The Penguin Parade – a unique wildlife experience
The Penguin Parade on Phillip Island is all about little penguins returning home after a hard day fishing. Although the penguin parade is the third biggest tourist attraction in Australia, it is not a show, but a natural event of the life of the little penguin that occurs every day, after sunset.
The Penguin Parade takes place in the Phillip Island Nature Park, 140km south-east of Melbourne. The short drive by car takes about 2 hours and can be done on a day tour to Phillip Island, home to rich wildlife habitat, including the Koala Conservation Centre and the second-largest colony of the Australian fur seals.
The history of the Penguin Parade
For over 80 years people have been going to Phillip Island to watch the Little Penguins crossing the beach at Summerland Beach. The earlier visitors came over by using the ferry carrying blankets, picnic baskets, torch lights to seat on the beach and view the penguins coming ashore on their way to their “homes”, the tiny burrows built on the sand dunes. Later on, in the 40’ when the bridge was opened more and more visitors came to witness this natural daily event. In the 60’ there was the first building of the viewing stands to protect the penguins and the burrows from damage, which have been renewed during the years to allow more protection of the penguin habitat.
The Penguin Parade in details
The Penguin Parade on Phillip Island takes place every day for 365 days a year, just after sunset. Throughout the year, you will be able to experience this unique wildlife event on Phillip Island. It’s an hour drive from Melbourne and it makes it to a great day-trip.
I experienced the Penguin Parade and its gorgeous setting. After visiting the Penguin Visitor Centre. I walked along the boardwalk that takes to the viewing platforms. Just before sunset, the sunlight reflection on the beach was magnificent. It was hard not to take pictures of the beautiful beach, as no photographing, filming before, during and after the penguin parade of the little penguins as well as of the surrounds is not allowed. While sitting on the viewing platform, waiting for the penguins I tried to take in a special atmosphere as much as I could by marvelling at the golden sunlight reflections that coloured the sand, the rocks and the sky. From the distance, I took this photo of the sunset.
Tips for watching the Penguin Parade
As this wildlife event is pretty busy and mostly sold out every day, I would recommend you get organized. Here below my tips for making the most of the penguin parade.
- Go to the Penguin Parade Visitor Centre at least 1,5 hour ahead of the scheduled time for the penguin parade which is usually around 6.30 pm. The visitor centre is very interesting. You need at least 30-45 minutes to go through the Penguin World, the display area to learn about the life of Little Penguins and what the Phillip Island Nature Park is doing to protect them.
- There are different types of penguin parade tickets, from the basic ticket entrance to educational eco-tours to the upgraded Penguin Plus Ticket that entitles to access the up-close viewing stands, along with a free drink and a small gift.
- Photographs and Filming of the Little Penguins are strictly prohibited, so be prepared for that. You will not be allowed to take any photos of the penguins. Once you leave the Visitor Centre and access the penguin habitat, along the boardwalks to the viewing platforms, the beach and the whole area you will not be allowed to use your camera.
- Try to spot the little penguins in their natural habitat. If you want to have a chance of taking photos, visit the Nobbies Centre, located 3 km from the Penguin Parade. This excellent ecotourism attraction with large screens and displays allows the zooming in on the Australian Fur Seals, as well as walking along the raised boardwalks that take to Point Grand and to the Blowhole. These are great places for taking pictures of the little penguins if you are lucky to spot them and see much of the breeding ground which is covered with penguin burrows.
- Get at the viewing stands at least 30minutes before the Penguin Parade starts. This is because the sooner you get there, the better seat you will get. Some seats might be reserved for VIP though, the first row at the bottom close to the sand path where a close up viewing of the penguins is possible. By choosing a good seat, it will mean a good viewing the penguins coming out of the water and crossing the beach. Standing up is not allowed too so either you get a good seat, otherwise standing on the rear viewing platforms may be a better option. The use of binoculars can also be a great help for viewing the penguins from afar.
It is truly an amazing experience to see these little creatures coming out of water in large groups waddling around and loudly calling out to other penguins. You may be lucky or you may not. On that evening, the ranger told us we were lucky to witness about 800 hundreds of little penguins coming ashore. Rangers start counting them as soon as they come out of the water so as to monitor them. The number of penguins changes every day and depending on the season, it can be thousands or just a few hundreds. During the penguin parade, you also learn about the cycle life of the little penguins and have the chance of asking questions. Here below some facts about the little penguin.
Curios facts about the little penguins
- On Phillip Island, there is a little penguin colony of 30thousands inhabitants.
- Penguins start their day before sunrise to go fishing, they might spend only 1 day and swim for 15-20km up to 100km, when they are not breeding or moulting.
- They eat 240gr of fish a day to keep their weight that will allow them to swim long distances and dive deep to find fish.
- Some penguins can dive to 60metres depth.
- At night penguins return to Phillip Island’s waters in small groups, up to 100 penguins, which are called rafts. The rafts break up in smaller groups just after sunset come ashore, every night taking the same path to reach their burrows.
- On the walk home, you will often see them stopping and resting along the path, they do this to check out their feathers, and sometimes they are waiting for other penguins before heading off to their homes.
- The little penguins are pretty noisy, especially during the penguin parade, they make the distinctively loud “Huk Huk” sound.
- The penguins are waddling instead of walking upright so as to save energy.
For more information about the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island visit their website: www.penguins.org.au
The Penguin Parade is a great day trip from Melbourne that you can by car, or by public transportation too.