Penguin Island

Trip Start Jun 15, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Flag of Australia  , Victoria,
Thursday, March 15, 2012

For Katy's birthday we were headed towards Phillip island to see the little fairy penguins at the Penguin Parade. A few months ago Katy came across a TV programme about little penguins which was narrated by Rolf Harris and set at Phillip island. We ended up watching quite a few episodes which follows a number of these little penguins as they grow up, go out to fish and have mates and families of their own. From then on, Phillip island was a 'must do' for Katy while we are in Victoria and therefore a fitting way to spend her birthday.

First we drove through the city (on the tram tracks) which is pretty daunting as Melbourne is crazy to drive through. There's loads of traffic as you'd expect but the addition of trams onto all the streets just makes it so much more complicated to drive. Melbourne has this confusing system in the city centre where if you want to go right, you have to go into the left lane... but then that isn't the rule for every junction so you have to seriously pay attention to have any chance of getting through. When we eventually made it to the Mornington Peninsular we went to an information centre and they were shocked that we had driven through the city, maybe we were supposed to go on Toll roads but we were too tight for that!

The Mornington Peninsular sits to the South East of Melbourne at Port Phillip Bay and we booked a campsite right on the beach. The Peninsular has miles of white sandy beaches and completely clear, blue water making it a top holiday spot for people from the city being right on their doorstep. The weather has picked up amazingly and we were able to enjoy 30C+ days right on the beach and it finally felt like Australia is supposed to. Fortunately the floods haven't affected the area we've been in so I guess that we have lucked out. 

 We spent a couple of days exploring the peninsular and enjoyed a few of the gorgeous beaches. Our favourite was Mills beach which has a number of coloured beach huts, spotless white sand and crystal clear calm waters for swimming... bliss!

All rested from our stressful city driving it was then time for the much anticipated Philip Island which didn't disappoint at all. The island has an incredible rugged coastline due to the huge powerful ocean swell and rough seas off the island. We went to the island peninsular called the nobbies where we could see just how huge these waves are. About a decade ago the waves actually killed a tourist who was exploring the area, he was just enveloped by a gigantic wave and now that whole area is off limits, so that gives you an idea of just how serious these waves are.

It is home to a huge seal colony who stay on an island just off Phillip island called Seal Rock. They are a bit too far to see with the naked eye but you can see them through binoculars or on the live video feeds in the visitor centre. The peninsular is a wildlife haven and there are loads of species of birds, wallabies and of course the little penguins who you can hear chirping beneath the boardwalks where they have setup their nests.

Phillip island is home to around 32,000 little penguins and they are now protected by the Australian government, even to the extent that the government have bought back a lot of the land on the island's peninsular to protect the penguins from cars, dogs and humans following a huge decline in numbers when Phillip island became a popular holiday location. 

The little penguin is the smallest penguin in the world and stands at just over 30cm tall, and every night at sunset the penguins who have been out fishing come waddling back up the beach to find their burrow, sometimes after days of traveling several kilometres out at sea. So this is what we had come to see and what the Penguin Parade is all about. To make sure we didn't waste our time and money, Katy asked the visitor centre whether there were many penguins around at the moment and was told that the previous night there were over 800 penguins at the parade which makes the couple of penguins at Manly seem a little insignificant and confirmed that it would be worthwhile to head to the parade at sunset.

Katy was very excited and we queued to be at the front of the stands and even then she asked why we couldn't sit on the beach to be even closer. It was like being at the strangest theatre ever, as we were all sat in rows looking at the stage (the beach and sea) and waiting for the performers (the penguins). We even had a warm up act when a seal came up to the shoreline and started catching fish and jumping and splashing around. Once he left though it was just a case of waiting and watching as they could arrive at any time. There were some seagulls who kept appearing and looking like penguins which was annoying as we would think they'd arrived... yet more reasons to dislike seagulls.

When they actually did land at around 8.30pm it was almost a bit disappointing at first because they're so small you can hardly see them across the beach and the first to arrive just hustled over to the very far side of the beach

But over time more and more groups landed and it was pretty amazing. They land onto the beach, wait for others to join them and become a little huddle and then waddle their way up the beach, past the stands and up the hill behind us. And not just one or two, they are in groups of 10-20 and the whole area is filled with the chirping of thousands of Penguins. We watched them from the stands for about half an hour and one penguin got lost and confused and ended up waddling right in front of us, looked at us and was about 10cm's from our feet before turning around and just waiting on the side having a bit of a rest. We were really lucky and got a proper show.

Once we had seen them coming up the beach we could then go back to the boardwalks and watch as the penguins headed home. Some of them that had been particularly successful at their fishing were all fat and would fall flat on their faces on the long waddle home, others still had 2km's to walk from their arrival on the beach and had to walk through the carpark to get home. We were actually asked to check under our cars before leaving which Katy did very thoroughly. 

 It was funny because the area looked like a little village and it was like watching a reality TV show just with penguins. The experience really exceeded either of our expectations and will go down as a major highlight of the year!
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