Back when I went to Australia I was probing friends about what to do in Melbourne and one thing that came up was the Phillip Island Penguin Parade. While I didn’t get a unanimous YES, I did get the feeling that if you had time, it was worth it.
Phillip Island is a little distance from Melbourne so for most people, it’s a afternoon and evening tour activity. I booked a tour with AAT Kings for the Phillip Island Penguin Parade Evening Tour, but was bumped up to the full day tour because of lack of interest in the evening tour.
On the way to Phillip Island we had a stop at the MARU Koala and Animal park. I had already been to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, and this place certainly does not compare in terms of Koala interaction, but was still a cool place. One problem here was that they said they had 3 koalas; however, I only saw 2. Compare that to the dozens I saw at Lone Pine… BUT, they had a great variety of other animals here. Kangaroo, Wallaby, Peacocks, Dingos, and my favorite, Emus. I just thought Emus were funny.
From MARU the tour went to Phillip Island where we had a tour of the island, including the coast line, Grand Prix Track, Nobbies and a stop in town to have dinner on our own. And if you were quick, a few minutes to shop.
We arrived at the Penguin Center quite early and for that I am thankful. As large as the center is, it gets quite crowded. On top of that, it was pretty chilly that night (I had purchased an extra layer or two for myself as I had not brought a coat on my trip to Australia) and you have to be outside to see the Penguins. The shops there sell anything and everything that you can think of with a penguin on it, but it was a bit pricey here. There were also quick service food and set ups where you can take a mock picture with penguins.
Now is a good time to explain that you CANNOT take pictures of the penguins, at all. This is so we don’t blind the penguins. They had tried to allow photography without flash, but too many people were still using flashes so they banned it all together. I found that 99% of people complied with this, and there was a ton of staff around enforcing this policy. Bottom line – I would not count on even sneaking a picture of them. Besides, to get a picture of them in the dark will require more than your iPhone.
As for watching the parade, there are viewing areas with seating. I arrived about 30 minutes in advance and if you looked you could find some seating in front on the far side viewing area. I found the staff members in my area really nice and informative.
Here is what I learned the penguins go out to sea to eat and come back to their burrows to chill out and mate and it was mating season in November. They don’t come out on the beach until it’s dark to protect themselves from predators (Wallaby). When they come up, they will walk a few steps, then run back. They will do this a few times and each time become a group with other penguins. Eventually the group makes it far enough that it’s too late to turn back and the crowd goes wild. Ok, not exactly. But once a group or two makes it across the crowd goes up to the walkways to watch them walk to their burrows.
When the penguins mate they get very loud, more of a laughing type of sound. If the mating was successful there will be a slapping. I did not hear any slapping! Penguins mate 30 times a night with up to 6 partners.
I’m not much of an animal person, I’m a bit afraid of them. But I do appreciate watching from a distance. It was really neat to see nature at its best. The Penguins are so cute trying to outsmart their predators, and the way they waddle, it’s precious.
An hour after the parade ended, we all met at the bus for the drive back to Melbourne, it was a nice quiet ride home! While I’m not a fan of large tours with full busses of people, the way this tour was set up, the size wasn’t a factor.
Where would I put the Penguin Parade on the list of priorities in Melbourne? I wouldn’t add it to an itinerary less than 3 or 4 days. I think a day in the city and a day for the Great Ocean Road are the first priorities in Melbourne. But once you start looking at 3 or more days, this should be part of the short list of activities.
Disclaimer – The photos are from the Penguin Parade App, I do not own them and since I couldn’t take any of my own, I thought I would use those to portray the parade.