On December 26th, Jessica, Rusty, and I headed to Melbourne. We were supposed to fly out in the afternoon and get to Melbourne in the early evening. We really wanted to have time that night to explore the city a bit, but our flight got delayed, which was kind of a bummer at first.
We made the best of it, though! The airline gave us meal vouchers, and there was a bar in the airport food court. Jessica and I bought some card games at the toy store (Uno and a card game version of Trivial Pursuit), and our afternoon was made! Honestly, it wasn’t that bad. The flight was short, once it got going, and we still had a minute or two to see Melbourne at twilight.
We ate some Chinese food in Chinatown, had a beer at a dive bar, and then got to bed early. We had penguins to see in the morning!
Did I say penguins? Yes, penguins! There’s an island off the coast of Victoria to the southeast of Melbourne called Phillip Island where people can watch little blue fairy penguins waddle out of the water and to their nests. The penguins nest all over Australia, but their habitats are heavily protected almost everywhere as the penguins are a threatened species. At Phillip Island, however, tourists can go and watch the Penguin Parade every day of the year. I’ll get to that later, though.
Phillip Island is nearly impossible to access via mass transit, and even if one manages to get to Phillip Island by mass transit, the last bus still leaves before the Penguin Parade. Thus, our options were (a) to rent a car and go there ourselves or (b) to sign up for a group tour. We opted for the latter. I called a tour company and signed us up for a half-day tour which would pick us up at our hotel around 2 PM and drop us back off around 11 PM. While it was only a little bit more money to do the full-day tour, the lady I spoke to on the telephone assured me that we weren’t missing much and would be with far fewer children on the half-day tour. I was sold.
On the morning of the 27th, we still woke up bright and early because we wanted to see some of the sights in Melbourne before our tour. First stop: The Royal Exhibition Building and the Melbourne Museum, which were next to each other and all wrapped up in some lush gardens.
The third picture is the outside of the Royal Exhibition Building. The last picture is Rusty inside the Melbourne Museum. I’m pretty much his personal paparazzo.
The Melbourne Museum was fantastic. The middle of the museum is called the Forest Gallery, and it’s an indoor ecosystem with all of the flora and fauna that you would find in a Victorian forest. It was quite amazing, actually! We overheard a botanist talking about the elaborate maintenance procedures they go through to make sure that the ecosystem stays healthy and functioning all the time. It was bizarre to walk through an exhibit at a museum and see birds and lizards run across the path in front of you, but it was incredible, too! We spent a lot of time there.
The museum also had an extensive collection of stuffed Australian birds. Rusty spent so much time there that Jessica and I had to split ways with him so that we’d have time to see the rest of the exhibits!
The tour bus for our trip to Phillip Island pickup us up right on time in front of our hotel. We picked up the rest of the group at other hotels, and then we were off. Our first stop was at an animal sanctuary called Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park.
Moonlit sanctuary was about half petting zoo, half wildlife sanctuary, by our estimation. They had a handful of every iconic Australian animal–koala, emu, dingo, Tasmanian devil, wombat–and then they had a natural area where the kangaroos and wallabies hung out.
We were primarily interested in the kangaroos and wallabies and the fact that you could feed them! A bag of food cost $2, and it was well worth it.
So much fun!
Our next stop was an a chocolate shop on Phillip Island. Snooze. I’m not even going to bother talking about it. I think they just have to find things to fill the time before the Penguin Parade.
After the chocolate shop, we went to a place called the Nobbies. The Nobbies is an area of headlands with wooden boardwalks and magnificent views. Off the coast of the Nobbies are the Seal Rocks, home to Australia’s largest fur seal colony. It was gorgeous!
Most importantly, however, fairy penguins nest under the boardwalks!
Many of the nests had babies in them. The parents were out in the ocean fishing and would return later that night. SO CUTE.
We left the Nobbies and went to find seats at the Penguin Parade. The Penguin Parade strictly prohibits any photography of any variety, but I snuck a quick one with my cell phone (shhhhhhhh).
As you can see above, at the Penguin Parade there are bleachers set up on the beach, which are connected to the main building and car park by a long wooden boardwalk. People start arriving and finding seats usually hours in advance of the parade, which begins right before the sun completely sets.
As you can see in the picture of the babies above, the penguins are well-suited for swimming horizontally in the water; they blend in with the water when viewed from above, and they blend in with the sky when viewed from below. However, these cutie-pies are not well-suited color-wise for their waddle from the water to their nests. This is a particularly dangerous time for them, so they do it in a very specific way.
When it starts to get dark, the penguins all swim close to the shore. When it is nearly dark but not completely dark, the penguins start the long process of getting from the water to their nests. They move in groups; the groups are called rafts when they’re in the water and waddles when they’re on land. The park ranger who spoke with us before the parade told us that they move in groups because a group of penguins, from the vantage point of a bird of prey, looks like a single large animal. The penguins form these groups right at the water’s edge, stand in the surf for a minute to gather the group together, and then waddle across the water together to their nests. They waddle, that is, unless they get spooked. If they see anything that looks suspicious or dangerous, they dive back into the surf. We spent a lot of the parade cheering on the rafts when they finally got the confidence to run across the sand! The night before we were there, they had 1,050 penguins cross the sand. We probably saw approximately the same number!
The nests were around the boardwalk, so as we walked back up the hill to the car park to find our bus, we saw the penguins up close and personal as they waddled to their nests. Fairy penguins may be the smallest penguins, but they’re the loudest penguins! The babies and partners would get so excited when their parent or partner got back to the nest! Lots of squawking. SO CUTE.
We snoozed on the bus on the way back to the hotel. We had another long day the next day!
Missed the first part? Read Holiday Vacations, Days 1-3.