In the morning and early afternoon, Summerlands Beach is a low-key place to visit, with a surf break and lots of sand for building castles or having a picnic. In the evening, the beach transforms as visitors gather to watch the Penguin Parade, a nightly return of thousands of little penguins that commute up the beach to burrows in the surrounding bluffs. While you would need to reserve a ticket to observe the Penguin Parade, visiting Summerlands Beach by day is free and easy. It’s a 1-kilometer round trip walk from the car park to the beach where you can keep walking up and down a sandy cove. While you won’t see any penguins during a day visit to Summerlands Beach, you might hear a few chirping from burrows, and there are signs posted along the trail that will teach you a few things about the world’s smallest penguins that make Phillip Island so famous.
Start from the large parking area outside the Penguin Parade Visitor Centre, located toward the western end of Phillip Island. You will need to walk around the visitor center before you see a sign for Summerlands Beach. From Car Park One, walk toward the bus shelter on the roundabout outside the visitor center. Pass below the overhang and keep the Penguin Parade building to your left as you look for a walkway between the building and a pair of green holding tanks.
Spot a gate slid back against a fence that reads “road closed” (the gate is in place at night when the area is closed for the penguins). Walk through the open passage to the left of the gate and immediately meet a gravel road. To the right, the road heads inland for about 300 meters to an intersection with Ventnor Road. To the left, the road takes the name the Boulevard and crosses scenic bluffs for four kilometers to reach The Nobbies Visitor Center on Point Grant, start of the Nobbies Boardwalk. This road is open to hikers, bikers, and vehicles (vehicles can only drive one direction on the Boulevard from the Nobbies to the Penguin Parade).
To reach Summerlands Beach, turn left on the gravel road, walk 100 meters, and turn left again down a paved walkway to Summerlands Beach. There will be a sign for Summerlands Beach at this intersection, located just past the corner of the Penguin Parade Visitor Centre. Walk down the paved road below the building on a path that is also used by penguins. How can you tell penguins walk here? Look for white streaks and webbed-footprints where the little creatures have pooped and walked.
After a short distance, you will pass the back door of the Penguin Parade Visitor Centre and the walkway will bend to the right. Head this way toward the beach. The walkway is fenced off on both sides to protect the little penguin habitat.
Look over the fence on the right side of the trail and you’ll see a dirt path that the penguins waddle up in the evening and shuffle back down pre-dawn, part of their daily commute between burrows and the fishing waters offshore. You will see some of these burrows, holes in the ground that penguins live in, along the walkway beneath bower spinach plants that grows here. There are also artificial burrows placed along the trail “to encourage penguins back to habitat disturbed before the raised boardwalks were built.” You are unlikely to see any penguins during the day, but you may hear a few penguins chirping from their burrows. These chatty penguins haven’t gone out in the ocean to fish because they are in their molting period and stay home to generate new coats of feathers.
Proceed down the boardwalk past bathrooms and a closed-off walkway on the left. In this area, there are several panels providing visitors with information about the little penguins, which go by other names as well like fairy penguins, little blue penguins, and blue penguins. There are over 30,000 little penguins in the colony on Phillip Island, all living in the area around Summerlands Beach. These cute pint-sized penguins with blue feathers grow to be just 33cm (13 inches) tall and weight around one kilogram.
As you keep strolling toward the beach, you will come to another closed-off walkway on the right that goes down to an exclusive seating area for the Penguin Parade. Stick to the main walkway as it rises to the left up to the general seating for the Penguin Parade. The area looks like an amphitheater on the beach, with two stadium sections split by a glassed-in observation room for rangers and VIP viewers. On the far side of the observation building you’ll see a scale on the ground that researchers use to measure the penguins’ weight when they waddle across it on their way to and from the day’s fishing expedition. Little penguins are big travelers and will swim 15 to 75 kilometers out in the ocean each day.
Walk down the bleachers to sink your toes in the sand. The beach extends a long way up the coast to the left, curving out toward a string of rocky points. While it is just a 500 meter walk from the car park to the beach, you could stroll at least that far along Summerlands Beach. Past the east end of the beach there is a point called Keenon Head. Beyond that you’ll spot Pyramid Rock, a sea stack just offshore near the midpoint of Phillip Island’s southern coast.
To the right, there is less sand to explore. The cove is shut down rapidly by a bluff that is topped by Scotchmans Lookout, one of the vista points along the Boulevard. Below the bluff, you will notice clusters of rocks. Huddled masses of penguins use these rocks for extra cover on their parade route home from the ocean.
In a nice timeshare with nature, Summerlands Beach is open to the public during the day, but at night the beach is used by little blue penguins and closed to the public. Since the penguins don’t seem to mind, surfers put the reliable waves at Summerlands Beach to use during the day. Summerlands Beach is open daily from 7:30 a.m. (possibly later in winter months) to approximately 2 hours before sunset in advance of the Penguin Parade. This will give you plenty of time to relax at the beach if you plan your day accordingly. For a longer walk in the area, continue on the road between the Penguin Parade and the Nobbies. Dogs are not allowed in this fragile penguin habitat, but no fee or permit is required to walk to Summerlands Beach, so get out and enjoy!
Directions: From Melbourne, take M1 east for approximately 30 kilometers to the exit for South Gippsland Freeway (M420) and drive south for 97 kilometers on M420 following signs for Phillip Island. Bear right onto Phillip Island Road (B420) to cross the bridge onto Phillip Island. Now continue another 8.5 kilometers and bear left at a major split onto Back Beach Road (toward the Penguin Parade). Drive 10 kilometers to the end of the road and turn left onto Ventnor Road. Drive another 1.5 kilometers and turn left into the large parking area for the Penguin Parade. During the day, you should be able to find a space all the way up front in Car Park One.
Trailhead address: 1019 Ventnor Road, Summerlands, VIC 3922, Australia
Trailhead coordinates: -38.508812, 145.147153 (38° 30′ 31.72″S 145° 08′ 49.75″E)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Australian trails, campgrounds, and lodging.
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This 4-kilometer one-way road can be walked, driven, or biked between the Penguin Parade Visitor Center and the Nobbies Centre, exploring beautiful coastline along the way (for an 8-kilometer out-and-back return hike).
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