March of the Penguins - Aussie Style

Trip Start May 23, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Philip Island Eco-Resort

Flag of Australia  , Victoria,
Sunday, August 16, 2009

G'day from Philip Island on the southern coast of Victoria, Australia!  Now that we are settled and have some things sorted out, we are finally taking some time to explore the region and see the coast and Australian wildlife.  Being still gun-shy of our jalopy break-down on the highway, we decided to rent a car for the weekend and make the 90 min drive southeast of Melbourne to the Bass Strait and Philip Island, home to the Little Penguins.  The drive down was pretty relaxing, light traffic through green rolling pasture lands with sheep everywhere.  Of course we had our eyes peeled for kangaroos.  We have been here almost 2 months and have yet to see a kangaroo!  To be fair you have to go north of the city out into the bush and then you see them everywhere, like deer back home.  And they sell kangaroo meat in the grocery.  Haven't tried it yet though.
Not only is the island home to the Penguins, there are several sanctuaries for homeless or injured local animals. On Saturday, we decided to visit the the Philip Island Wildlife Sanctuary as well as the Penguin Parade. We spent the night at the All Seasons Eco Resort, and then on Sunday visited the Koala Conservation Centre and the sweeping coastal area called The Nobbies.

The Philip Island Wildlife Sanctuary was incredible.  They have rescued a wide variety of Australian/Tasman animals, from kangaroos and wallabies, to wombats, dingos, emus, all kinds of parrots and cockatoos, snakes, bats, and even Tasmanian Devils.  Because these animals will never be released again in the wild, they allow you to purchase pellet feed and actually walk around and feed them.  It was awesome to have a kangaroo licking your hand and a little unnerving letting a giant emu peck at your hand or sneak up behind you to steal a treat from your bag while you are not looking.  It was a great way to get up close to these beautiful animals, not quite as exciting as seeing them in the wild, but obviously takes a bit of luck to do that.  Becca's favorite was the cassowary (another giant bird) and the emus, Val loved the wombats, Tristan and Jerry were fond of the kangaroos.

Next we went to the Penguin Parade.  The Little Penguin swims around in the ocean all day and then at dusk when it is just dark enough, they emerge from the water and trek across the beach up into the dunes to their burrows.  And they do this every evening.  Some evenings they come out of the water in the dozens, yet sometimes by the hundreds.  The visitation is quite controlled, they are quite concerned about disturbing their daily routine and so no photography or video is allowed.  They have constructed sets of bleachers and boardwalks that meander through the dunes where the penguins enters their burrows.  So bundled up and with hot chocolate to keep us warm, we waited as the sun set, watching the waves crashing in and hoping to be the first to see the little guys pop up out of the water.  The first appeared about 6:15, and then another and another and another.  They would stand there in the water, wait for their mates for reinforcement, sometimes chicken out and run back into the water, but sooner or later they would gather and then slowly waddle across the beach into the hills and settle down for a sleep.  It was quite something to see.  On our visit the number of penquins was not very high, maybe a couple of dozen.  In the summer time the numbers can be a lot higher, I guess.  Still it was great to see the little fellows.

Sunday was the Koala Conversation Centre.  Currently home to about 20 koalas, they have a boardwalk that meanders through the treetops so you can get quite close to see them, although they move really slowly so the workers put up protectiver barriers so you can't get too close.  And man are they cute!  Most of them were simply perched in the trees sleeping.  Every now and then you would see one look around sleepily, scratch a bit and go back to sleep.  There was one mom and baby joey, but the positon they were in the tree you couldn't see the joey.  Maybe next time.

And then lastly we visited the wild "Nobbies", a majestic, quite violent stretch of the coast that is incredibly beautiful with the crashing waves, "blow holes" and ragged coast.  The visitors center there has amazing views of Seal Rocks where you can see the seals through the binoculars.  All that and fish n' chips as well! 

So that was our first real trip out of the Melbourne and to the coast.  There is a lot more to do on Philip Island such as visit the wineries, they have Grand Prix motorcyle racing, loads of biking and hiking trails, surf fishing, surfing and charters for offshore fishing.  We will go back in the summer and spend more time really exploring this place.  But this was a good start.

Spring and warmer weather will be here soon, and we think one of our next trips will be to see the Twelve Apostles, beaches and towns along the great ocean road west of Melbourne!

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