Sunday, April 29, 2018

Once in a Lifetime Experiences: Penguins of Phillip Island

We booked a tour with Wildlife Adventures, which start the day picking us up from our hotel at about 9.30. This is followed by a 90 minute drive South, towards Phillip Island.

Before that, we stopped just after 11.00 am for lunch, at Maru Koala Sanctuary.

Maru Koala Sanctuary has Kangaroo feeding (which I have already done at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary), and two albino kangaroos, which are quite rare.

But of course, Koalas are their main attraction.

We were lucky to catch the Koala at their most active. According to their handler, Koalas move only about 15 minutes a day. And sleeps up to 20 hours.

And are not the very brightest of creatures.

Because of their exclusive diet of Eucalyptus leaves.

So we were VERY lucky that while we were there, one Koala moved from one bunch of leaves to another.

And then she was done moving for the day (according to the handler).

After about 2 hours there, we headed to Phillip Island and the Penguin parade.

Pyramid Rock - in case it wasn't obvious
But first, a few other stops.

Woolamai beach.

The GP circuit of Phillip Island.

Swan Lake.

Pyramid Rock (on right).

The Nobbies.

Then at about 5 pm, the bus finally brought us to the site of the Penguin Parade.

In case you haven't figured it out, the penguins only come ashore after dark (to avoid raptors preying on them). So there is no point heading to the site at 2 pm.

So all the side stops were basically to kill time.

Until the "main event".

This was my status update on FaceBook:
Once in a lifetime experience: Penguin Parade of Phillip Island. The sun set at about 5:45. We settled on the viewing platform at about 6. The penguins were expected at about 6:20 - 6:30. Plus or minus a few minutes. The wind was cold. The light faded as night fell. The beach was shrouded in darkness, mostly. Some places dimly lit by weak floodlights.
We waited.
It was past 6:30. "Where're the penguins?"
Finally, there was a response from the crowd. Peering into the darkness, you could almost make out what seemed like the white chests of tens of penguins at the edge of the surf. Moving slowly up the beach.
Then they entered the area lit by a spotlight, and we could see that they were penguins.
Then the penguins dashed for the grassy area past the sandy beach.
I was deliberately ambiguous about the experience in my status update. I kept it "factual" because I did not want to discourage anyone from going to see this if this were the sort of things that they would want to see.

But I was... underwhelmed.

First though, you should understand that my wife and I avoid crowds as much as we can. If it is unavoidable, sure, we would brave the crowds for a greater good... or as a means to a better end.

But if there were a less crowded way, we would choose that.

Second, we would probably have never (or likely never) have gone for the penguin parade if it were just for us. I dunno about my wife, but I figured, 2 hours travel to the site (from Melbourne where our hotel was) and then back again just wasn't worth it. My plan would be to get a hotel ON Phillip Island and catch the Penguins the next time.

As it was, the tour schedule was for us to return to our hotel between 9 pm and midnight.

So the only reason we went was for my 3-year-old daughter.

She LOVES penguins.

At least the Penguins of Madagascar.

So this was for her.

But she didn't appreciate the long bus ride, the side shows (except for the koalas), and the distractions to kill time.

To be sure, the operators at Penguin Parade (and our tour bus driver and guide) have done their best to make sure that everything ran smoothly and efficiently.

The "restaurant" was as efficient as any army mess hall. You queued for the food, picked up whatever you like (you have about 6 to 8 choices) from the shelves, paid for it, and chowed down.

My wife got us a salmon and salad, and pork ribs on fried rice. The salmon was overcooked and tough. The pork ribs was pretty good, and the fried rice looked like bryani. It was edible, but not the best meal we've had. In fact in became the baseline for "bad" over the next few days.

Like when we ate sushi the next day, the bill came to $49, and my wife compared it to the $44 she paid for the "Penguin meal", which did not include drinks, whereas, I had a beer with the sushi lunch. And the sushi meal was much better!

But I do not want to be overly critical. So here're my observations.

1) Be aware that you are going to a VERY popular tourist attraction. The tour guide was telling us that the night before, 661 penguins were counted marching up the beach. (Just shy of the number of the Beast). At the site, we were informed that the night before that, there were more than 800. So on the night that we were there, the numbers were expected to be great too. Except that by my estimate, there were about 3000 humans there trying to see a few hundred penguins.

2) The beach is not lit to maintain the natural setting for the penguins. Also you are not allowed to take photos, and in any case, your phone camera is unlikely to be of any use, and if you have a DSLR with a long zoom lens, it would still be useless unless the beach is lit.

3) The beach at night can be very cold, especially with the wind.

4) With the darkness, the distance (you aren't allowed to approach the wild penguins), and the small size of the penguins (30 cm tall), you aren't going to be able to see much unless you are really close or lucky.

5) If you are based in Melbourne's CBD area, it is a 2 hour ride in either direction. There are tours that start later in the day - about 1 pm - and they take you direct to the Penguin Parade with few or no side stops. But you would still be returning to your hotel after 9 pm (we made it before 10, but after 9:30). Public transport would take even longer, if it is even feasible (not sure that it is). So plan carefully and realistically.

6) There are other options such as "Penguin Plus" which allows you to get closer, and also an underground lookout where there is cavern with a glass window for you to spy on the penguins. All these costs extra. I do not know if it is worth it. May depend on your luck too.

My personal opinion is that it is a once in a lifetime experience. I've done it once. It's probably enough.

I'll take my daughter to the Antarctica Centre at Christchurch Airport. You don't have to squint in the dark to see them.

No comments:

Post a Comment