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Experience Whale Watching Magic on Phillip Island

KYLIE BRADY and her family have some epic wildlife encounters during the Island Whale Festival Phillip Island

The kids balancing on whale sculptures on Phillip Island. Image Kylie Brady
The kids balancing on whale sculptures on Phillip Island. Image: Kylie Brady

A breathtaking encounter with nature

“Did you see that!” I call to my husband, my heart beating fast in awe. “Wow! A whale breaching! I was not expecting that!” My eyes eagerly scan the water, searching for another glimpse as I fumble with my digital camera in a desperate attempt to capture this powerful moment in nature.

We are standing on the wood-lined pathway that leads down to Phillip Island’s Woolamai Beach on a cold and windy winter day. It appears the whales had received their invitation to the Island Whale Festival we are there to attend, arriving right on cue. I’d never dreamed of seeing a whale breach within 50 metres of the shoreline.

A whale fluke spotted off the coast of Phillip Island. Image Wildlife Coast Cruises Visit Victoria
A whale fluke spotted off the coast of Phillip Island. Image: Wildlife Coast Cruises / Visit Victoria

The kids had already run down the beach towards the stepped entrance to the Cape Woolamai Circuit. We aimed to walk the 8.5-kilometre clifftop trail, where we could scan the horizon from high above the ocean in our search for whales. Little did they know my husband and I had already experienced our first glorious encounter.

Island Whale Festival: A celebration of majestic creatures

Spot whales with Wildlife Coast Cruises Phillip Island. Image Visit Victoria
Spot whales with Wildlife Coast Cruises Phillip Island. Image: Visit Victoria

Every year between May and November, humpback whales, southern right whales, and orcas (killer whales) travel along the east coast of Australia from their Antarctic feeding grounds to the winter breeding grounds in the warmer waters off Queensland.

The Island Whale Festival celebrates its annual arrival around Phillip Island. Held at several venues across the island, the jam-packed program provides a fun way for families to learn more about these majestic creatures. Over the weekend, we learn how to draw cartoon whales, create clay model sea creatures, and enjoy informative workshops.

Discovering wildlife on the Cape Woolamai walk

Kids admiring the wildlife along Nobbies Boardwalk on Phillip Island. Image Kylie Brady
Kids admiring the wildlife along Nobbies Boardwalk on Phillip Island. Image: Kylie Brady

As we proceed along the Cape Woolamai Walk, part of the Whale Discovery Trail, I frequently remind my children to scan the land-based terrain for wildlife. “Look!” shouts my son, forgetting to be quiet. In the bushes, a rock wallaby casually munches on grass as it stares back at us with no concern about our presence. “Is that one?” my daughter asks as we continue walking. Sure enough, another rock wallaby slowly hops through a small cluster of trees. The hunt for wildlife keeps everyone entertained as we go up to Pinnacles Lookout, where we stop for a break to take in the beautiful scenery. The impressive granite column rock formations rise out of the surf just below the cliff top, directly offshore.

Admiring The Pinnacles rock formation on Phillip Island. Image Kylie Brady
Admiring The Pinnacles rock formation on Phillip Island. Image: Kylie Brady

With the sea visible once more, our eyes dart back and forth across the horizon, looking for the tell-tale signs of whales: a spout of vertical spray, a large splash, or birds hovering above, likely cleaning up the leftovers of the whales’ lunch.

“Is that…? Yes! Look over there!”. A black fin cuts fleetingly through the water before disappearing below the surface. “Keep watching,” I encourage the kids. “I saw it, I saw it!” my son excitedly cries as my daughters miss the moment again. Humpback whales have an average downtime of three-to-eight minutes, so patience is vital. To increase your odds of spotting them, you can download a wildlife whale app that gives real-time updates on whale sightings or hop on a whale-watching cruise that operates through June and July.

Phillip Island: A paradise full of adventure

Exploring Forrest Caves on Phillip Island. Image Kylie Brady
Exploring Forrest Caves on Phillip Island. Image: Kylie Brady

Phillip Island is known for its abundance of wildlife; it’s home to Victoria’s famous fairy penguin colony, the Island’s most popular tourist attraction. With 101 square kilometres of island magic just waiting to be explored, our family has enjoyed many trips here and gathered a list of our island favourites.

In the summer months we love to explore Forrest Caves. Only accessible at low tide, these sea caves have formed over many years. It’s fun to paddle through rock pools and be splashed by the rolling ocean waves.

We relish the challenge of family racing at the Phillip Island go-cart track, a replica of the world- renowned Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit. Our last visit coincided with my eldest daughter getting her learner driver’s licence, so this was a great way to get some basic driving practice.

The kids at Phillip Island Circuit. Image Kylie Brady
The kids at Phillip Island Circuit. Image: Kylie Brady

But seeing the sublime leap of that awe-inspiring whale was a monumental moment in time. Breathing in the fresh sea air and enjoying the wonders of mother nature, we complete the trail while continually gazing out at the ocean and willing the whales to give us another show. Content that we have completed the trail with success, we know that Phillip Island will offer up something new to us on every visit, especially if we take the scenic route.

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