The March of the Little Penguins

I only did a two-weeks-pit-stop in Australia, spending some time with friends in Sydney and quickly visiting Melbourne and the southern coast. Yet I had enough time for what turned out to be one of my favourite excursions during my travels: watching the parade of the little penguins on Phillip Island. Though it was freezing and raining, I had the best of times watching the little fellows arrive on the shore and waddling their way up to their nests. Cuteness factor very high indeed!

Being down in Melbourne only for four days and not wanting to go through the trouble of organising a rental car and driving out of the city and then not being able to really appreciate the scenery because I would have to focus on driving  and especially driving on the left side of the road, I decided to do a classic tourist bus tour to see some of the natural wonders of Victoria.

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The rugged coast of Phillip Island…
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Looks a lot like Ireland to me. Except for the penguins.

I did a one day bus tour along the Great Ocean Drive and another one that took me to Phillip Island just south of Melbourne. It was there that I got to see one of the cutest natural phenomenons: Every evening at sunset, the Little Penguins (and yes, that is actually their official name) make their way back  to the shore from their hunting trips in the see. They wait until shortly after sunset, and then arrive at the beach in rafts of ten to about forty. All together some thousand Little penguins arrive there every night, the whole island is home to a colony of 32’ooo. And little they are: The Little Penguin is the smallest species of penguins and only grows to be some 33 cm tall. They are exclusively found in southern Australia and New Zealand, and maybe Chile.

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The parade of the penguins has become superpopular with tourists, there is a visitor center and a cafe at one of the beaches where most penguins arrive and you get guided to stadium-like seats right at the beach. Volunteers make sure that everyone is seated and stays there and also that no one uses a camera or a mobile phone, because the flash could damage the penguins’ eyes. Even though I visited Phillip Island in June, Australia’s winter, and it was raining and windy and freezing cold, there was still a big buzz going on. Everyone tried to get the best seats, everyone was excited and impatient and not quite sure what to expect.

Yet when the speaker (yes, there even was a speaker) announced that the first few rafts of penguins were only a little distance away the whole crowd fell silent. Everyone was staring in the the grey waters trying to spot something. And suddenly there they were: Some twenty penguins were washed ashore with a large wave, and while the water started pulling back they hastily started waddling up the beach to more stable ground. Every now and then one of the penguins would get pulled back into the sea and had to make a second attempt, while his fellow rafters would wait for him on higher ground. And once the raft was completly assembled on the beach, the penguins would make their ways up the grassy hills back to their nests. More and more rafts arrived until the whole beach and all the hills were covered with Little Penguins.

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On their way back. Picture: visitphillipisland.com

It was one of the most peculiar and cute things I have ever witnessed. And even though the whole set up might be a little too touristy for some of the backpackers out there, I still found it a fun excursion and I believe it is probably better when the tourists are all organised in one place rather then having them roam the hills freely where the penguins have their nests. Touristy or not, I wouldn’t have want to miss the parade of the Little Penguins for the world!

 


Information:

Tour: Australian Wildlife Tours, Day trips from around 100 Dollars, usually including lunch, tea and entrance fees. I found both tours (Great Ocean Road and Phillip Island) much fun, the guides were friendly and had a lot to tell about the places we saw, the bus was comfy and you can get picked up at your hotel.

Stay: I stayed at the Nunnery, a cosy little hostel right in Fitzroy, Melbourne’s superhip, artsy quarter. There is a comfy common room, a kitchen, shared bathrooms, dorms and some single/double-rooms.

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Making new friends down under.
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Endless views on the Great Ocean Road.

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