.

English visitors may find some of the place names familiar on this island. Many places are named after towns on the Isle of Wight.

We visited the restricted area of Phillip Island Nature Park next to where you visit Penguins Parade. This area is closed at dusk to protect the wildlife. Once a residential area, eventually the beachfront residences were demolished in order to restore a habitat where the penguins and other wildlife would thrive.

More than penguins

The Penguin Parade is the last visit you make on this full day tour. I started with it at the top of this post as it is the highlight of the tour and the main reason people take this trip. However, before the penguins, there is a lot more to do and see on the way to Phillip Island.

Moonlit Sanctuary

The highlight of the day, for me, was the visit to the Moonlit Sanctuary. Sorry penguins. You are cute. I have wanted to see you ever since I watched a documentary about you but not in Force Ten weather conditions. I enjoyed the visit to the sanctuary more. Sorry not sorry.

Happily, the sun was shining when we arrived at Moonlit Sanctuary. Phil and I have visited similar places before, the first one while traveling along The Great Ocean Road. The owner of this private sanctuary shoved a  scruffy teddy bear with a koala perched upon it in front of us for photo opportunities. The wallabies and kangaroos were in pens. It was all a bit scruffy and run down. Not so Moonlit Sanctuary.

At Moonlit Sanctuary, the visit to the koalas are strictly monitored and limited.

The wallabies and kangaroos are free to roam.

Only the dangerous and endangered are restricted.

Except the geese. They roam free. They were scary – they had chicks – and daddy goose was not letting anyone near his family. One even took a chunk out of a wallaby.

It is in a beautiful setting, there is a cafe and rest room there and it would make a good family day out in the summer. Everyone on our tour thoroughly enjoyed their time here. Including the tour leader, Campbell. I think he loves his job.

Lunch and wine tasting at Montalto

On this tour lunch was a shared selection of three stone baked pizzas.  Broccolini, quattro formaggi pizza;Napoli, buffalo mozzarella & basil pizza;Roast pork, garlic, stracciatella, pickled chilli, chives pizza served with Chargrilled kale and broccolini with miso and sunflower at the Piazza Cafe at Montalto.

Lunch was preceded by a wine tasting and a stroll around the sculpture garden. The weather was still on our side.

I am assuming that Melbourne Coastal Touring are trying out various eateries for their tours. For a lunch this was a beautiful location. The wines we tasted were all very good. While I prefered the food I had last year at Red Hill Epicurean I can see why Montalto, with the sculpture garden, is a good location to stop off at on this tour. It offers the opportunity for a much needed stroll in the sunshine after being on a bus for over an hour.

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And as this tour naturally appeals to families with young children (cute penguins, koalas and kangaroos) it is a perfect place for a good quality pizza lunch for families, offering a relaxed environment for parents and children to explore the sculptures. Yet it is grown up enough for adults who enjoy wine tasting and a good lunch in pleasant surroundings.

It is worth noting that Montalto also has a fine dining option (12 Chefs Hats in The Age Good Food Guide since 2002). Pizza in the Piazza cafe offers good food for tour groups or those who want a more relaxed dining experience in a stunning location.

Beach Huts and Arthur’s seat

No visit to The Mornington Peninsula would be complete without the obligatory stops at the beach huts and Arthur’s Seat.

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Even on a cold day, as it was clear (for now) the views are stunning. The beach has been eroded considerably since our last visit in 2015.

Flinders and Chocolate

As we had made good time on the journey to Mornington, we were offered an optional visit to the chocolate shop at Flinders.

Phil and I had been before and so decided to wander around Flinders instead of taste chocolate. Delicious and quirky as it is, we are not big chocolate fans.

Flinders is a small town with some charming shops selling designer kitchenware, clothes and art with a General Store and Post Office. And interesting birds.

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Why use a tour company?

One of the reasons Phil and I choose to go on tours is to meet new people. On this tour there was a family from Jakarta and a young couple from Singapore. Interesting conversations over the dining table (every one asks us about Brexit) learning about other cultures, exchanging stories of travel and tours.

Expert knowledge

Another reason to use a tour is that you get the knowledge of your tour guide. If you use a really good company (check them out on TripAdvisor and Viator) the guides can make the day. Jason, who owns Melbourne Coastal Touring, was brought up and still lives in Mornington. It is a small family run company. Repeat business and recommendations are important to them. Quality matters. This is not always the case with all operators, so do your research.

Why not drive yourself?

I like to be driven. By a competent driver who knows the roads. I can vouch for both Jason and Campbell. If you did this trip yourself, it is almost a two hour drive to Melbourne from Phillip Island. And in wind and rain and the dark, not a drive I would want to do. Also the driver doesn’t get to appreciate the views so much along the way and there would be no tipples at the vineyard. Another reason to use a good tour operator.

Addendum

Melbourne Coastal Touring are now under new management and trading as Melbourne Boutique Tours. I am sure they are just as good as they were and would continue to recommend them. I will try them out next time I go Down Under.