Penguins on parade

The colourful local residents give Nina Rousseau and family a warm welcome at a hideaway for wildlife lovers.

Made it. Past the Koala Conservation Centre, through the sleepy hamlet of Silverleaves to “Tanunda”, a two-storey home on a bushy, residential strip, one block back from the beach.

The sun is dwindling, but is it warm enough for a swim?

It’s a three-minute dawdle past rangy banksia trees, and it’s their silver leaves that give the suburb its name – take thongs for walking over the lumpy “banksia men” and watch your toes on the gnarly roots poking up through the sand.

Shirt up, shorts down, and the nipper is in the nuddy, bolting along the sand, splashing in the giant puddles. There’s not another soul in sight, and Silverleaves beach is ours for the taking.

Gotta dash, it’s nearly penguin hour. There’s barely time to plunge the nipper in the toddler-size tub. The towel rail breaks while trying to hang up a towel, and the two time-warp bathrooms – retro tiles, boxy showers – are the weak links in an otherwise gorgeously renovated property. They’re perfectly fine, but at this price point, details count, and the owners plan to spruce them up this winter.

That night, glass of red in hand – a complimentary pressie from “the house” – we hear an owl “hoo-hooting” and the rustle of ring-tailed possums.

In all four bedrooms, the beds are firm but fair, the continental quilts bagged in designer covers, and the pillows soft. It’s an extra $80 to have crisp white linen included, otherwise bring your own top and bottom sheets and towels. Oil heaters warm up the rooms in the off-season.

A handy thing: each king-size bed can be unzipped to create two king singles, useful if you’re a group that doesn’t want to share beds.

Day two and the rain is sleeting down. It’s top weather to bunker in on the velvet sofas draped with cosy mohair rugs. The wood fire is already laid and crackles quickly to life. Loads of natural light floods the open-plan living area and it’s a relaxing and welcoming space in which to mooch around.

We make pancakes, finding a spatula among a draw full of everything you’d need. We rummage through the baskets of board games and new-release movies underneath the fancy HD telly. We feed bits of apple to the magpies and currawongs that turn up on the deck.

Downstairs are boogie boards and a basket full of beach toys. There is sunscreen on top of the fridge and thoughtful homely touches everywhere.

Day three and the sky is still grey but it doesn’t feel gloomy. Back through the sleepy hamlet of Silverleaves, and … Made it. Back home.

And then we ate Kookaburras were laughing on the way to Silverleaves General Store, a 15-minute walk, mostly through parkland. We shared a giant slab of house-made hummingbird cake and picked up the paper and milk. It’s more cafe than general store, and they do brekkies and takeaway fish-and-chips at weekends.

The deal-maker Easy beach access, bushland views and the abundance of wildlife. For pet owners, dogs are welcome.

Stepping out It’s about half an hour’s beach walk to Cowes. There’s the Penguin Parade, obviously, seals on the rocks at the Nobbies, the rugged waves at Cape Woolamai, and pristine golf courses. Or, you could do a Puberty Blues, and learn to surf. And do have lunch at Phillip Island Winery.

VISITORS’ BOOK

Tanunda at Silverleaves

Address 92 Silverleaves Avenue, Silverleaves.

The verdict Great vibe, a really easy place to hang out.

Price $260-$425 (midwinter to Moto GP) but mostly $350 a night (two nights’ minimum, four during school holidays).

Bookings Phone 0439 649 719, see stayz.com.au/102342.

Getting there Phillip Island is about a two-hour drive south of Melbourne on the South Gippsland Highway via the Monash Freeway. Once there, head past A Maze’N Things and the Koala Conservation Centre, and turn right into Coghlan Road.

Perfect for A catch-up with a group of eight mates, Moto GP bonding, or two families.

Wheelchair access No.

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