While planning my trip to Australia, I noticed that one of the most recommended ‘Things To See around Melbourne was the Penguin Parade. To be honest, when I booked our tickets for the parade, I just had a vague idea that it was about little penguins, which I assumed was a quaint way of referring to the young ones of penguins.
It was only after we boarded our tour bus in Melbourne, that we learned from our very informative and entertaining driver/guide that Little Penguins were actually a rare species of penguins, in fact the world’s smallest, and Philip Island was one of the few places in the world where they could be found.
Our tour was coordinated by Great Sights. Once all the other members of the tour had been picked up, our guide informed us that the drive to Philip Island would take around 90 minutes. As we sat back and relaxed, he gave us a little background about Philip Island and the parade. During the entire drive, he kept pointing out interesting landmarks along the way and entertained us with stories about the region.
A little over an hour into the tour, we entered Phillip Island after crossing a concrete bridge that connects the island to the mainland. The island is named after Governor Arthur Philip, the first Governor of New South Wales. In addition to the Penguin Parade, Philip Island is also known for a wildlife park where you can interact with wallabies and kangaroos.
Our first major stop was at The Nobbies, a magnificent outcrop on the south-western tip of Phillip Island. It overlooks the Bass Strait, which separates the Australian mainland from Tasmania. You can walk along the beautiful boardwalks at the Nobbies and enjoy spectacular views of the island’s rugged coastline.
One and a half kilometres offshore from the Nobbies are the Seal Rocks, home to Australia’s largest colony of fur seals. You can watch for them from the multiple lookout points set along the boardwalks. The Nobbies provide natural nesting areas for sea birds. We also spotted several man-made nests for little penguin babies in them.
If it gets too windy on the broadwalks, you can zip into the cafe at the Nobbies Centre for a hot drink. The Nobbies Centre is an ecotourism destination featuring educational displays, an interactive Antarctic Journey, and a gift shop, in addition to the cafe. Its best feature is the floor to ceiling windows that overlook the Nobbies. Despite its attractions, we didn’t linger within the center as its surroundings was so much more spectacular.
Philip Island Nature Park
After about an hour’s stop at the Nobbies, we moved on to the Philip Island Nature Park for witnessing the Penguin Parade. Our guide had told us that the penguins were estimated to arrive around 7:45 pm that day. We had reached the nature park about 6:15 pm, so we had ample time to check out the displays, enjoy a meal at the restaurant there, and explore the surroundings.
After our meal, we proceeded to the viewing area about half an hour before the estimated penguin arrival time. The main penguin viewing area at the nature park has tiered seating and provides a 180-degree elevated viewing of the Little Penguins on parade. While waiting for the parade, the rangers there explained that a little penguin is about a foot tall and usually weighs around 1.5 kgs. They are also called fairy penguins. These fairy penguins spend all day at sea, catching fish and squids. At sunset, these little penguins return to land, and that is when the parade begins!
The Penguin Parade is a unique natural phenomenon; at sunset, batch after batch of little penguins emerge from the sea. You can watch from the viewing stands as they tumble from the waves, come ashore, and waddle across the beach and past the stands, slowly making their way back to their burrows on the land. Photography and filming of the penguins is not permitted at the parade because penguins have sensitive eyes and a sudden flash can frighten them. However, you can freely download and share photos of the penguins from the online gallery at their official site. All the photographs below are from the gallery of the nature park.
After watching four of five batches of penguins arrive from the viewing stand, we walked down the elevated timber boardwalks and watched the penguins make their way underneath to their burrows, where their chicks are eagerly awaiting their return. The parent Little Penguins, both male and female, eat more then they need at sea and then feed their babies by regurgitating all the extra food when they return to land.
All in all, the Little Penguin Parade at Philip Island was a magical experience, something that I’ll cherish forever.
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