As the day ends and night dawns on Phillip Island, a sense of excitement blankets the group gathered at Summerland Beach. With bated breath, we search the dimming landscape — the wheatgrass rustling on the foreshore, the dark ocean waves gently caressing the sandy shore. As dusk sets in, the end of the day gives way to the star of the evening, the much-anticipated Penguin Parade. Soon, the guests of honour are expected to make their appearance.
“The smallest among the 18 penguin species across the globe are the Little Penguins,” shares our guide, an expert from Phillip Island Nature Parks. The organization, a self-funded entity, works to conserve the island’s abundant biodiversity. Connected to Victoria, Australia’s southern state by a half-mile sea bridge, the island hosts the largest colony of breeding penguins in the world, with an impressive count of 40,000.
The tiny seabirds — not yet made their appearance — may be the main attraction here, but there’s more to Phillip Island than meets the eye. Since my arrival, I’ve been taken aback by the dramatic landscapes — golden bays, jagged sea stacks along the coast, transitioning to dense bushland and rolling hills inland. While around 12,000 humans reside here, it’s the thriving native wildlife that dominates the scene, ranging from kangaroos, koalas, wombats, dingoes, and possums, to wallabies.
“Before they come ashore, Little Penguins assemble in offshore groups or ‘rafts’,” explains our guide to us, the attendees of the Penguins Plus platform. “They stay offshore till dusk to evade predators such as pacific gulls and sea eagles. You’re about to witness them waddle onto the shore in groups, following their familiar paths back to their coastal nests.”
Left: With a slight size advantage over a bowling pin and weighing less than a kilogram, the Little Penguins (or fairy penguins) are aptly named.
Right: On Phillip Island, penguin nests are primarily constructed in sand dunes during the winter, held together by native grasses and Bower spinach.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY GETTY IMAGES
The area is purposefully developed to allow for respectful interaction with these fascinating seabirds, and despite the presence of about 150 birdwatching enthusiasts, the experience remains personal and intimate. We’re directed to switch off our phones and maintain silence.
Then, a wave of excitement sweeps the crowd as hundreds of penguins magically appear from all directions. The spectacle is further enhanced by their shimmering indigo feathers and gleaming silver bellies, beautifully illuminated under the soft lighting of the boardwalk.
Spending about 80% of their lives in the ocean, Little Penguins come ashore for burrow maintenance, breeding, moulting, and raising their young, informs our guide. The blue and white feathers provide effective camouflage against aerial and aquatic predators.
I watch an especially brisk group of penguins make their way down a nearby incline. Their movements, sounds, and interactions are an experience in themselves. A pause in their activities only highlights their shared exhaustion, which is not surprising considering their daily diving routine and long journeys back home.
Throughout the evening, we learn more about the lives of these intriguing creatures, about their nesting habits, the division of responsibilities during the breeding season, and the island’s environmental conservation efforts. These measures include the introduction of nesting boxes, fox elimination programs, and replanting native vegetation.
As we prepare to leave after our allotted viewing slot, the influx of penguins shows no signs of stopping. There’s always more to see on Phillip Island.
Located southeast of Melbourne in the Gippsland region, Wilsons Promontory National Park is a prime location to spot wombats in their natural habitat.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ALAMY
Four more indigenous species to spot in Victoria
In Wilsons Promontory National Park, a three-hour drive southeast of Melbourne, you’ll likely encounter wombats. With their sturdy, compact bodies, they’re adept at digging.
The Great Otway National Park, home to manna gum woodland, is a favoured habitat for koalas. The park’s conservation efforts over the past four decades have resulted in the largest concentration of this iconic marsupial in Australia.
Eastern grey kangaroos, with their muscular bodies, are an imposing sight. The vacation town of Hall’s Gap, bordering the Grampians National Park, is an excellent place to spot them.
Spotting a platypus in the wild is a rare and incredible experience. A guided kayak tour of Lake Elizabeth offers one of the best opportunities for this.
To attend the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island, you can fly from London Heathrow to Tullamarine Airport, Melbourne, then take the Skybus to Southern Cross Station and a V/Line bus to Cowes, Phillip Island. For more details, visit visitvictoria.com.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Penguin Parade
What is the main wildlife attraction on Phillip Island, Australia?
The main wildlife attraction on Phillip Island is the Penguin Parade, a nightly spectacle where the island’s Little Penguins return to shore after a day at sea. The island also hosts a variety of other native species, including koalas, kangaroos, wombats, dingoes, and possums.
How large is the Little Penguin population on Phillip Island?
Phillip Island is home to the world’s largest colony of Little Penguins, with around 40,000 breeding individuals. These are the smallest of the 18 penguin species found globally.
What are some of the conservation efforts on Phillip Island?
Phillip Island Nature Parks is a self-funded organisation that manages the local biodiversity. Their efforts include providing wooden nesting boxes for penguins, running a fox eradication program, and replanting native vegetation to improve habitats.
What other native species can be spotted on Phillip Island?
Apart from Little Penguins, Phillip Island is home to numerous native species such as koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, dingoes, and possums. You may also spot eastern barred bandicoots and brushtail possums.
What is the best way to watch the Penguin Parade?
The Penguins Plus platform is one of three ticketed vantage points in the custom-built viewing boardwalk for the Penguin Parade. You can observe the penguins in their natural habitat from this platform.
How can I plan a trip to Phillip Island to see the Penguin Parade?
You can visit the Penguin Parade at sunset any day on Phillip Island. To reach Phillip Island, fly to Tullamarine Airport, Melbourne, from London Heathrow. From there, take the Skybus direct to Southern Cross Station and then a V/Line bus to Cowes, Phillip Island. More information can be found at visitvictoria.com.