The main road of the island (Phillip Island Road) leads into Cowes and becomes the town’s main road, Thompson Avenue. A distinctive feature of the road is the 1 km lining of Golden Cypress trees which were planted in the early 20th century. Further into town, the road begins a gradual descent before it terminates with a T-intersection at the waterfront. As the road approaches the waterfront, density of restaurants and general retail outlets increases. Cowes Jetty was built at the end of Thompson Avenue in 1870 and remains a focal point of the town. It is flanked by sheltered beaches which are a popular attraction for families.

The earliest inhabitants of the area were the Yalloc Bulluk clan of the Bunurong people, indigenous Australians of the Kulin nation. In the Bunwurrung language the Island was known as ‘Corriong’ or ‘Millowl’. Their coastal territory, with sheltered bays, meant that the Yalloc Bulluk, along with other Bunurong clans, were amongst the first Aboriginal people in Victoria, to have contact with European mariners.¬†Following reports of the 1798 exploration by George Bass and Matthew Flinders, the area was frequented by sealers from Van Dieman’s Land whose interaction with the Bunurong people was not without conflict. In 1801, navigator James Grant visited the adjoining Churchill Island (which he named) and planted a crop of corn and wheat. In 1826, the scientific voyage of Dumont d’Urville, in command of the corvette Astrolabe, led to British concerns of an attempt by the French to establish a colony in Western Port. This saw the dispatch from Sydney of H.M.S. Fly, under the command of Captain Wetherall, and the brigs Dragon and Amity, by Governor Darling.

‘The Nobbies’ : site of Captain Wetherall’s 1826 flagstaff.¬†While the French colonisation did not eventuate, Wetherall reported on finding a sealer’s camp and also two acres of wheat and corn. A fort was constructed, named Dumaresq, after the Governor’s private secretary, near Rhyll and the ‘abundance’ of wood, quality soil and the discovery of coal at Cape Woolamai, were mentioned in newspaper accounts. Wetherall also erected a flag staff on ‘the flat-top’d rock off Point Grant’ (commonly known today as The Nobbies) on the Island’s Western extremity as a marker for the harbour entrance.