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About Australia, part 7 (Phillip Island)

November 21, 2011

Well, I figure since it’s been nearly 3 months since we went to Australia, it’s a good time to blog about the second half of our trip.
If you haven’t read the previous 6 posts (sheesh, that’s so many), you can read them here:

Part 1 : Getting there
Part 2: The First Day
Part 3: The Werribee Zoo
Part 4: The Great Ocean Road
Part 5: The Sunrise Hot Air Balloon ride
Part 6: The Wine Tour 

We got up early the 4th day and walked to breakfast on Degraves St. – where they have quite a few cafes that have tables in the middle of the street where you can eat outside. We ate at The Quarter, and people-watching was in full effect.

 (not sure why this distorted Howdy’s face in a weird way… silly camera)

After breakfast, we stopped at Brunetti to grab coffee for the road, and ran into Steven and Melody, who were there trying it out based on our recommendation. We chatted for a while, then went our separate ways. Howdy and I were using our last day with the rental car to head down to Phillip Island.

Before leaving the States we had purchased tickets for the Nature Parks on Phillip Island. The island is about a 2-2.5 hour drive from Melbourne, and since we had the whole day to kill, we decided to also drive down to Wilsons Promontory National Park, which is the southern most point of mainland Australia (the only thing between this part of Australia and Antarctica is Tasmania).

Unfortunately we weren’t able to go as far into the park as we would have liked because many of the roads and hiking paths had been washed out from flooding earlier in the year. We drove as far as we could before having to turn around and head back.

We were super excited to see a little joey on the side of the road as we were leaving:

We pulled the car right up next to him and he let us take quite a few pictures. He just sat there eating and hanging out – completely unperturbed by us.

We hadn’t realized quite how far Phillip Island was from Wilsons Promontory, so we found ourselves once again in a position of going as fast as we safely (and legally) could go to make it to an attraction on time. Throughout our entire car ride to Wilsons Promontory, and then to Phillip Island, we amused ourselves with looking for road signs warning us to watch out for specific animals. We were determined to get a picture of each kind, and we did (I even got a two-for-one shot in the park!):

It was a gorgeous day for driving and we made it across the bridge to Phillip Island without incident:

We had just enough time to visit the Koala Conservation Center before it closed, which was a priority for me and the main reason why we had to hurry. But it was so worth it to see them up close! (note: these are 3 different koalas, not the same one)

After enjoying the koalas we headed over to the main attraction of Phillip Island – the Penguin Parade! This was such a neat experience! From the website:

“The Penguin Parade is one of Australia’s most popular wildlife attractions.

Every sunset, wild little penguins emerge from the sea and waddle across the beach to their sand dune burrows. Phillip Island is home to one of the largest ittle penguin colonies in the world.

The little penguin is the world’s smallest penguin species and the only penguin permanently found in Australia.”

The Little Penguins show up around sunset, but there is not a definite time since they are living in the wild. We took our seats on the viewing platform at maybe 5:45-ish, and the penguins arrived sometime around 6:15-6:20. Once the sun started to go down, and the sea breeze picked up, it was pretty chilly on the beach. We had each bought an extra layer (hoodie for me, fleece half-zip for Howdy) at the Koala Conservation Center, and we were very glad we did!

Unfortunately they do not allow pictures during the Penguin Parade. From the website again: “Penguins have sensitive eyes and a bright, sudden flash or unusual light can frighten or disorientate a penguin. Unfortunately our rangers cannot tell who will use flash and who won’t until after the damage has been done. To ensure penguins keep coming back to this special area we ask you to keep your cameras or camcorders away at the Penguin Parade.”

I wished we would have had some pictures, of course, but the only one I took was right after we were seated, just before the sunset. The strip of sand in the middle of the picture is where we watched hundreds of penguins waddle in from the ocean and head home to their burrows:

We originally went with the regular package, but upgraded to the “Penguins Plus” package when we checked in at the ticket counter, and I would highly recommend doing that if you get the chance. It included a free beverage (we each went with a hot chocolate), rental of an iPod nano pre-programmed with more info on the penguins and their habitat, etc…, as well as a discounted souvenir photo (which we passed on), and most importantly – a closer seat to the penguins!

The penguins were so cute! If you’ve ever seen the animated movie Madagascar (or previews for it), they always show the little band of penguins who sneak around in their groups – and that’s exactly what these penguins were like. All of a sudden a group of about 10 or so rolled in on the tide, and then they would stand up and move slowly forward together in a tight group keeping a lookout for predators. One of them would get spooked, and back they all went into the waves. Then a few minutes later, they’d creep up a little further on the beach…only to run right back into the waves again! They did this quite a few times before they got brave enough to come all the way up to the sand path in the picture above. Once there they broke off into smaller groups of 2-5 and made their way to the burrows. They filed right past where we were sitting and the park rangers encouraged us to watch them for a while, and then follow them down the boardwalk to see where they were going. They are so small – about the size of a small stuffed animal – that I could have picked one up and put it in my purse.

After the initial group went by, we looked back toward the water and saw a group of several hundred Little Penguins coming out of the ocean now that the initial “scouting party” had made it safely. We watched them for about 45 minutes and you could hear their ‘spouses’ greeting them when they made it home to the burrows – some a little more enthusiastically than others. 😉

This is not us, but this picture was taken from the area we were sitting, so you can get a good idea of how close we were to the little guys:

[source]

When we were leaving the rangers told us to check under our cars and watch out as we were driving, since sometimes the penguins have burrows further away and they had been known to cross the parking lot to get there. We also were stopped on the walk back up to the visitor’s center to allow a group of penguins to cross the sidewalk without interference. So neat to see these cute animals in their natural environment. I was definitely glad we put this on our list of things to see, because it was great!

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