Early in September, I had a weekend at Philip Island. I have not been there for 15 years so it was nice to return and it was a good chance to spend time with my lovely colleagues before leaving my group a week later. My (former) director organises these work retreats every year as a way of getting his group together for some social time out of Melbourne.
Philip Island is easily accessible by a road bridge connect San Remo on the mainland and Newhaven on the island. We stayed at the Island Accommodation in Newhaven. It is a hostel with lots of bunk beds and some shared bathrooms. We took up most of the 2nd floor so had the large kitchen and lounge areas to ourselves.
On our first evening we went to see the iconic Fairy penguin parade of Philip Island. They come out of the sea each evening in a waddle (which I think is what they call the group). We were asked not to take photos because if people accidentally use a flash then the penguins get so stressed they vomit up their fish. A fate I would not wish on anyone! The above photo is of everyone sitting on the seats where we watched them waddle our of the water when it got dark. I was glad there were many groups waddling up the beach unlike last time I visited.
Then we walked back along the duckboards and spent a lot of time watching the penguins socialising. As you can see from the info centre sign above, they were pretty frisky at this time of year. Really cute and noisy. There was a little stream that the occasional penguin cruised down on their belly. Others gathered on the bank or in tufts of grass. Some were so close to the duckboards, it would have been possible to reach out and pat them. Which I wanted to all the more after one of my colleagues was asking if they would be fluffy. But we resisted.
On Saturday we had a quick breakfast and then headed to Woolamai surf beach to start the Cape Woolamai Walk. Finding the start of the track was difficult and signposting was generally pretty minimal. I really enjoyed the 7-8 km walk but my legs were pretty stiff the next day.
We started with a walk along the beach. The surf beach is wild and dangerous with huge crashing waves. It was incredibly windy at this part of the walk. The cliffs that looked over the sand were quite eroded with various coloured earth, tufts of grass and spindly tree roots sticking out. We got to the charmingly named Magic land stairs.
Walking up high was great to look down at the water, the cliffs, the rock formations. The landscape around us was just shaggy grass. There were very few trees, only a few small shrubs. We passed by caves that reminded me of smugglers in Enid Blyton, saw wild waves crashing against the rocks and calm clear blue seas, and finally reached the above view of the pinnacles.
Not far on, we saw an echidna rooting around for food just by the walking track. It is pretty rare to see this ancient native mammal that lays eggs. You can see a hole behind the echidna in the photo where it has dug for ants. It was amazing to stop and watch this cute little bundle of spikes.
We kept walking to the lookout where we could see the mainland across Philip Island. Then as we walked on the landscape changed into woodlands. More trees and ferns and plants wrapped around tree trunks. We saw a wallaby still as a statue among the trees.
Suddenly we arrived at the Old Granite Quarry. The gentle waves on the beach here were so different to the rough foaming surf earlier on in the walk. We clambered over the piles of roughly hewn stones. I might have needed a little help. The views stretched to the bridge between the mainland and the island.
We walked across the beach in Cleeland Bight. The sign said that there was no beach access at high tide so we were lucky it was low. The cliffs here were just loose sand that would be difficult to climb. In fact, the beach was pretty soft too. Gradually all of us took off our shoes because it was easier to walk closer to the tide where the sand was firmer. We looked at rock pools, shells and old bones. The last was a bit exciting to all the true crime enthusiasts. Then there was a quick walk through some trees and we were back at the carpark.
We were pretty hungry after the walk and drove to the Island Burger Bar for lunch. I was pleased that one of the vegetarian burgers was called The Pinnacle (after the rock formation we saw on the walk). So there was no question of which one I ordered. It had a house-made broccoli, zucchini & quinoa patty, grilled pumpkin, salad and vegan mayo. I also had a small side of chips. The burger looked small but it was really filling.
Then some of the group went on for a short chilly swim and two of us drove to the supermarket for drinks and to see some of the Cowes wildlife in the carpark. Honestly the two men arguing were old enough to know better!
Back at our accommodation I was glad for a lie down before heading to the kitchen which was buzzing with my colleagues preparing dishes for dinner. There were a few steaks, lots of salads, and a lot of work being done on making fantastic dumplings from scratch. I made a favourite smoky potato, bean and corn salad. Dinner was great and everyone is always very kind in making sure there is plenty of vegie food for me. It has always impressed me at these retreats how good the group is at working together in the kitchen both preparing and cleaning up.
Our director was too busy to come to the retreat but he appeared by zoom to conduct the annual trivia quiz. One of the post docs had been the Philip Island chocolate factory for prizes. It was great fun. The weekend of our retreat was the Moon Festival so one of our Chinese colleagues has made these beautiful moon cakes to have with dessert (sticky date pudding!). There was more footy on the telly and more cleaning up and it was time for bed.
On Sunday morning we packed and left. I drove to Island Wholefoods in Cowes and had some Buckwheat pancakes for breakfast. The cafe was all vegan and my pancakes were also gluten free. The three fluffy buckwheat pancakes looked so pretty served with chia berry jam, toasted nuts and seeds, fresh strawberries, coconut ice cream and a drizzle of maple syrup, plus some berries and banana on the side. It is so long since I have had pancakes that I really enjoyed them but could not finish the huge dish.
As I ate, a little bird watched me and constantly hopped onto my outdoor table. As soon as I finished eating, the bird snatched some of my leftovers. I heard someone call it a honey eater so I looked it up and it looked most like a Yellow Wattlebird but the internet says these are only found in Tasmania across Bass Strait. The Little Wattlebird is common on the island but seems a bit smaller than my friend. Please let me know if you are better at birdwatching than me.
I also spotted more birdlife on the island. A galah flying past my bedroom window in the morning, a kookaburra sitting on a road sign and did not quite look like it. And there were quite a few cape barron geese walking with chicks along the roadside.
I had a quick walk along the pier in Cowes to take in the ocean once more before heading home.
The weekend we were away was the weekend after Queen Elizabeth's death had been announced. While we talked about it a bit there was not much sign of it about but at the Cowes pier, the flags were at half mast in a sign of respect.
Lastly, I made a few last impulsive purchases before heading home. I bought a few chocolates at the lolly shop and also a pair of Merry People's beautiful green gumboots.
Other holidays in the East of Victoria on Green Gourmet Giraffe: