Phillip Island Trek

 

Credit : Explore TV – Guru Productions

Uluru of the South Pacific

Just six kilometres to the south of Norfolk lies Phillip Island. In the right light, the island appears in its striking colours; rich reds and purples, subtle yellows and greys arched like rainbows through the contours of its imposing form. Some have even dubbed it the ‘Uluru of the South Pacific”.

The island is difficult to get to and harder still to climb, but for the thousands of sea birds that regularly visit, Phillip Island is nothing short of an oasis. The island is free from feral predators and is home to several rare and endangered plants all of which are thriving under the protection and management of Parks Australia. But this hasn’t always been the case and history’s scars run deep.

Past

In the late 1700s and early 1800s then Norfolk’s penal settlements were in full swing, Phillip Island was overrun with pigs, goats and rabbits. The animals were introduced as ‘hunting targets’ for the officers of the day and as a food source for all of Norfolk’s inhabitants. When the settlement folded, livestock was left behind for the incoming free settles from Pitcairn. Opportunities to visit Phillip Island were fairly limited, so the rabbit population increased without restraint.

By 1912, the damage these animals were causing to the island’s vegetation was clearly evident. Pigs and goats had earlier destroyed much of the foliage, but the rabbits were undermining the soil structure and preventing regeneration. The island had become all but a wasteland.

The environment continued to degrade until the early 1980’s when several attempts were made to eradicate the rabbits. Commonwealth Park staff, working co-operatively with the Norfolk community, tried several tactics. They introduced disease, baited, poisoned, trapped and shot the population into oblivious, taking down the last of the unwelcome residents in 1988.

Reforestation of Norfolk Island pine on Phillip Island was assisted in the late 1980s by a C130E Hercules from the RAAF’s No. 37 Squadron based in Richmond. Record crops of Norfolk Island pine seeds were collected, and aerial seeded on Phillip Island by the Hercules aircraft.

Present

The process of regeneration is a slow one, aided by the protection afforded to the island in 1996, when it became part of the Norfolk Island National Park. Weed eradication is high on the agenda, together with the propagation and replanting of key native species.

There is little doubt that the island is recovering. The rehabilitation work is a credit both to Parks Australia staff and the community. It is a shining example of what can be achieved when the two work harmoniously together. Miraculously, several reptiles that no longer exist on Norfolk Island maintain a viable population on Phillip. The Phillip Island centipede has also been rediscovered. One day it may even be possible to reintroduce species that occurred here before first settlement.

Species of special interest

Phillip Island hibiscus Hibiscus insularis

While the entire wild population of this plant is confined to Phillip Island, thanks to widespread plantings it is now well distributed throughout Norfolk Island. Its beautiful flowers are cream to light green with a dark magenta centre when they first open. The flowers then redden as they age.

Phillip Island has a vascular flora of about 80 species. Three plant species are endemic to Phillip Island. (Achyranthes margaretarum) was discovered there after the rabbits had gone, and the current small population of this species is derived from the single original plant discovered. (Abutilon julianae) was rediscovered on Phillip Island when the rabbits had almost been eradicated; it had been believed extinct for more than seventy years.

Animals

Despite the environmental degradation, the lack of feral cats and rats on the island has allowed some animals to persist there after having become extinct on Norfolk. However, there are extinct species that lived on both islands, such as the Norfolk kaka. Two terrestrial reptiles—a gecko (Christinus guentheri), and a skink (Cyclodina lichenigera)—have been recorded.

The island is also an important breeding site for 12 species of seabirds, including the providence petrel, Kermadec petrel, white-necked petrel, black-winged petrel, wedge-tailed shearwater, Australasian gannet, sooty tern (known locally as the whale bird), red-tailed tropicbird, and grey noddy. The sooty tern has traditionally been subject to seasonal egg harvesting.

Phillip Island has been identified by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA), separate from the Norfolk Island IBA, because it supports small but increasing populations of providence and white-necked petrels as well as over 1% of the world population of grey noddies.

Getting there

Access to the island is weather-dependant and an experienced guide is always required.

To organise a visit, contact the Norfolk Island Visitors Information Centre

Read the SMH Article : ‘Not a scrap of vegetation’: The decades-long fight to bring Phillip Island back from the brink

Download your Phillip Island Map here ( PDF ) https://parksaustralia.gov.au/norfolk/pub/phillip.pdf

Credit : Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water

Photo : Norfolk Island Tourism

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