First look: Phillip Island Nature Parks’ new Penguin Parade visitor centre

Travelling Well | Justine Costigan | Posted on 25 July 2019

New Penguin Parade centre is a place both penguins and people will love.

One of Victoria’s most popular tourism experiences, the Penguin Parade at Phillip Island now has a visitor centre worthy of its tiny residents. Designed by award-winning Terroir Architects, the location and shape of the arresting star-shaped building – nestled in between the sensitive wetlands, dune and headland landscapes – has increased the habitat for the little penguins by 6.7 hectares while also offering more opportunities for visitors to observe and learn about them, their conservation, and the area’s Indigenous history and context.

The new centre is large enough to accommodate peak periods – when visitor numbers can reach up to 3000 people a day – and has a casual cafe and a restaurant where you can observe little penguins as you dine, two elegant retail outlets including a store specialising in Australian-made and responsibly sourced Indigenous products, an education wing with flexible spaces for school programs and guided and VIP penguin viewing experiences, and a theatre for screenings and seminars. 

The airy, open-plan building has soaring ceilings with geometric timber panels, a sleek concrete and timber fit-out, and expansive windows looking onto penguin habitat and the boardwalks. The luxe eco feel isn’t just cosmetic, the building is designed to meet the nature parks’ ambitious sustainability goals. 

“As well as ensuring the new centre is in the best place for the penguins, sustainability and innovation have been important guiding principles throughout the design and construction phase of this development as the Nature Parks strives towards achieving carbon, water and waste neutrality,” says Damian Prendergast, Phillip Island Nature Parks major projects manager. “This building will go a long way to helping us achieve that long-term goal.” 

Built at a cost of $58.2 million, the centre was funded by the state government ($48.2 million) and Phillip Island Nature Parks ($10 million) and was conceived as part of a 2012 master plan to better protect the penguins and their environment. Now that the new centre is open, the old visitor centre, which was built in 1988, will be removed and the grounds restored to penguin habitat.

The new centre is a shining example of how far our understanding of wildlife and how to care for it has come, far from the first guided tours of the dunes in the 1920s, the overdevelopment of the Summerland Peninsula and the lack of physical protection provided for the birds and their habitat prior to the erection of the boardwalks and viewing platforms. The new centre puts first the more than 32,000 little penguins who call the peninsula their home, while also delivering an exceptional visitor experience.

As well as the continued improvement of penguin habitat, a new 30-year conservation vision plan for the nature parks includes plans to conduct research on the impact of climate change on penguins, the ‘rewilding’ of the island through the reintroduction of native species such as the bush stone curlew and growling grass frog and the protection of marine environments. 

Among the top 10 Victorian regions for tourism, Phillip Island contributed almost $500 million to the state’s economy last year and in 2016-17 the nature parks brought more than 740,000 visitors to the Penguin Parade and a total of 1.17 million visitors across all its paid attractions.

“We are confident that this development will have ongoing benefits for Phillip Island’s penguins, our visitors and the community through the continued operation of this successful eco-tourism destination,” says Damian.

With a stunning new visitor centre and a thriving little penguin population, there’s never been a better time to visit this Phillip Island wildlife wonder.

You dig?

RACV members can contribute to Phillip Island’s coastal environment by volunteering with Phillip Island Nature Parks on Saturday 19 October. To register your interest click here, or find out more about volunteering at

RACV members save 25 per cent on the entry price to all Phillip Island Nature Parks attractions. Show your card on entry or pre-purchase online. 

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