The Voice contestant and musician is a Phillip Island local who returns for a break every chance he gets.
While walking on the San Remo pier, Nick Kingswell recalls how he and his mates used to jetty jump, then hang out in the adjacent park eating fish and chips from the famous San Remo co-op. He points to the nearby Westernport Hotel and its front beer garden, with its uninterrupted view of the Narrows strait.
The island is beautiful any time of the year.
“Best pub in the district,” Nick says, then stops to admire a beautifully painted fishing boat moored to the pier. The vessel’s captain sees him and reaches to shake his hand. He recognises Nick from Team Ricky on the reality TV show The Voice. Within seconds the two establish that Nick knows the captain’s son. They went to school together.
That’s the beauty of coming home – it’s where you’re known and it’s the place you know. But this time Nick is looking through the eyes of a tourist. And he’s humbled by what he sees.
“I grew up on Phillip Island. All this was the backdrop to my childhood, just something you took for granted. I left when I was 19 to pursue my music,” he says. “But coming back and exploring, really exploring with a fresh eye, it gives you new perspective. It’s a special place, with a mix of wild and tame beaches, countryside and rugged bush, great towns, cafes and restaurants and places you can disappear into.”
Known for its penguin colony and wildlife viewing as well as the yearly Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, those who come to the island soon discover the greater extent of its charms and attractions. And many are hooked, returning time and again.
Phillip Island is easily accessed via a modern bridge that traverses the Narrows and links to the mainland at San Remo, hitting the island at Newhaven. Nick’s family home is at Newhaven, a seaside village with lovely views of the Narrows. It’s a place where locals fish, picnic and walk along the waterfront. Nick loved growing up there with his musically inclined siblings, including a twin sister. “I surfed every day from the age of nine,” he says. “We loved to hang out at the quieter beaches, too, soaking up summer during holidays.” Nick’s recent holiday, at the start of winter, means “open fires, big walks in the outdoors and good times. The island is beautiful any time of the year”.
WHERE TO STAY
Nick checked into Clifftop Boutique Accommodation (clifftop.com.au), a family-run property at Smiths Beach built overlooking sea and bush. He loved the space and privacy Clifftop afforded – and romance. “I’d love to bring my girlfriend here,” he says. Standing on the cliff’s edge, he took in the astonishing ocean views and a coastline of beaches. “The rugged beauty of the island comes from the sometimes wild weather the strait gives up,” he says.
Each of Clifftops’ eight suites is appointed with four-poster beds, comfy sofas, fridges, DVD players and ensuite bathrooms with double showers.
The Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit Go Kart Track (phillipislandcircuit.com.au) is based on a scale replica of the circuit. The Champ Kart fleet is for public hire and includes tandem karts for family members. Nick was up for a drive. “The briefing at the beginning was great. It gave you a real idea of how to handle things out there,’’ he says. ‘‘The karts are quick – shame I wasn’t! But they handle well on the track. It was huge fun.”
From the track, Nick headed to old beach haunts, starting with Cape Woolamai for its great surfing, walking track, nature reserve for bird watching and patrolled waters. The eight-kilometre Cape Woolamai Circuit (visitphillipisland.com) winds along the island’s most southerly point.
Later, Nick joined the crowd for the penguin parade (penguins.org.au) at Phillip Island Nature Park, joining an Ultimate Adventure Tour group. “No matter how many times you come here, it’s always different and always incredible,” he says. The small-group ranger-led tour includes the best viewing ‘‘seats’’ for seeing penguins arrive and use of night vision scopes. “We saw upwards of 800 little penguins come in,” says Nick. ‘‘Using the night vision gear was a first for me.’’ The next day, Nick went kayaking (pioneerkayaking.com.au). “My first job on the island was to teach kayaking and other adventure sport activities, so it was great to get out on the water again.”
FOOD AND WINE
Phillip Island has emerged as a hotspot for boutique cool climate wines and gourmet grazing. The Purple Hen Vineyard & Winery (purplehenwines.com.au) near Rhyll has a cosy cellar door with cheese and wine bar. The Foreshore Bar and Restaurant (theforeshore.com.au) serves superb seafood dishes, and the lively Rusty Water Brewery (rustywaterbrewery.com.au) is where Nick caught up with his family for dinner. He ordered a tasting array of beers, including the brewery’s Caramelised Banana Wheat Beer.
At Cowes, the island’s main centre, Nick rates the lunch at Infused (infused.com.au), a casual yet seriously inventive eatery and bar on Thompson Avenue. “The place pretty much sums up the island – unassuming, then really surprising,” he says. One afternoon was spent sipping wine and dining on a ploughman’s platter at the Phillip Island Winery and Vineyard (phillipislandwines.com.au) while listening to live music. In summer, the winery extends its live music line-up to include large outdoor concerts.
An historic outdoor setting on Churchill Island is where the Phillip Island monthly farmers’ market takes place, too. Held on the fourth Saturday of each month from 8am, the market takes place at Churchill Island Heritage Farm, a 57-hectare site that also has historic buildings, heritage gardens, wetlands and visitor centre.
Spotted by Locals is brought to you in association with Tourism Victoria.