Phillip Island Visitor Information
Surrounded by Western Port (to the east, north, and west) and Bass Strait (to the south), Phillip Island is a land mass along the southern borders of the state of Victoria. Situated south-east of Melbourne (the state capital), the island is approximately 140 kilometres by road from the Central Business District. Forming a natural breakwater for Western Port, the island connects to the mainland via a 640-metre bridge. It was discovered in January 1798 by George Bass, a surgeon in the British Royal Navy.
There is an interesting story behind the naming of Phillip Island. Upon returning to the island in October 1798, Bass named it Snapper Island since Cape Woolamai (a headland at the south-eastern tip) resembled a snapper's head. Later, the land mass became known as Grant Island, after James Grant (a Commander in the British Royal Navy) who surveyed the area around 1801. Eventually, it was renamed in honour of Sir Arthur Phillip, an Admiral in the British Royal Navy and the first Governor of New South Wales.
Phillip Island saw its first European settlers in 1842 when Scottish brothers, William and John McHaffie, permanently took up residence with a pastoral lease of the entire island. Other prospectors resented the idea, so real estate on the island was finally opened for selection in 1868. Although the land was taken up enthusiastically, life on the island proved difficult-caterpillar plagues, scarcity of fresh water, and poor growth of wheat-prompting an exodus (by 1902, only 50 residents remained). The population steadily rose following a gradual return of farmers (there were over 160 people by the 1870s). Today, the island has an estimated population of over 7,000.
Phillip Island attracts some 3.5 million visitors annually, which makes tourism a major contributor to its economy. Some of the island's best nature and wildlife attractions include Maru Koala and Animal Park, Moonlit Sanctuary, Phillip Island Nature Park, Phillip Island Important Bird Area, and Penguin Parade. Local culture and history are best explored through some of the island's relevant events and venues, such as the Australian motorcycle Grand Prix, Cowes Night Market, Mingara Gallery, National Vietnam Veterans Museum, and Pyramid Rock Festival. The island provides outlets for various leisure activities through some of its numerous facilities, like A Maze'N Things, Bass Coast Paintball, Laser Strike Phillip Island, Rhyll Trout and Bush Tucker Farm, and YMCA Phillip Island Leisure Centre.