Friday 15 November 2013

The Unpublished 16: Phillip Island for Adults

In 2009 I stayed for a few days on Phillip Island, a popular family holiday destination southeast of Melbourne, Australia. I wrote an article about what the island offered adults travelling without kids, but due to a travel magazine's change of editors it was never published. Here it is; and all the places mentioned remain great places to visit:

Massage centres are usually placed in idyllic locations - in rainforests, perhaps, or overlooking the sea - so I’m a little surprised to find one above a shoe shop and cafe on the main street of Cowes, the principal settlement of Phillip Island.

But it seems that, as in many spiritual philosophies, shoe shopping and wellness treatments form a kind of cosmic balance.

“Groups of four female friends will often come in together,” explains Patricia Hanrahan, owner and chief masseur at Aromatherapy in Action. “Two of them will get a massage while the other two go shoe shopping, and then swap places.” And have a coffee afterward, no doubt.

As my wife Narrelle and I wait for our scheduled treatments, I’m reflecting on the stereotype I had of Phillip Island as merely an old-fashioned fish ‘n’ chip-driven holiday town for families.

Although that’s still true to a degree, over the next three days I discover that the island has been quietly updating itself to match the tastes of couples on a weekend away, becoming a place to keep it slow, natural, romantic and playful.

Keeping it slow

It’s a beautiful day on Churchill Island, cool and crisp with the promise of sun later. The island, attached to Phillip Island by a narrow bridge, seems even more detached from the outside world than its big sister, its profile resembling a whale breaking the surface of Western Port Bay.

It’s the perfect place for the monthly Churchill Island Farmers’ Market that’s set out on its grassy flanks, with a view down over the water and the mainland beyond. As we saunter past its stalls, we spot emu oil, homemade biscuits, chutneys, chilli sauces, Dutch pancakes, and fruit and vegetables for sale.

We buy a coffee from the cafe of the adjacent heritage farm, sit on a grassy rise next to the market, and watch slowly moving shoppers. It's a delight to be here, enjoying the view and the pleasures of slow food at the same time.

Keeping it natural

Once the Wildlife Coast Cruises boat passes Nobby’s Point, we’re into Bass Strait and the water is considerably more active than along Cowes' northern shores.

Reaching Seal Rocks, we’re suddenly joined by dozens of seals, mostly young pups, who throw themselves into the sea to swim playfully between us and their rocky base. There’s only some ten metres between boat and land, and I’m struck by the dramatic colours of the scene - dark blue sea, light blue sky, and pure white foam as waves break against the black rocks.

As the boat moves slowly along, it seems an interesting question as to who is viewing who: you can imagine the seals welcoming their daily human diversion between the morning feed and the late afternoon nap.

Keeping it romantic

Our couples massages turns out to very pleasant. Lying on benches a metre apart, we each have a masseur working away at soothing our aching muscles, applying aromatherapy oils of Patricia’s own invention. I drift off into the happy near-trance massage state in which I cease thinking about anything but the present, but am just conscious enough to shift limbs when prompted.

Both refreshed and relaxed, we’re in the right frame of mind for a romantic dinner at The Foreshore restaurant in Rhyll, a tiny settlement on the island’s east coast. For mains, Narrelle chooses the whole snapper while I have the bangers and mash.

While my choice is a tastily upgraded version of the old favourite, featuring locally-made sausages with beef, thyme and mustard seeds, the real winner is my entree: Atlantic salmon cured in fresh dill, flaked salt, lemon juice and vodka.

We sit enjoying the food and the water view in the big, timbered interior and life seems pretty relaxed. And romantic.

Keeping it playful

Humans also have a playful side, and Phillip Island doesn’t fail us in indulging it. One afternoon we pitch up at Amaze’N Things, a family-friendly attraction which features a large outdoor maze. But what really works for us are the fascinating halls of illusions and puzzles within the building.

It’s amazing how engaging an old-fashioned hall of mirrors can be when supplemented with a little technology. The Gravity Room is fascinating, with its perspective-bending properties which totally confuse the brain (“Is that table leaning, or am I?”). And the confusing expander disc makes us see each other in an entirely new and distorted light.

We walk out of the place amused and laughing. The place is family-friendly, but you don’t need to have kids in tow to enjoy it. And the same can be said for the whole of Phillip Island.

Disclosure time... on this trip I travelled courtesy of Destination Phillip Island.

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