Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Waddling with Penguins: Our 2nd Great Melburnian Road Trip

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Waddling with Penguins: Our 2nd Great Melburnian Road Trip

the littlest penguins in the world
Philip Island

Yes, that’s right. I didn’t have to go to Antartica to see penguins on the wild. I didn’t know this but my daughter had just done it a couple of weeks before I came oto Melbourne. The city is the place to see them on their nightly parade home to their burrows from a day of swimming in the ocean to feed from its bounty. How lucky can I be? This was our second day trip from the city of Melbourne, and it was just a one and a half hour drive to Philip Island!

We drove straight to the Continental Hotel on the famous Esplanade on the waterfront on the north side of the island in the town of Cowes, Victoria. We got there at about 12 noon just in time for
lunch at the hotel’s restaurant. After the feast of ribs, lamb chops, and seafood, we took a walk to nearby Erehwon Point where there was a playground for Kyrie to play and for Bill and me to walk on the beach.
Erehwon Point

We had to be at Summerland Beach, just fifteen minutes away on the west side of the island, by 4:30 pm, about an hour before the penguins arrive. This was the advice given when we booked our tickets online.  The beach is home to the largest colony of the world’s littlest penguins, about a foot tall. Since they had been there before, Clint drove us there soon after our short walk and photo- ops.

There are three viewing areas, at different prices. But the most expensive was a “walk with rangers.” As usual, we just took the cheapest, the general viewing pass instead of the separated area or the glassed-in deck. Our tickets gave us access to two platforms of concrete benches that radiated upward from the beach. We managed to get to the third row of the left one, almost at the inner column which was a good position because the penguins pass through the space between the two platforms. The roped-in areas of the beach in front of the benches would have been the best place to get closer to the penguins (TIP!), if only we had brought beach towels or bought plastic seating boards at the gift shop.

viewing areas
It was a cold night, the temperature hovered in the low 40s, but we were kind of protected where we sat so there was no wind chill. We were in our seats at 4:35 pm, after the walk down the long boardwalk from the Visitor Center.  The ranger explained to us that the penguins wait for dark before they come in because they are afraid the birds of prey may notice them. Also, they wait for each other about a hundred meters from shore and form a group, for more security, before they do come in.

The previous night they came in at 5:35 pm. They were expected to arrive at the same time. At about 5:30 pm, we were all hushed in anticipation. The excitement started to build when people spotted about two or three grouping together. They waited for more. At 5:49 pm, the group had become eight and they bravely waddled into the space between the platforms. No photography is allowed but I couldn’t help it. It was the cutest sight. I took a furtive shot. So did others. Then two more groups came.
they arrived at 5:49 pm

The ranger warned us not to wait for all of them to come in because by nightfall, the ones who did not swim to feed would come out of their burrows, unafraid. And they would be all around the boardwalk that leads to the Visitor Center. True enough, we waddled with the penguins as we made our way up.  I must confess, again I could not help myself and took another furtive shot.

There was only one problem. Outside of the protected area, the wind chill caught up with us and the cold became unbearable. So, even if we wanted to linger on, we had to run. Oh and the gift shop was a
welcome warm place. And we felt like buying anything to relive the awesome experience again and again! We called Clint to pick us up, passed through downtown to get pizza and wine. One mighty bucket list item checked off called for a celebration in our room!