Escape the traffic and tourists of Melbourne and head instead to the windswept paradise of Victoria's Phillip Island, writes Dani Wright.

As the sun rises over Phillip Island's Cape Woolamai beach, 90 minutes' drive from Melbourne's CBD, surfers jump into the rips to make a fast trip out the back to solid, glassy waves.

"Bit small today," complains one local, scratching his head and scanning his surrounds as the mist rolls in from the sea, sheer cliff faces adding drama to the beachscape.
To me, the surf seems a lot bigger than the local gives it credit for, but I don't tell him this, I just watch him get dragged out on the bumpy current. It looks fun, but beware - this is one of Australia's most treacherous beaches.

The windswept ruggedness of Phillip Island not only attracts surfers, but also a large population of wildlife, which has flocked to this pristine environment.

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For starters, there's the gorgeous grey Cape Barren geese and curious wallabies dotted along the sides of the coast-hugging road as we journey to the island's headland, The Nobbies.

It's here we spot the country's largest Australian fur seal colony sunning themselves on rocks just offshore. There are also large southern swells shooting out of blowholes to keep us entertained from dry land.

Tucked up in the comfort of The Nobbies Centre, with its spectacular floor to ceiling glass window we can watch it all in between sips of hot tea, before we brave the cold and head along the timber boardwalk for a closer look.

"The view is ever-changing, with the stormiest days the best," says the waiter, who agrees he is lucky to work in front of such a backdrop.

Later, we make it to the island's nightly little blue penguin parade. We watch them roll in a few at a time from the surf, waddling up to their burrows to bed - which is where you can see them close-up.

The penguins were once threatened. Nine out of the island's 10 colonies were extinct in the 1980s, thanks to foxes. Now, penguins outnumber people on the island and local conservationists have won awards for their efforts.

The ratio of people to wildlife gives the island a low-key beach holiday atmosphere, where fisherman's cottages still exist and days are spent surfing and beachcombing, rather than shopping and eating out.

That's what first attracted interiors stylist Simone Haag - who loved the place so much, she and husband Rhys bought his parents' beach shack and made it into the perfect holiday home - complete with skate ramp.

Simone Haag beach house, Phillip Island, Victoria. Photo / Derek Swalwell
Simone Haag beach house, Phillip Island, Victoria. Photo / Derek Swalwell

"Seashell hunting or looking at the sunset from a bench at Sunderland Bay makes for a beautiful day with family and friends," says Simone.

And wherever you go on the island, there's an abundance of seafood. Head to San Remo on the other side of the bridge into Phillip Island for the freshest fish and chips overlooking the jetty as people leap into the sun-sparkly waters and a pelican feeding session happens daily.

For meat lovers, head Island Burger Bar has Polynesian-style beach huts in the outdoor garden and local ales to wash down their mouth-watering burger - with a choice of healthy ingredients, paleo breads and artisan buns.

Even though you're sitting in a beach hut, you're not likely to find a sun-drenched tropical island escape in Victoria, but the charm of Phillip Island is enough to make up for the need to pack a pair of togs, a woolly jumper and an umbrella - just in case.

The writer toured Phillip Island at her own expense.
FACT BOX
Getting there
Qantas flies from Aickland to Melbourne, with return fares from $547.

Staying there
Angler's Shack
visitvictoria.com
visitphillipisland.com