Wednesday 28th October 2015 – not just any other day on our travels it was THE day of our trip to Phillip Island to meet the other love of Jon’s life, apart from me of course, penguins. The penguins do not arrive from their day feeding at sea until sunset so it was up to the chief navigator to come up with a few stops en route.
After our one hour journey west along the coast, we stopped at a town called San Remo which is just before the road bridge over to the Island. We had been told that the Fishermans’ Co-operative feed the pelicans at 12 noon each day and this can give you an up close view of these prehistoric looking birds. Us being the way we are, we decided to avoid the scheduled feeding and tourist chat and arrived about 5 minutes after it had finished and after some of the several coaches had left. Because the lady who had been feeding the pelicans was still around with her little shopping trolley (now empty of fish guts but smothered in flies!) the pelicans were still hanging around.
By the time we had taken a few photos we were the only ones there so had a quick chat at arms length with the fish wife before we headed off along the shore to find a fly free picnic spot. It was then that the fly ridden fish trolley lady called out to us to look in the shallow waters of the bay next to us. We could not believe the size of the sting ray in the water just beside us. It must have been around 4-5ft in diameter and looked deceptively tame just rippling itself along the shore line.
Evidently they like to chase off the pelicans….. Strangely within about 20 minutes of arriving, there was not a pelican or sting ray to be seen. They had all headed off to their natural habitats, no doubt with full tummies.
After an almost fly free lunch, we headed onto the island. I had my trusty map and as designated chief navigator for the day felt a bit disorientated by all the names replicating those on the Isle of Wight. Ventor, Cowes, …………. I think the early explorers much have thought the size and landscape of the Island resembled the Isle of Wight so all the names just followed on. Our first stop on the Island was Cape Woolamai. A brilliant surf beach in a nature reserve. Then we drove on through Rhyll to Cowes. Cowes was a lovely town which we liked very much. We think it is probably a very different place at the weekend and during the summer months but it was very quiet and relaxing.
On the recommendation of a very nice tourist information lady, we headed to the westerly most point of the island to visit Nobbies. The views stretch right along the coast and there is a boardwalk to take you around the headland to see the nesting gulls. A little offshore are Seal Rocks, home to Australia’s largest Fur Seal colony (but there was no one home when we were there). It was a very impressive location but the anticipation was building and we felt we needed to head to the location of the Penguin Parade just along the coast.
The Penguins (at last!)
We knew the penguins were still out at sea feeding and were not due back until around 8.20pm but by just after 6pm we had grabbed the very few warm clothes we have and were heading for the visitor centre.
It is a very popular tourist attraction and we wanted to be as close as we could get in the viewing area to see them waddle up the beach in the way only penguins can. On our way to the beach we had the added bonus of an up close experience of a few curious wallabies watching us. We also viewed a few of the nesting burrows for the penguins through one way glass in their nesting boxes and headed for the shoreline to get our pitch. Decisions, decisions, wooden bench, concrete step or sand? It felt tense. We opted for a wooden bench which Jon thought may be kinder (and warmer) for our bottoms. Good choice by Jonno. The Rangers kept telling us that the penguins would head to the right of our seating area which is where the majority of the nests are. I think they are also encouraged to enter via this route so that their electronic chips can be recorded for conservation and monitoring. Every now and then our Ranger would tell everyone to shimmy right and gain a few more inches of bench. It was getting very cosy and the guy next to me kept asking me to get closer so that I could keep this thigh warm. I think it was a joke but I didn’t like the look in his eye and decided to sacrifice the ground I had gained and inched back to Jon.
It was a perfect evening. Low tide – so the little chaps had a fair distance to cover before disappearing into the nesting areas, full moon and hardly any wind. The Rangers gave a couple of long chats about not unsettling the penguins and absolutely no photographic equipment is allowed anywhere when outside the visitor building. We were ready! Dead on 8.20pm we spied some little shadows down the far right hand end of the beach but too far really to see clearly, then directly ahead we saw about 30 slivers of shiny white tummy waddle towards us. It was weird because there was absolutely no sign of them leaving the water. We figured that when they are swimming their blue shiny backs would be invisible due to the dark waters and then as soon as they are upright their white tummies show up. They were a little cautious. Waddled a bit then all stopped and had a look around as penguins tend to do. Waddle a bit more then all fall over one of the gang who had decided to stop and lay down. They came past us at a distance of around 10 feet from our bench. A perfect view and a warm bottom although there was a bit of a draft through the gap I had caused between me and the thigh guy.
Despite the number of people around us, it felt like the penguins were only there for us and it was one of those “moments” again. We just squeezed in close to each other and were mesmerized watching batch after batch of the little guys make their weary waddle homeward. In most cases the one parent penguin will have been feeding and sleeping at sea since sunrise, they head back so late only to avoid the predators (mostly foxes and birds of prey). While the other parent looks after the chicks. Once the chicks are around 3 weeks old, they can be left and both parents head out to sea to feed. This pattern makes the numbers of adults at sea each day quite erratic and can go up and down depending on the amount of newborn chicks.
Between groups of arrivals, Jon spied a chap using google glasses to take photos so he made the ranger aware and they were duly ticked off. It is amazing (and irritating) the number of people who do not respect what they are told, especially when a very detailed explanation is given for it. For us it was one of those times though that I wouldn’t want to waste a single moment lining up a camera. For this reason, some of the photos in this post are from their website.
Still feeling overwhelmed from the arrival of the little fellas, we headed for the boardwalk where you can see the penguins locating their nests. These little lads and lasses walk a crazy distance through thick undergrowth to find their young. Although most of them look lost, they know exactly where they are heading – it is only tiredness and the distraction of us humans that throws them a bit occasionally. We could have watched them forever but slowly made our way back to the visitor centre. En route we were stopped by one of the rangers. He had closed our path to allow one penguin to cross. Evidently this particular penguin had learnt a specific route from his mother, prior to the installation of our path, and he just had to use that route. Just the way it should be. It is their territory and we were the visitors. To console Jonno about leaving we invested in a Penguin Parade T-shirt before making the long, dark drive to our temporary home. Before we said our final farewell to the visitor centre a Ranger came up to us to say that they had had the record number of penguins that evening. The highest number for 60 years – 3118 in total. Following this exciting news, Jon did a sterling job negotiating the dark roads, wombats, possums, kangaroos and wallabies who like to come out in the dark.
- The Little Penguins are also know as Fairy Penguins and stand around 1 ft tall
- They are the only one of the 17 penguin species to be blue
- They are seabirds that don’t fly
- Phillip Island is home to around 32,000 penguins
- How to tell males from females? Its all about the bass (sorry I mean beak). Males have a slight hook at the end of their beak and female beaks are slightly thinner (and ladylike!).
After a well deserved lay in, we headed for the local beach, Venus Bay. It was so long and so deserted. We could not see either end. A few surfers were braving the rip tides and gave us a spectacular display of their skills. Jon, as usual, built a sandcastle and talked to the seagulls. Bliss.
Time to say goodbye to our lovely Airbnb hosts, Marlene and her hard working son Jason, she had made us so welcome and we really enjoyed the relaxed, eco mix of pumped water, Credence Clearwater Revivial records, apple slice (with a hint of lemon) and, not forgetting the deep fried cauliflower and reference book for our bird spotting. Time to head back to the big city of Melbourne and the next installment of our JWalking adventure.
28.10 – 29.10.2015