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Summerland Peninsula Master Plan and Visitor Centre Precinct

Landscape Performance Benefits


  • Contributed to an increase in conservation area of over 58% on the entire Summerland Peninsula to over 420 hectares (1,038 acres) through the government buyback of Summerland Estate from 1985 to 2010.
  • Eliminates the need for irrigation with drought-tolerant native plants at the visitor centre.
  • Created and rehabilitated an estimated 6.7 hectares (16.5 acres) of penguin and wildlife habitat, a 45% increase, as part of the first phase implementation of the Philip Island Nature Parks (PINP) Master Plan and construction of the new visitor centre.
  • Contributed to a 78% increase in Little Penguin populations from 1985 to 2010 in the entire Summerland Peninsula, from 18,000 to 32,000, during the incremental government buyback of Summerland Estate. The population increased an additional 25% to 40,000 penguins from 2010 to 2020, mostly during implementation of the Master Plan (starting in 2012).
  • Supports a nightly average of 1,045 Little Penguins crossing the beach at Penguin Parade, which represents 1.5% increase from the period before implementation of Penguins Plus and the new visitor centre (2011-2015) to the period during and after (2016-2020).
  • Supported a 487% increase in mean number of Little Penguin chicks fledged per mating pair across Summerland Peninsula from 2018 to 2020, from an average of 0.31 before the new visitor centre to 1.82 chicks per mating pair after completion of visitor centre in 2019.
  • Supported increased establishment of Little Penguins in new boxes (artificial burrows) by 215% from 13 in the 2021-22 season to 42 in the 2022-23 season. This equates to an increase from 4% to 13% of uptake in the 318 new boxes, which is exceptional as it typically takes 7-10 years for penguins to establish in new areas and/or boxes.
  • Provides habitat for protected and endangered species in addition to the Little Penguins: short-tailed shearwaters, a protected species; and introduced Eastern barred bandicoot, an endangered species.
  • Mitigates high temperatures in penguin nesting boxes (artificial burrows) by 6-8ºC (11-14ºF) with mature shade trees as compared to unshaded boxes. Additional vegetation added over penguin boxes can further reduce temperatures and reduce time of exposure of penguins to upper thermoneutral limits by approximately 1 hour each day.


  • Supported approximately 700,000 Penguin Parade visitors annually from 2015 to 2019.
  • Increases visitor capacity by 75% from 200 to 350 per night with the renovation of Penguins Plus to enhance viewing experiences of the Penguin Parade and colony.
  • Increases the length of habitat corridor that a visitor passes through by 58% from approximately 770 meters (2,526 ft) before implementation of the new visitor centre to approximately 1213 meters (3,980 ft) after.
  • Increased the visitor centre building’s visual interface with the exterior habitat and landscape by 64% from 73 metres (240 ft) of the previous building’s façade perimeter to 203 metres (667 ft) at the new visitor centre.
  • Increased ‘excellent’ ratings by visitors by 14%, from 64% before implementation of the new visitor centre (2017) to 78% after (2022), according to ratings in prominent commercial travel forums.


  • Projected to perform better economically by an estimated $15.3 million AUD by 2040 as compared to the ‘base case’ of continued operation of previous visitor centre.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Tract Consultants

  • Project Type

    Nature preserve

  • Former Land Use


  • Location

    1019 Vetnor Rd
    Summerlands, Victoria 3922, Australia
    Map it

  • Climate Zone


  • Size

    Summerland Peninsula Master Plan: 300 hectares (~741 acres); Penguins Plus Viewing Experience: 0.5 hectares (1.25 acres); Penguin Parade Visitor Centre: 12.5 hectares (30.9 acres)

  • Budget

    Penguins Plus Viewing Experience: $2.89 million AUD; Penguin Parade Visitor Centre: $60 million AUD

  • Completion Date

    Penguins Plus Viewing Experience: 2015; Penguin Parade Visitor Centre: 2019

Following the 1985-2011 buyback of the Summerland Estate, the single biggest conservation decision in Australian history at the time, the historic Summerland Peninsula in Victoria underwent master planning in 2012 to further safeguard, increase, and rehabilitate indigenous fauna and flora and to improve visitors’ experiences of its natural attractions. The peninsula is home to Australia’s most popular nature attraction: the Penguin Parade. Taking a “first principles” approach to designing with nature, the master plan advocates a multi-scalar approach to the development of ecotourism facilities, in particular the re-siting and construction of a new visitor centre and associated parking area, resulting in substantial increases in habitat as well as new penguin viewing facilities. At the experiential scale, priority was given to the approximately one-hour temporal experience each evening where tourists arrive from Melbourne to view the parade of penguins from the sea to their burrows. Landscape and detail design of the raised walkways and artificial lighting are utilized to carefully modulate human-nature crossing of circulations and experiences.

Summerland Precinct Strategic Framework and Summerland Peninsula Master Plan:

  • Evolve a better balance between conservation and nature tourism.
  • Increase area and quality of penguin habitat.
  • Set a vision for the whole of the Summerland Peninsula and establish site planning and a design philosophy to guide sustainable development and management of the peninsula.

Penguins Plus Visitor Experience and Penguin Parade Visitor Centre:

  • Upgrade existing facilities to meet planning and design vision set by the master plan.
  • Minimise impacts of the new tourist facilities (and their ongoing management/maintenance) on penguin habitat.
  • Improve the nature experiences of tourists through planned spatial sequences from the carpark, through to the visitor centre, and along the raised boardwalk and viewing venues.
  • Create site-responsive design elements and an immersive nature-based experience.
  • Integrate built elements into the landscape considering environmental rehabilitation and aesthetic experiences, material lifecycle, and more.
  • Create additional and varied penguin viewing experiences throughout the precinct.
  • A relocated visitor centre and new road alignments allow for consolidation and rehabilitation of habitat areas and highlight the area’s geological characteristics being sited at the intersection of three major landscape system: basalt bluff, coastal dune, and wetland.
  • A pedestrian spine extends from the car park through the visitor centre’s interior, linking to the Penguin Parade boardwalk alignments. The design enhances visitor experiences and awareness of the protected area through the naturalistic design entry sequence and the embedding of the new visitor centre low into the landscape.
  • The glazed façade of the visitor centre building draws the habitat-based landscapes deep into the plan, giving a sense of continuity as visitors move through the spatial sequences from the car park though the visitor centre towards the Penguin Parade. In effect functioning as a viewing platform, the new visitor centre design improves scenic value and nature-based visitor experiences that replaced the former inward-looking and visually intrusive visitor centre with site-responsive alternatives.
  • The Penguin Parade is Australia’s most popular nature attraction with over 700,000 visitors annually visiting during a time period of 45 minutes to 1 hour each evening, when Little Penguins come ashore. The master plan and design minimize the impacts on the penguin habitat while optimizing visitors’ experience.
  • At the Penguins Plus Visitor Experience, a boardwalk system follows the path of newly created wetlands, and a tiered gathering space hosts Traditional Owner storytelling dance as well as educational programs.
  • The project continues the practice of reclaiming and returning developed land to ecological conservation status, which was begun by the Australian Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in 1955. The most impactful decision was the decades long reclamation of Summerland Estate (completed in 2011), which formerly consisted of 774 housing allotments and a golf course. Since the 2012 master plan, more area was returned to penguin habitat (the bluff landform edge) and wetland habitat (creek floodplain) with the re-siting and building of new visitor centre and car park.
  • Phillip Island Nature Parks (PINP) faces the challenge of balancing the demands of growing tourism (not only to the Penguin Parade, but also to Phillip Island and beyond) with nature conservation. A key aspect of balancing these priorities is PINP’s commitment to a long-term strategy, as evidenced in the landscape architect’s robust master plan, which accommodates advances in science and research, PINP’s conservation efforts, and unforeseen events like the COVID-19 pandemic. An important feature is the master plan’s integration into built works, where staging and pre-planning is critical, as well as an design agile response over time. 
  • The master plan and associated projects offer exemplary lessons in nature conservation with the efforts to limit human impacts on penguin habitat. This is mainly achieved through: 1) The conversion of land uses to conservation purposes; 2) The rehabilitation of reclaimed land as habitat; and 3) the minimisation of visitor impact/footprint at the Penguin Parade and other conservation areas. At the Penguin Parade, the landscape architects had to design to place elements that shift over time and are beyond their control, such as dunes and penguin burrows. Hence, and related to the first bullet, it is important that flexible planning measures are put in place. 
  • The project highlights a broader lesson that nature cannot be effectively conserved in defined patchesespecially migratory species like the Little Penguins. Here, marine conservation is as crucial as terrestrial and demands significantly more conservation effort and resourcing. Related, it also offers lessons on the limitations of human agency, cultural frameworks, and decisions over time, informed by latest scientific findings, which are shifting from selective conservation of endangered species towards whole habitats and living systems. 

External Light fixtures: WE-EF
Bluestone Wall:  Gosford Quarries
Sandstone: Gosford Quarries
Bluestone Paving: Transrock
Balustrade Cables: Ronstan
Permeable Paving: Adbri Masonry
Timber Decking Boards (Ironbark): Talbot TImbers
Drinking Fountain: CIVIQ Public Use Products
Planting: Barb Martin Bushbank Nursery & Melaleuca Nursery
Cattlegrid: Aprilla Grids
Tactile Indicators: KORB

Project Team

Penguins Plus Viewing Experience:

Landscape Architecture, Concept Design/Master Planning: Tract Consultants
Architecture: Wood Marsh
Client and Environmental Services: Phillip Island Nature Parks
Structural Engineer: Webb Consult
Lighting Consultant: Electrolight

Penguin Parade Visitor Centre:

Landscape Architecture and Site Planning/Master Planning: Tract Consultants
Architecture: Terroir
Client and Environmental Services: Phillip Island Nature Parks
Engineering Civil/Structural/Electrical/Lighting/Hydraulic/Lighting: Wood & Grieves

Summerland Peninsula Master Plan:

Principal Consultant, Site Planning, Landscape Architecture: Tract Consultants
Facility Planning & Management: Sanmor & Associates
Architecture: Peter Elliott Architecture & Urban Design

Engineering, ESD & Building Services: Cardno Grogan Richards
Client and Environmental Services: Phillip Island Nature Parks
Business Feasibility: Urban Enterprise
Quantity Surveying: Slattery Australia
Geotechnical Assessment: Coffey Geotechnics

Role of the Landscape Architect

Summerland Peninsula Masterplan:

As Principal Consultant, the landscape architects were involved in all aspects of the project, including developing the project brief, strategic site planning and site design, stakeholder consultation, building/facilities concept design, and leading the work of specialist sub-consultants to deliver a staged and costed strategic plan to guide development of the peninsula. Following the Masterplan, the landscape architects were further engaged in a series of built projects to implement its vision. 

Visitor Centre Precinct:

As the first built stage of the Master Plan, the landscape architects were responsible for the site planning, design, documentation, and construction supervision of the landscape design. This included collaboration with the architects, engineers, builders and environment team to achieve site responsive, sustainable, and environmentally sensitive outcomes. The landscape architects were also responsible for the early site planning and concept design of the buildings and facilities completed as part of the earlier Master Plan works.


Land efficiency/preservation, Water conservation, Habitat creation, preservation & restoration, Populations & species richness, Temperature & urban heat island, Recreational & social value, Scenic quality & views, Other social, Economic development, Wetland, Trail, Native plants, Educational signage, Biodiversity, Conservation, Restoration

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