We are on the road on a trip that will eventually take us north through central New South Wales. This is our first day of a fourteen day trip to explore the history of Jill’s family, especially her grandfather. Today and tomorrow will be inconsequential in that goal as it will take us a couple of days to get to our first relevant destination. The only place of importance today was that we drove past the city of Berwick, just out of Melbourne, where Jill’s father was born.
We hadn’t had a serious visit to Philip Island for some years, so we decided to spend the day exploring this little island in Western Port Bay.
Our first stop was at The Nobbies on the western end of the island. The Nobbies are two rock “humps” off Point Grant and the scenery along this area of the coast facing Bass Strait is simply stunning.
The Nobbies Center has come a long way since its previous life when it was known as the Seal Rocks Visitor’s Centre. You can now take a virtual journey through the Southern Ocean to Antarctica with the interactive and immersive experiences of an Antarctic Journey.
One area is filled with activities designed to entertain and educate people about Antarctica. For example, there are displays that let you compare yourself with the height of an Emperor penguin or the length of a Humpback Whale. I learned that the Blue Whale has a heart the size as a Volkswagen Beetle.
I found the most interesting area was one in which an audiovisual spectacle put me right in the middle of Antarctic action. With cutting-edge augmented reality technology, I could stand on an ice floe and feel like I could reach out to pat a penguin, stroke a seal or marvel at a killer whale that appeared on the screen in front of me.
Outside, there is a long boardwalk on which you can look out over the sea and spot the variety of natural sea birds that call this area home. The centre of attraction is undoubtedly the Nobbies themselves.
Seal Rocks, about two kilometres out to sea, are home to the largest colony of fur seals in Victoria. The seals are skilful and agile hunters, swimming in the ocean to find food. They mostly eat bony fish, however, they are known to also catch squid and octopus. The population of the Australian Fur Seals suffered in the 1800s due to a large number of hunters who were after their fur coats. From hundreds of thousands, this number dropped down to 20,000 but in recent years has made a steady incline in the population thanks to conservation methods initiated by Parks Victoria and other government bodies.
Along the south coast of the Island is Kitty Miller Bay, a picturesque, circular bay with a large rock platform that becomes exposed at low tide. In my younger days, I used to come here searching for semi precious stones that can be found in the rocky area to the west of the bay. I remember finding Agates, Jasper and some other colourful stones. I had a hobby at the time, of grinding them down into cabochon shapes and then making jewellery out of them.
Almost everywhere on the island, we came across pairs of native Cape Barren Geese.These birds are a very large, pale grey goose with a relatively small head. Its stubby triangular bill is almost concealed by a very prominent greenish-yellow cere (skin above the bill). They breed on offshore islands off Australia’s southern coastline laying four or five white eggs in a nest made of grass. They seemed completely comfortable with people and I could get quite close to them.
It struck us that Cowes, the main town on the island is much bigger than we remembered. It has grown considerably.
On the north eastern tip of Phillip Island is the small, peaceful fishing village of Rhyl. A jetty is located at the town’s main boat ramp and a longer one can be found further west along the coast in front of the monument to George Bass who first discovered the area. A remarkable sculpture of a ferry boat captain has been carved out of the stump of an old cypress tree that blew down in a storm.
To the west of Rhyll is the Rhyll Inlet and Conservation Hill Reserve. This network of waterways and wetlands is a significant feeding and breeding area for resident and migratory birds. I followed a pathway and boardwalk for a kilometre, or so, that traversed the edge of the mangroves in the inter-tidal zone of the inlet.
One of the most outstanding historical places on the island is the National Vietnam Veterans Museum. Phillip Island may seem a strange place for such a museum, but it is located here for one reason – the man who founded the museum lived here. It has an impressive collection of memorabilia of the the war and is starting to outgrow its converted hanger by the old airstrip. I have visited the museum on a number occasions and I am always impressed with the way it commemorates our involvement in the Vietnam War.
On the final leg of our trip today, we drove along some of the south coast near Kilcunda and stopped at the historic trestle bridge that once formed part of the Woolmai to Wonthagi Ralway line., This is one of the dozens of railway lines that were built in the railway boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many, like this one, were eventually closed during the mid part of the 20th Century.
This bridge was constructed in 1911 and stretches 91 metres across Bourne Creek at Kilcunda. It is now a feature of the Bass Coast Rail Trail.
I booked a table for dinner tonight at the Wonthaggi Club but found that I had actually booked it at the Wonthaggi Golf Club. Google can really lead your astray sometimes! However, our meal was very nice and we managed to get back to our motel before some rain arrived, which is expected to last for the next few days,