Fairy penguins, Gary Lewis / Explore Australia Publishing

Population 4217

Situated on the north side of Phillip Island, Cowes is its major town. It is linked to the Mornington Peninsula by a passenger ferry service to Stony Point and by road to Melbourne via the San Remo bridge. The Cowes foreshore offers fantastic coastal walks and safe swimming beaches, with the focal point being the town's jetty. It is a popular fishing spot, as well as a departure point for several ferries. Seal-watching cruises to Seal Rocks operate from the jetty and are the best way to see the fascinating fur seals close-up. A major drawcard for the island is the International Motorcycle Grand Prix, which has been held since 1928. There is an abundance of other activities and events that attract 3.5 million visitors to Phillip Island each year. All are within easy reach of Cowes.

Visitor Information

91–97 Thompson Ave; (03) 5951 3396 or 1300 366 422

Nearby national parks

  • Yarra Ranges National Park

    Lofty mountain ash bathed in mist, rare and endangered plants and animals, snow in winter and pristine pockets of bushland make Yarra Ranges...more

  • Kinglake National Park

    Surrounding the township of Kinglake, this bush retreat close to Melbourne offers views of the Yarra Valley, the city skyline and Port...more

  • Brisbane Ranges National Park

    In Brisbane Ranges National Park low mountains are dissected by rugged gorges and hidden gullies with basalt grasslands and woodlands. An...more

Nearby towns

  • Flinders VIC

    Flinders is set on the south coast of the Mornington Peninsula, a region famous for its wineries. During the 1880s, it became known as a...more

  • Mornington

    Mornington was once the hub of the Mornington Peninsula, which is the reason this long arm of land was eventually given the same name. Today...more

  • Wonthaggi

    Once the main supplier of coal to the Victorian Railways, Wonthaggi, near the beachside town of Cape Paterson, is South Gippsland's...more

In Town

Seal-watching cruises: depart from the jetty to Seal Rocks; bookings on 1300 763 739. 


Penguin Parade The nightly penguin parade is Phillip Island’s most popular attraction. During this world-famous event, little penguins emerge from the sea after a tiring fishing expedition and cross Summerland Beach to their homes in the dunes. Tours run at sunset each night, and the penguins can be spotted from the boardwalks and viewing platforms. The site also has an interactive visitor centre with fascinating details about these adorable creatures. Note that no cameras are allowed beyond the visitor centre. Bookings on (03) 5951 2800; 12 km SW.

The Nobbies Centre and Seal Rocks An interactive centre gives visitors an insight into local marine life, including Australia’s largest colony of Australian fur seals via cameras that you can control yourself. Outside, the island features a cliff-side boardwalk with views of the fantastic natural landmark The Nobbies and out to Seal Rocks. Walk around to the Blowhole to hear the thunderous noise of huge waves and look out for the nesting sites of vast colonies of seagulls and short-tailed shearwaters that migrate to the island annually. Informative displays explain each natural attraction. Ventnor Rd; 15 km SW.

Phillip Island Wildlife Park: features native fauna, with visitors able to handfeed kangaroos and wallabies; Phillip Island Rd; (03) 5952 2038; 3 km S.

Koala Conservation Centre: view these lovely creatures in their natural habitat from an elevated boardwalk; Phillip Island Rd; (03) 5951 2800; 5 km SE.

Grand Prix Circuit: the circuit is steeped in both old and recent history, which is detailed thoroughly in the visitor centre. You can also go go-karting on a replica of the Grand Prix track; Back Beach Rd; (03) 5952 9400; 6 km S.

A Maze ’N Things: family fun park featuring a large timber maze, optical-illusion rooms and ‘maxigolf’; Phillip Island Rd; 6 km SE.

Rhyll Inlet: wetlands of international significance, with the marshes and mangroves providing an important breeding ground for wading birds. There are various loop walks, as well as an excellent view from the Conservation Hill Observation Tower; 7 km E.

Rhyll Trout & Bush Tucker Farm: fish for rainbow trout in the indoor Rainforest Pool, take a fishing lesson or wander around the self-guide bush tucker trail; open 10am–5pm; 36 Rhyll Newhaven Rd, Rhyll; (03) 5956 9255. 

Wineries: Philip Island Vineyard and Winery offers tastings, sales and casual dining; Berrys Beach Rd; (03) 5956 8465; 7 km SW. Purple Hen Wines also offers tastings and light meals; McFees Rd, Rhyll; (03) 5956 9244; 9 km SE

Churchill Island: a road bridge provides access to this protected parkland, which features a historic homestead, a walking track and abundant birdlife; 16 km  SE

National Vietnam Veterans Museum: details the history of Australian involvement in the Vietnam War, displays around 6000 artefacts; 25 Veterans Dr, Newhaven; (03) 5956 6400; 16 km SE

Phillip Island Chocolate Factory: visit Panny’s Amazing World of Chocolate with information on the chocolate-making process and a model of Dame Edna made from 12 000 chocolate pieces; visitors can even make their own chocolate; Newhaven; (03) 5956 6600; 16 km SE

Pelicans: see these unusual birds up close, with feeding time daily at 12pm; San Remo Pier (opposite the Fishing Co-op); 17 km SE

Cape Woolamai: the beach is renowned for its fierce and exciting surf (patrolled in season). From the beach there are a number of 2–4 hr loop walks, many to the southern end of the cape and passing the Pinnacles rock formations on the way. South of Cape Woolamai township; 18 km SE.

Wildlife Wonderland: centre includes the Earthworm Museum, a giant earthworm and Wombat World; (03) 5678 2222; 31 km E.

Fishing spots near town

Elephant Triangle 7 km

Fishing for elephant fish in Western Port has become an institution. Anglers hang out for the first signs that the fish are starting to migrate into the bay. In general terms, the Elephant Triangle (GPS: S38.26.826,... Find out more

Cowes to Cat Bay 7 km

Cowes to Cat Bay, along Phillip Island, is a popular area for anglers chasing whiting, squid, snapper and gummy shark. Cowes jetty, a favourite with holidaymakers, is a productive platform that often produces elephant... Find out more

Snapper Spots 8 km

Many snapper anglers prefer to concentrate along the edges of the main shipping channels. The deep water running along the western shore of Phillip Island from the Nobbies to Cowes (Buoys 1–13) is a proven snapper... Find out more

Mosquito Channel 9 km

Corinella is about 115 km south- east of Melbourne on the eastern side of Western Port. There is a jetty, slipway and a 24-hour all-tide boat ramp. Anglers who launch their boats here regard these waters as something... Find out more

Middle Spit 11 km

One of the most popular destinations for boating anglers is the Middle Spit, located along the western shore of French Island. Regarded as a whiting hotspot, it’s just a matter of knowing where to go and the tide... Find out more

Carrum 43 km

The Launching Way boat ramp facility at Carrum is the best in the bay but during snapper season anglers who haven’t launched their boats and parked their cars by about 6am have to go elsewhere. Managed by Parks... Find out more

Patterson River 44 km

The Patterson River is well known for bream, and walking and bike tracks on both sides of the river offer ease of access for bank fishing. The most productive waters are in the marinas between the Mornington Peninsula... Find out more

Portsea to Point Nepean 52 km

The annual salmon migration into the bay is part of a chain of fish migrations including snapper and baitfish species such as sandy sprats and pilchards, as well as krill. For the salmon, it isn’t so much the need... Find out more

Anderson Inlet 52 km

Some would argue that Anderson Inlet, near Inverloch, isn’t an estuary but a bay. It has three creeks, Screw, Pound and Cherry Tree, plus the Tarwin River flowing in to it, and is situated about 140 km south-east... Find out more

Queenscliff 54 km

Queenscliff harbour has a solid reputation for mullet, silver trevally and salmon. In some years, large runs of couta can be enjoyed in the harbour, and garfish are a common late-autumn visitor. On the debit side, the... Find out more

Eco-friendly activities around town

Wildlife-watching - Phillip Island 6 km

Phillip Island is best known for the little penguins that come ashore every night (bookings essential). But spend time exploring the area and you will find Seal Rocks, with Australia’s largest colony of fur-seals,... Find out more

Swim with dolphins, Sorrento 45 km

In the warmer six months of the year, the eco-accredited Moonraker Charters will help you get in the water, swimming alongside Australian fur-seals and bottlenose dolphins. Of course, swimming is not compulsory on the... Find out more

Marine Discovery Centre, Queenscliff 54 km

Primarily set up to educate school children about the marine environment, this government-run facility also has an interesting holiday program and an interactive aquarium and touch tanks. Holiday activities include... Find out more

Golf courses around town

RACV Cape Schanck Resort 30 km

Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula has boomed as a golfing destination during the past 15 years, with some of the finest course designers lining up for a crack at creating a masterpiece on this premium piece of... Find out more

The National Golf Club (Old course) 31 km

Australia’s largest golf club, The National boasts three 18-hole courses – the Old, Ocean and Moonah layouts – all spread across exceptional ocean-side terrain on the Mornington Peninsula, at Cape... Find out more

The National Golf Club (Moonah Course) 31 km

While Peter Thomson’s design team got to work on the Ocean course, The National hired Greg Norman and his chief architect Bob Harrison to create what would become known as the Moonah course. Both layouts opened... Find out more

The National Golf Club (Ocean Course) 32 km

Nearly a decade after the celebrated opening of Robert Trent Jones Jnr’s Old course, the club’s board discovered that the adjoining property was to be put up for sale. It could be seen from the highest... Find out more

Moonah Links (Legends Course) 34 km

The Legends course might have been the second course built at Australian golf’s new home, but it was so well received by golfers that today it is regarded as the better of the two. The course officially opened... Find out more

St Andrews Beach 34 km

When it comes to quality golf courses and how to design them, American Tom Doak is a learned man. His second and most recent Australian creation – St Andrews Beach, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula... Find out more

Moonah Links (Open course) 34 km

When Australian golf’s governing body decided in 1998 to shift its operations to a custom-built facility on some Mornington Peninsula farmland, many golfers reckoned it an ambitious move. But the Australian Golf... Find out more

Settlers Run Golf & Country Club 36 km

Throughout his playing days Greg Norman drew huge crowds eager to witness his incredible ball-striking. Confidently striding the fairways, his mere presence made him one of the game’s biggest ever drawcards. He... Find out more

Peninsula Country Golf Club (South Course) 36 km

A round at either of Peninsula’s two courses is always an enjoyable mental and physical challenge. Upon finishing his remodelling of the North course, Mike Clayton turned his attention to the South,... Find out more

The Dunes Golf Links 37 km

If you are looking for true links golf in the tradition of the great courses of Scotland and Ireland, you can satisfy your desires here. The Dunes has become one of the most popular courses on the golf-rich Mornington... Find out more

Cafes & restaurants around town

Harry’s on the Esplanade

With an enviable location on the waterfront in front of the pier, this casual beachside restaurant enjoys panoramic views across Westernport Bay, with a retractable roof for year-round alfresco dining. The daily menu has... Find out more

Hotel Phillip Island

Across the road from the jetty in one of the oldest buildings in Cowes, this happy beach-house-style restaurant converts into a nightclub on Friday and Saturday evenings after dinner. Enjoy views over Westernport Bay to... Find out more


Away from the foreshore holiday crowds, this contemporary space houses local artwork and boasts a covered bar with couches where locals love to relax. A roll-down plastic awning swings into action if the weather sours.... Find out more

Foreshore Bar and 

Rustic and chic, this restaurant is blessed with stunning 180-degree water views from its vantage point on Phillip Island in the quiet village of Rhyll. Take a seat on the deck to enjoy open-air seaside dining, making... Find out more

Nearby breweries

Red Hill Brewery 20 km

Becoming hop farmers wasn’t part of their business plan when David and Karen Golding first applied to develop a microbrewery and cafe from their Mornington Peninsula property. Ultimately, though, they were advised... Find out more

Matilda Bay Garage Brewery 46 km

Previously operating as the Stockade Brewery, this South Dandenong-based microbrewery was acquired by the Foster’s-owned Matilda Bay Brewing in 2004 and re-badged as their ‘garage’ brewery. Then head... Find out more

Campsites around town

Balnarring East Beach C Reserve 12 km

This is the easternmost of the 3 beach reserves at Balnarring – you can get to it from Feathers Rd. It’s just over some dunes from yet another idyllic beach in this area, where swimmers and members of the... Find out more

Balnarring South Beach A Reserve 12 km

South Beach A is accessed via Mason Smith Rd. It’s opposite a protected beach that’s ideal for young children, and there’s also a toddlers’ playground to keep the under-five brigade amused. Keep... Find out more

Balnarring Koala B Reserve 12 km

Located opposite the Balnarring General Store, the Koala B Reserve is one of 3 beachside parks here. It comprises a nicely laid-out campground that’s only a hop, skip and a jump from the beach – for the... Find out more

Fairhaven camping area (walk-in camping) 13 km

The Fairhaven campsites are in a beautiful natural setting on the western shore of French Island, 5 km north of Tankerton off Coast Rd. It’s a great spot to kick back for a few days. While you have your feet up,... Find out more

Airs Farm camping area (walk-in camping) 15 km

Toast your toes around the open fire (wood supplied) at this private campground, nestled in bushland some 10 km east of Tankerton. The owners will pick you up or you can walk or cycle along Bayview Rd to reach the farm.... Find out more

Point Leo Foreshore camping area 15 km

There are plenty of activities for campers on the Point Leo foreshore. Top of the list is a refreshing dip just off the beach or a surf at one of the 7 local breaks. Canoeing, fishing and waterfront strolls will also... Find out more

Shoreham Foreshore Reserve camping area 16 km

You can camp all year long at this restful foreshore reserve. Take long walks along the nearby cliffs, cool off in the waters of Western Port, or spend the afternoon sampling fine vintages at a local winery.... Find out more

Kilcunda Oceanview Holiday Retreat 23 km

Dramatic coastal views are the norm at this quiet beachside caravan park, located between Wonthaggi and San Remo. The beaches here are safe for kids, plus there are good spots for a snorkel and plenty of walking options,... Find out more

Rosebud Foreshore Reserve camping area 32 km

There are literally hundreds of campsites scattered throughout the Rosebud Foreshore Reserve, which stretches for 7 km between Anthonys Nose in McCrae to Chinamans Creek in Rosebud West. Wander along the bayfront or take... Find out more

Capel Sound Foreshore Reserve camping areas 34 km

There’s plenty on offer for water lovers at Capel Sound, including fishing, swimming, canoeing and boating, the latter aided by a boat launch. Note: Tootgarook is only open seasonally Nov–Apr, while... Find out more

Caravan parks around town

BIG4 Frankston Holiday Park 32 km

This is a good quality park in the far outer south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. It is a great base for those exploring the Mornington Peninsula or those connecting with the Sorrento to Queenscliff ferry. Bookings are... Find out more

BIG4 Dandenong Tourist Park 46 km

Just 6 km south of Dandenong, this is a good quality park, ideal for those wanting to stay on the eastern side of Melbourne. It is very close to the Jayco factory. Bookings are required in peak times and a minimum-stay... Find out more

BIG4 Beacon Resort 57 km

This award-winning establishment has all the trimmings you would expect of a park of this quality, including an indoor heated swimming pool and tennis courts. It is just a short walk to the beach. Bookings are required... Find out more

Hotels, motels & B&Bs around town

All Seasons Eco Resort 
Phillip Island

This holiday resort offers accommodation in 211 villas scattered over hectares of gentle countryside overlooking Phillip Island’s beautiful rural farmland. They range from well-appointed spa studios to two- and... Find out more

Holmwood Guesthouse

What started life as a modest cottage in 1934 is now a lovely guesthouse offering B&B accommodation in three guest rooms. Guests have access to a welcoming lounge with books, magazines and the daily papers, made even... Find out more

Quest Phillip Island

This is one of the most convenient and central accommodation options in the heart of the township of Cowes, one block from the local shopping precinct and restaurants. It offers 31 one-, two- and three-bedroom serviced... Find out more

Silverwater Resort

This fully integrated resort is a welcome addition to the island’s family-friendly accommodation options. Set on hectares of high undulating land above San Remo, it enjoys spectacular views over the bay and along... Find out more

Rest areas around town

Gumbuya rest area 56 km

77km E of Melbourne (L) or 40km W of Yarragon (R)

Secluded among trees well off the highway.

What's on around town

Market: crafts and second-hand goods; Settlement Rd, Cowes; each Sun.

Farmers market: Churchill Island; 4th Sat each month.

World Superbike Championships: Grand Prix Circuit; Feb/Mar.

Churchill Island Heritage Farms Easter Fun: farm show; Easter. 

Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix: Grand Prix Circuit; Oct.

V8 Supercars: Grand Prix Circuit; Sept.

comments powered by Disqus