Melbourne is a vibrant city full of world class restaurants, museums, theaters and gardens. Any tourist, or resident for that matter, could easily lose themselves in all that the city has to offer. Even with its multicultural charm, Melbourne is seriously lacking one key Australian ingredient…penguins! I know what you are thinking. Penguins in Australia? Yes, in addition to the expected kangaroos and wallabies, the southern coast is home to the “little penguins.”
Last Saturday I went in search of Australia’s unlikely residents. Just an hour and half south east of Melbourne is Phillip Island. The island itself has only 7,000 residents, yet attracts 3.5 million visitors each year. My travel mates, Kaleigh, Mandy, Lauren and I arrived early in the afternoon and checked into our hostel, called the chill house which was located in the islands largest town, Cowes.
Our first stop in town was the tourist information center to purchase our tickets for the nightly Penguin Parade. From there we headed to the island’s second most popular destination, the wildlife park. Upon entry, each guest gets a bag of feed for all the grass eating animals in the park. I was expecting to feed a few animals through a fence. Boy was I wrong. Wallabies, emu, and kangaroos have free range of the vast park. I’ve fed goats and llamas at petting zoos but I never thought I would be roaming the scrub brush to feed kangaroos. There was hardly ever a need to offer food to the kangaroos or wallabies – they would hop right to you, put their paws on the bag and chow down. The emus were especially aggressive and I made sure to steer clear of them. The park also had a range of less people-friendly animals like the wombat, koala, Tasmanian devil, and pre-historic looking cassowary (think dinosaur mixed with ostrich). My friends and I agreed that we could have stayed at the park all day, but Mother Nature had other plans. Heavy rain forced us to bid the kangaroos farewell and seek shelter in our hostel.
The little penguins only make their appearance at dusk when they head from the sea to their burrows on land. The very clever tourism office on Phillip Island has capitalized on the penguins as a tourist curiosity and built stadium style seating all along the shore. During peak time in the summer, up to 2,000 people can pay to watch the swarms of penguins waddle in. The night I visited was less busy, mostly due to the rain that never ceased to soak everyone. Nothing but an ankle length poncho could have protected me from the rain that night. Nevertheless, the penguins were adorable and well worth getting soaked. From the bleachers it was difficult to see the little guys since they are no more than a foot tall, but the boardwalk back to the main visitor’s center runs right along the burrows so you can see them up close. So adorable!
After one day on Phillip Island we’d seen most of what the island had to offer. We checked out of our hostel and made our final stop at The Nobbies – a collection of seal covered rocks and tidepools. It was a short visit since the warm summer temperatures are long gone. We had coffee and muffins in the café to warm up then embarked on the quick drive back to the city. What a fun weekend it was!
All the best,