Instead of popping around to the local supermarket, you venture into the
cold, deep waters of Bass Strait to get your food. Not only that but you sometimes have to stay out there for up to 2 weeks in order to get enough to feed you and your family. You have to deal with sharks, fur seals, sea eagles and the ever-present risk of drowning due to your feathers becoming waterlogged. On top of all that, when you do return to land there’s at best, a long waddle to your burrow, at worst an ominous gauntlet of feral cats.
Sounds like surviving this trip to the shops would be nothing short of a miracle, right?
Yet, every night of every day of every year, hundreds of the little penguins of Phillip Island come back ashore to seek refuge in their burrows that are spread across a 6km2 area on the southwestern tip of the island. Yep, these creatures are troopers. Survivors.
The little guy battling against the odds and coming out on top (with a little help from their ‘friends’ – more on that later). This underdog existence might go some way to explaining the obsession we have with the Penguin Parade, one of Australia’s most popular tourist attractions.
Playing the waiting game.
The penguins run on the solar clock with remarkable punctuality, their arrival aligned with the setting sun, the actual time dependent on the time of year. We arrive at the Visitor Centre about half an hour before sunset, grab our tickets and are ushered down the boardwalk towards the Penguins Plus seating area.
As the expected arrival time approaches our eyes are trained on the water’s edge, and we listen closely for the sounds of penguins conversing as they reunite (they hunt alone), and gather in a raft (the collective noun for a group of penguins in the water) some 200 metres offshore.
While I’m talking collective nouns, when penguins are on land they’re called a group, and if you’re North American then they are a waddle. However, on consultation with my human companions we decided the term posse was far more appropriate for the creatures in question. But I digress…
The stars arrive.
Right on time (I told you they were punctual), with their white fronts disguised against the foamy whitewash, posse after posse of penguins appear on the beach, stopping momentarily as they prepare for their fearful dash across the sand and over the rocks
to the relative safety of the surrounding coastal scrub.
Upon arrival, they pause curiously, seeming as though they need a moment just to collect themselves, then they preen their feathers and re-waterproof them using oil from a gland on their back, moving on just as the next group arrives.
After witnessing a few penguin posse’s emerge from the water, we leave our seats and wander back up the boardwalk to follow the penguins as they head to their burrows. It’s hard not to have a giggle at their half-walk, half-run. Many also seem to be engaged in an indepth gossip with their neighbours. Yes, this homecoming is as funny as it is cute.
We also couldn’t resist the temptation to anthropomorphise some of their behaviours by making up human stories about parts of their lives.
One of our favourite hypotheticals came courtesy of our new knowledge (provided by the ranger) that these little guys and gals have multiple partners over the course of their lives. Can you imagine coming back from an arduous foraging trip and bumping into an ex girlfriend or boyfriend on the foreshore. Awkward! Something we have to imagine happens fairly frequently based on the many squawking disagreements we witnessed.
Seriously adorable and serious conservation.
As we began our own journey back to the car the importance of these precious little creatures was made abundantly clear. We, along with hundreds of other visitors, were stopped by a barricade of volunteer-rangers so that a single penguin could cross our path on its way to bed for the night. Only once he or she was safely past us were we allowed to proceed.
Phillip Island Nature Parks (the ‘friends’ I referred to earlier) was created by the State Government of Victoria in 1996 and comprises over 1,805 hectares of Crown Land. It is a not-for-profit organisation who’s vision is…
“To be a world-recognised place of conservation excellence, providing outstanding and authentic experiences for all.”
Your entry fee goes directly to the conservation and research of the little penguins. Due to the Park’s ongoing outstanding efforts this final colony has moved from the brink to one now numbering more than 32,000 waddling members.
We reach our car, obeying the signs to check under our vehicle for sheltering penguins and then drive away, having had a rare, intimate glimpse of one of Victoria’s smallest living treasures. If you have time visit the excellent onsite Visitor Centre to learn more about the Parks conservation efforts and the habits and biology of the penguins. It’s a great interpretive display which, when visited after the penguins have returned, has observation windows available to view into a few burrows close up.
The spectacle of the penguins emerging from the ocean is a wonderful thing in its own right, yet it is the overall experience and contextual education about these little guys that makes a visit to the Penguin Parade truly worthwhile.
It is for this reason that I highly recommend going for the Penguins Plus option. The tiered seating, the ranger’s talk and the opportunity to meander back up the boardwalk at penguin pace provides an immersive experience. There is also ample opportunity to get just that bit closer to the little penguins and see them go about their daily routines.
For it is returning this normalcy to the birds that is the ultimate aim of the entire Penguin Parade organisation and habitat. It just happens that it is a truly extraordinary experience to view something so ordinary.
- The Penguin Parade is located about 145 kms from the Melbourne CBD or about a two-hour drive away. Traffic can be slow going both leaving Melbourne and approaching the attraction. We recommend at least a day on Phillip Island beforehand or even better a few days to enjoy all it has to offer with no stress or rush. Visit the Visit Phillip Island website for more information.
- Penguin Parade prices start at $25.70 per adult^. Penguins Plus tickets are only $50.00 per adult^. We recommend Penguins Plus if you can afford it – the overall experience is much richer and more immersive.
- The ‘4-Park-Pass’ prices start at just $58.00 per adult.^ This includes the Penguin Parade General Viewing, Antarctic Journey at the Nobbies Centre, Koala Conservation Centre and Churchill Island Heritage Farm.
- Please note no photography is allowed of the penguins. It is asked you do not use your cameras, camcorders or camera phones at the Penguin Parade.
- There are more than 100 fantastic activities on offer in-and-around the Penguin Parade. Most of which are absolutely free! Learn more.
- More information about Phillip Island Nature Parks and it’s attractions.
^ Prices correct at time of publishing. 12/09/2017. All photography courtesy of Phillip Island Nature Parks. Please note we visited as a guest of Phillip Island Nature Parks. All opinions and views expressed are our own without influence.