The Fairy Penguins of Phillip Island

“The Penguin Parade”

Here we are again ‘Down Under”.  We had taken the train from Sydney to Melbourne, an interesting trip passing through places like ‘Wagga-Wagga’, ‘Cootamundra’, and past Australia’s capital of Canberra.  It was a pleasant ride as we travelled through miles of pasture land, cattle ranches, thousands of sheep, horses, and even some alpacas.  There were lots of pines and eucalyptus and many species of trees I could not recognize.  We eventually arrived at the ‘Southern Cross Station’, now named ‘Spencer Street Station’.  We were lucky because our travel agent had booked a great hotel just across the street from the train station, so we were soon settled into our room.

Gloria Jean’s from Author Ian Kent
Gloria Jean’s

One of the first things you discover about Australia is that they make great coffee, beer, and pastries!  When we left the hotel to go for a walk, we noticed a coffee shop just across the street called ‘Gloria Jean’s’.  This is something like Tim Hortons in Canada, they served fantastic coffee, pastries, sandwiches and frittatas.  We soon became steady customers and got to know the owner quite well.  His name was Enrico, and he was from Palermo, Sicily.  Small world.

A little story related to this:  Years later, Diana and I were in the little airport on the island of Naxos, Greece, waiting for our plane to Athens.  We noticed a coffee shop there called ‘Gloria Jean’s’, and they were serving much of the same things we had seen down under.  So of course, we asked the couple running the place if they were from Australia.  No, somewhere else, I can’t remember where, and they said they knew nothing about the ‘Gloria Jean’ name, they were not a franchisee.  A peculiar incident and I’m not sure we got the entire story.

Melbourne city is a treat, a delightful combination of old and new, often referred to as the ‘cultural centre of Australia’.  They have saved many of their old, classic buildings, and have integrated them together with the new modern buildings.  Even the transportation choices are mixed. 

Old and New from Author Ian Kent
Old and New

Modern street cars ‘glide’ around quietly on the streets, and once in a while an old classic tramcar shows up. 

Modern tramcar from Author Ian Kent
Modern tramcar

We saw a beautiful example of one of the old ones that had been decorated up in an ‘over the top’ crazy manner.  This one was owned by a fellow from India or Pakistan, and was a classic sight on the streets of Melbourne as it rolled along, bells and whistles and Bollywood music blasting from large speakers.  In a previous ‘travel tale’, I described a different tramcar, our evening on the “Colonial Tramcar Restaurant”, an old tramcar that has been converted into a travelling restaurant.

But enough about Melbourne, we were ready to head out on our excursion to see the “Penguin Parade” on Phillip Island, about 86 miles south.  On the day we were scheduled to go, the big AAT King’s Volvo Bus picked us up and we were soon on our way out of town.  Roger was our driver/tour guide who gave us a constant interesting and informative commentary all around town and as we headed towards Phillip Island.

Up close and personal with a kangaroos from Author Ian Kent
Up close and personal with a kangaroos

We first stopped for ‘Devonshire Tea’ at the Warrook Cattle farm, where we browsed around the compound, among the sheep, goats, kangaroos and many colourful birds.  After a little detour to a lovely beach area, then back toward Cowes and the penguin area.  We then stopped at the Phillip Island Koala Conservation area and enjoyed viewing several Koalas munching on Eucalyptus leaves.  The trees were filled with many colourful bird species, including a noisy Kookaburra.

Kookaburra from Author Ian Kent
Kookaburra

We then carried on to Cowes for ‘tea’ (supper), and stopped at a pretty little village on the ocean, and had Fish and Chips, or what they call ‘Flake and Chips’ in Australia, which actually is shark  meat. 

Waiting for penguins to come ashore from Author Ian Kent
Waiting for penguins to come ashore

After dinner, we drove to a rocky area where the surf was crashing on the rocks.    People were gathering near the beaches and on the walkways, waiting for the penguins to show up.  Just a word about these penguins.  Although I refer to them as ‘Fairy Penguins’, the term that is commonly used now is just ‘Little Penguins’, or even ‘Little Blue Penguins’ because of their slate blue plumage  They are found mainly on the coastlines of Australia and New Zealand, and are only about 12 or 13 inches long, weighing just over 3 pounds.  Phillip Island is home to about 32,000 breeding adults, making their nightly ocean exodus a popular tourist sight.  They come ashore in groups and immediately head up the beach towards the hills above, where their burrows are located.  They are in danger of being hunted by several predators, but in some locations, Maremma sheep dogs are use to protect the colonies.

Each evening at sunset, the penguins came out of the ocean nearby, and head up the beach and more, climbing several hundred feet up the steep, sandy cliffs through the low bushes, to tuck themselves away in small burrows in the hill.  The ones that were moulting had to keep themselves tucked away in a burrow for at least two weeks, while they grew a new coat.  We could scarcely believe they could climb that high up the cliffs, but apparently they have been doing this for thousands of years.

Waiting for penguins to come ashore from Author Ian Kent
Waiting for penguins to come ashore

We were cautioned to stay away from the paths the penguins were taking, and not impede them in any way.  They had built board walkways over the beach, to allow the birds to walk under and head up the hill.  The tourists had to stay above, out of the way.  Apparently, years ago, people were allowed to wander the beach among the penguins, but knowing people, I can imagine that did not go well for the penguins.  For the safety of both the tourists and the penguins, they finally had to build some walkways and set some strict rules of engagement.

On the walkway, waiting for the penguins from Author Ian Kent
On the walkway, waiting for the penguins
The Penguin Parade from Author Ian Kent
The Penguin Parade

Before we left, we made our obligatory visit to the gift shop where there were many gifts and souvenirs, all ‘penguin’ related.  We bought a lovely fleece ‘penguin’ blanket to keep you warm for watching the penguins on a cool evening.

Returning to the parking lot searching for our bus, we noticed a sign warning everyone to check under their cars before they drove off.  Just in case?  This was just another example of the incredible wildlife of Australia.

Watch out under the car from Author Ian Kent
Watch out under the car
Diana with her Koala boyfriend from Author Ian Kent
Diana with her Koala boyfriend

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