I’m not going to lie. I love fast boats. Much better than slower, cruisier ones. There is nothing better than kicking up a bit of spray as you get to where you are going faster (yes, perhaps I am just a little impatient). Phillip Island Nature Parks seem to be thinking along the same vein, having recently introduced a new adventure cruise to Seal Rocks, off the islands rugged coastline.
Plenty of people visit ‘The Nobbies’; the nearby headland where you can see the rocks from the boardwalk at a distance. But the new Wild Ocean EcoBoat cruise gets up close, within metres in fact, of the largest colony of Australian fur seals in the country.
I visited last weekend. Just 90-minutes from Melbourne, it is a drive that is so familiar to me. My family would stay for weeks in a rented house during my childhood summers, and even as an adult, I worked in Cowes for a summer while I was at university and wanted a little beach escape between semesters.
At the end of the Cowes jetty I met the boat (that seats up to 47), which was rocking a little on the ocean swell. It was a beautiful day, blue sky and sunshine, but a little windy. We are told by our crew; ranger Samantha, driver John and host Mika, that it is a little ‘bumpier’ up the front, but ‘windier’ up the back. I opted for the back. My sea legs have never been great and I cope much better with wind and water than seasickness.
It was a smooth expedition out there. The boat had some power and we cruised along with the wind in my hair. To my left, I was treated to beautiful views of Phillip Island’s coastline and I realised I had never really ever seen it from this perspective. Spectacular sandy beaches, dotted with the island’s small residential settlements, stretched as far as I could see. We whizzed past the famous Penguin Parade and I imagined all the little penguins swimming in the same waters we were traversing.
In the distance I could see the familiar shape of the Nobbies looming ahead. That could only mean we were close to our destination, in fact it only took 20 minutes to get almost half way around the island. Seal Rocks sits about one and a half kilometres from the popular rocky headland and as we ventured further from the more protected waters and into Bass Strait towards it, the real ‘adventure’ seemed to begin.
Told we might encounter a little ‘spray’; I wasn’t prepared for the dousing I received when the waves we were skimming over started coming at us from all directions. Exhilarated cries and cheers were coming out of the group of passengers, I was laughing with each new drenching I received and the boat was somehow venturing forward despite the waves that seemed determined not to clear a path for us.
It was literally one of the most eventful boat trips I have experienced, and it all happened in less than five minutes. Before I knew it, we were within metres of Seal Rocks and literally thousands of fur seals were basking in the sun right in front of my eyes.
I was quite amazed at how the boat then coped with being ‘parked’ in the choppy ocean while we could easily walk around the boat and view the seals without a worry. We saw seal pups playing in the waves, learning to swim and throwing seaweed around and teasing each other. Mums were on the rocks loving the later afternoon sun and keeping a keen eye out over their young. And the odd male, almost double the size of the girls, relaxed amid his harems.
Samantha launched into a super informative overview on the seals, which leads me to FIVE THINGS I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT SEALS.
- I’ve already mentioned that Seal Rocks is home to the largest population of wild Australian Fur Seals in the country. It is actually home to one quarter of the entire Australian fur seal population.
- Up to 30,000 seals inhabit the rocky outcrop. On the day we were there, they estimated we were seeing around 8,000. That’s the population of the town I grew up in, all sitting on this one piece of rock!
- Seals were virtually hunted to non-existence in this area in the early 1800’s. But the area became a sanctuary in 1928 and a State Faunal Reserve in 1966, helping numbers flourish again.
- Phillip Island Nature Parks conducts regular research programs into the seals including recording the number of pups bred each year. A small research station is located on the rocks and I imagine what it would be like to sleep overnight in the small and basic little hut, surrounded by thousands of seals and the manic Southern Ocean.
- Speaking of which, the members of this research team also have to try and tag and count each and every seal pup born. How on earth that is achieved just confounds me, with mums and dads determined not to let you near their young, and the fact that they are slippery little suckers who can slide into the sea at any time (I think I just created a tongue twister).
The crew dropped an underwater camera overboard to try and pick up any seals swimming beneath us but the visibility wasn’t great. However we have a great real-life view right in front of us as we bobbed around on the ocean AND I could upload pics straight to social media thanks to the onboard free Wifi!
The sun was settling in the sky, and it was time to head back. I prepared myself (and my camera) for the journey back. Huddled over, I waited for the showers to begin but the return journey wasn’t as wild and we got back closer to the coastline without much drama. We watched beautiful waves chase us along the shoreline as we sped back towards Cowes. Most of the passengers on board would be heading to the Penguin Parade that evening, the cruise timed to link the two perfectly.
We watched beautiful waves chase us along the shoreline as we sped back towards Cowes. Most of the passengers on board would be heading to the Penguin Parade that evening, the cruise timed to link the two perfectly. But it wouldn’t be an adventure cruise without a little more fun, so John capped it all off with a few high speed doughnuts on the open water, before parking back at the Cowes Jetty so I could disembark with a few wobbles but a big smile.
Do you like a bit of adventure when you explore?