Phillip Island is only a 90 minute drive from Melbourne's CBD, so makes the perfect spot for a weekend away. The Summerland Beach is famous for the sunset penguin parade and the Phillip Island Circuit attracts many visitors for the motorcycle and car racing. We decided we didn't want to see either of those things. As amazing and fun as I'm sure they are, we were more interested in heading off the beaten track and finding some lesser known wonders of Phillip Island. Here is what we found.
The Clifftop accommodation is your home away from home and even comes with your own adopted pet (George the dog). The place has such an intimate feel with only eight rooms to choose from. Each have their own unique theme all with a cosy and romantic style. The homely feel comes from the fact that it was originally a house. All the rooms have access to the shared lounge room, complete with fireplace and pool table. Also hidden away is a sunken sunroom with the type of chairs you picture in your grandparents house, cosy and luxurious. It was the perfect little nook for secluded hideouts. We stayed in a huge oriental style room with an amazing ocean view from the balcony. It gave us the perfect sunset vantage point. We made full use of the room by staying in, playing board games over a glass of red wine and taking in the amazing scenery.
Bimbadeen is a fully operational farm with over 200 Angus cattle grazing in the paddocks. It's a large provider of free-range eggs, beef and now honey to the Island, with the recent addition of some busy bee colonies. The highlight of Bimbadeen is that they provide farm experiences which allow city slickers like us the chance to experience and learn about life on a working farm. It was nice to get out into the open fields and paddocks and only be able to hear the noises of nature instead of the hustle and bustle of the city. We felt like kids again as we got to get up close to the animals by being able to feed and interact with them. We roamed the paddocks as the free-range chickens pecked at our feet and we visited the mobile caravan where they lay their eggs. We may or may not have broken a couple ... whoops. We turned Lawson into a cow and put him in the cow press. Having him restrained gave everyone a lot of joy and watching him struggle to get out was even more enjoyable! The unique thing about Bimbadeen farm is that they also offer a farm retreat in their eco-friendly, self-contained accommodation. It's a secluded setting in the surrounds of the 340 acre farm. The accommodation was comfortable and quite luxurious and not at all what we had pictured when we first heard about a farm stay.
The Shed is a new locally owned and run cafe that is all about local produce. Offering gourmet pies, paddock-to-plate meals, fresh eggs, fruit, vegetables, flowers and freshly baked bread. They even have their own butchers, who serve up meat and produce that was farmed on the very site The Shed is located on. The Shed is all about showcasing Australian products with candles from Byron Bay, a whole range of organic skincare products made on the Mornington Peninsula, cold pressed organic olive oil, local cheese, flowers and even 'farm to table' wines. The Shed has only just recently opened its door in the last couple of months and we were both surprised to see what a vibrant, exciting, and happening hub it has already become. As we sat outside basking in the sun enjoying a freshly brewed coffee, we watched as a constant stream of locals and visitors stopped by to experience what The Shed has to offer. When you stop by you definitely have to say hello to their friendly neighbour, Mary the giant pig. Just make sure if you are feeding her scraps you throw them far enough into her pen so she doesn't zap herself on the electric fence and squeal, making everyone stare. Sorry Mary!
After living in Melbourne for almost 16 years, I have no idea why it's taken me this long to make the trek to Phillip Island. It's only a 90 minute drive from the CBD, and it's fair to say, I've spent longer periods of time stuck in peak hour traffic. I was particularly excited about this trip because I knew we would be exploring a different side to the Island.
Showing up at the Clifftop accommodation was like visiting your friend's house for the night. We were met with a warm greeting from the owner, Helen, who welcomed us in and made us feel like we were a part of the Clifftop family. The homely feel probably comes from the fact that it used to be someone's home. Apparently each new extension to the building came after the original owner's failed marriages. All I can say is, thank goodness the owner had several husbands otherwise this beautiful accommodation may never have existed. Thanks to George (refer to Lawson's side for a full explanation), we found ourselves enjoying a bottle of champagne on the balcony. Within seconds of it becoming dusk, the grassland below swarmed with wallabies. I've never seen so many in one place before. After having just returned from Safari, is was a nice reminder that we have some pretty cool native animals here too and that it's always amazing to see them in their natural environment.
The Bimbadeen farm experience was a highlight as it gave me flashbacks to my childhood. I grew up in the country and both my parents were raised on farms, so I have very fond memories of mucking in the paddocks and having the smell of manure in my nose ... Okay, so maybe some memories are not as fond as others. To get to see how a true working farm functions is amazing because I feel there is a huge disconnect these days to where our food actually comes from. It's easy to think meat just magically appears prepackaged at the supermarket. I'm not a vegetarian, but it was hard not to second guess my food choices, at least wanting to make smarter, more cruelty-free food selections. Every time we came across a new breed of animal there was always a story about one of them that made you realise they were special in some way. Like the cow that was born paralysed, who wasn't even meant to survive, let alone overcome everything to be this quirky little guy that we now get to pat and feed. Or the pig that didn't have his tail but still liked to wag that thing just as furiously as the other pigs. I developed a soft spot for so many of them and started to see them as pets more than food.
Ending the day at The Shed was the perfect finish. This place had everything and if it were located in Melbourne it would be my weekly hangout. Unintentionally, I have become a coffee snob and am bordering on becoming one of those annoying people with an unnecessarily complicated order. Just for the record, my regular order is a small flat white with soy milk in a take-away cup. So when I find a place that makes good coffee, i'm hooked. It depends how crazy my coffee obsession becomes, there might be the chance one day where I drive the 90 minutes just for a cup. The Shed just tied in nicely with the farm experience we had just had. The meat served in the dishes had been farmed on-site or locally sourced, so I knew I was making eco-friendly and cruelty-free choices. I don't know if it was mind over matter but I think it tasted better too.
The take home message I got from the entire Phillip Island trip away was that people are just so much nicer in the country. City people need to come and experience this and realise that we all just need to chill the fuck out a bit. We are all busy people but it takes nothing to give a smile.
The last time I went to Phillip Island I was five years old and the only thing I can remember is sitting on the beach rugged up, watching the marching parade as the little penguins waddled their way up the beach. It’s a special memory to me because I can remember vividly my mum being excited and nudging me as they made their approach. There is something magical about those penguins and how no matter how far they travel they always know where their home is. I’ve always thought that special feeling was the penguins and I have thought that right up until we revisited Phillip Island for a weekend away. The longer we stayed the more I realised it isn’t the penguins but rather it is the island itself. Such beautiful landscapes and stunning views of the ocean surround you, but more importantly the people you meet are all so friendly. I have always found country folk to be so friendly. It’s refreshing to be walking down the street and have a complete stranger say hello and wish you a great day. There is a strong sense of community.
When you hear Phillip Island you immediately think of the penguins or the MotoGP, but we wanted to head to the island and see what else they had to offer. We arrived at Clifftop and were greeted by George, Clifftop’s resident dog. Immediately I was stoked, he had a beautiful nature, loved a good belly rub, was welcoming to us and excited to be making some new friends. George has the good life, it didn’t seem like he had a care in the world, a vibe we were starting to see on repeat throughout the Island. I would be worried if it was otherwise, I mean his backyard is the beach and he has a constant flow of new people excited to see him and show him some love. Not a bad setup, if you ask me.
Clifftop is really beautiful, the perfect spot for a wedding. They were setting up for one that weekend and with the ocean in the background it did make for a great venue. There is a real homely vibe. I think it was being able to hear the crashing of the waves on the sand that reminded me of home back in Perth.
While we were playing board games and drinking wine, George came to our back door. I let him in and he literally took two steps inside, vomited up some water, then turned around and walked out. Cat and I lost our shit laughing after the initial shock and then turned our attention to poor George, who obviously wasn’t feeling well. They were so apologetic and felt so bad but we really didn’t mind, having had animals I was more worried about George than a little bit of water vomit. It turned out to be a little blessing in disguise as to apologise we were given a bottle of champagne, which really wasn’t necessary but a really lovely gesture. Once it had all been cleaned up and we were poppin’ bottles it just felt right to make a toast to George.
The next day we got up and headed to Bimbadeen farm for a hands on tour of the property. The great thing about being on an island is it literally takes around 10 minutes to get anywhere. Bimbadeen was refreshing. It was nice to walk around the farm talking farm shop and learning about the farm life. I was killing it on the hay bails doing some farm parkour or farkour, (which sounds like fuck all) when I got down off the bales I did what seemed like it would be a simple roly poly but didn’t realise how hard the ground was and banged up my back! But hey, if you are mad-dog crazy like me you are gonna get some injuries, they don’t call it an extreme sport for nothing. Check out my parkour skills in the vid, I’m using the word 'skills' very loosely here.
Farmer Steve whose family has lived on the farm since 1955 was a genuine bloke who was up for a good laugh and had some great banter in return for my smart-ass remarks. We walked away from the farm with more knowledge of the process of paddock-to-plate as well as a carton of 12 of the freshest eggs I have had in a while, hand collected by us that very day.
After getting a taste for the farm life we headed over to The Shed for a taste of the farm life where we sampled some of the food they had to offer. I really loved The Shed. I love home made jams, chillies, or any kind of relish and I find they always have the best of the best in country towns. This was no different. The freshest ingredients, all locally sourced is always going to make for a better meal. It's funny how quickly I get used to the produce I get from large supermarket chains and I think that is normal. It's not until you spend some time away and rediscover local fresh produce that you realise the massive difference in quality. We got to have a little sticky beak out the back of the butchers and check out the meat room, as well as watch the butcher (who also owns the farm) make some sausages. One thing that has stayed in my mind was a conversation I was listening to between the butcher and a customer about an upcoming dance recital, it really pushed home the local close-knit community that we were experiencing.
Phillip Island was the perfect getaway location for a weekend away and has so much more to offer than just penguins and motorbikes. While we were taking a leisurely stroll along the beach (cliché) I came up with the perfect slogan for Phillip Island: Come for the penguins and stay for the Island.