Saturday, January 31, 2009

Penguin Parade - Philip Island, Australia

2nd Jan

I was trying to think of what to use my last days hire car for and finally decided on going down to Phillip Island to see the proper penguin parade - if only so I could compare it with what I seen in St Kilda.

Katy and Susie decided to come along so at about 4pm we started driving down to Phillip Island.

Our first stop on the island was the town of Cowes (which is surprise surprise twinned with cowes on the Isle of Wight.) A nice little place. I parked the car and then we all walked to the seafront and to the end of the small pier before having some food at the small cafe beside the pier. On the way back to the car we detoured into the residential area so we could look at all the rich peoples houses (bastards)

Katy and Susie at Cowes

Next stop after Cowes was the nobbies! This is near the penguin parade place and is a couple of smallish islands (rocks!) off the main island. There was a large visitor centre and boardwalks down to viewing platforms. I've seen better places - there were a lot of nesting birds beside the walks - all gulls (I hate gulls!) some of which were slightly worse for wear:

Its pining for the Fjords!

Turn round you stupid gull chick!

Susie and Katy at the nobbies

The nobbies - its just a small island!

After we seen the nobbies (oh arr missus!) it was on to the parade. There was a massive visitor centre thronging with people before you even got to the viewing area. It had one of the largest gift shops I have seen, full of all types of penguin gifts from cuddly toys to fridge magnets. There was even the opportunity to superimpose yourself on=to photographs of penguins including one where you are the same size as the penguins. It was all abit tacky but as long I was sure all the profit went to the maintenance of the colony then I suppose it was worth it.

After Susie got a coffee and Katy browsed the gift shop we went to the viewing area. Once you go out of the visitor centre you are no longer allowed to take any photographs in case you disturb the birds. TO get to the grandstands on the beach you walk through dunes on an elevated boardwalk system. On the way there we seen a wallaby and we thought surely taking a photo of it was ok. How wrong we were - as soon as we took our snaps a warden came over and told us off! I felt like I was a kid being scolded for knocking over a lamp.

A shaky pic of the wallaby

Once we got to the grandstands it became clear just how many people were there that night - thousands and all the seats had been taken. Eventually the two girls managed to squeeze into two seats near the bottom of the steps. That left me to end up sitting at the front of the steps on the beach itself along with lots of other people.

I soon found out that in sitting down on the sand I had inadvertently destroyed a small girls sandcastle. So to appease her I helped her build another one. In fact I helped her build a better one - complete with moat and twig for a flag. Then that sandcastle got destroyed by people walking past - so we did it again. In fact we did it about 3 times. The girls parents seemed extremely happy for me to play with her - in fact her even younger brother who was only really a toddler joined in. I did get a reward for my help in making the castles - some popcorn from the little girl.

Anyway all this kept me from seeing the first of the penguins waddling up the beach. To be honest the parade was away off to either side of the viewing area and you could only really see the penguins in the distance (unless you had binoculars like me).

It was quite funny to watch. A group of penguins would come out of the water and group around some rocks before one of the got the courage to run up the beach then all of them would follow up in a huddle. We watched several groups do this before going back into the dune system.

This was where the real spectacle occurs. In the dune system are all the penguin chicks that have been waiting all day for their parents to return with food. It was getting quite dark now but the boardwalks lit up some areas where you could see the penguins walking up through trying to find their chicks.

I spent some time looking at one chick that was waiting in the middle of one track and every time an adult penguin came walking past it went and hassled it. I started saying what I thought it was saying to each passing adult:

'Are you my mummy? Are you my Daddy?'

Each time the adults ignored him and walked on to find their own chicks. I hope its mummy and daddy found him!

It was all so funny and cute and the girls loved it. We left the place at about 10pm and I drove for about 2 hours to get back to the hostel.

A well worth visit - although I don't think I would have done one of the bus tours who charge over $100 for the trip from Melbourne. Just as well I had a car.

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