Sunday, June 22, 2008


Continuing west slowly towards Melbourne, weather wet and windy.

Went to Phillip Island, a small island south of Melbourne reachable by bridge, because it is the only place in Australia where little penguins nest in large numbers. The 3 main towns on the island are Cowes, Newhaven and Rhyll. It would be tricky to visit all 3 UK namesakes within a couple of hours of each other.

The little penguin, not unsurprisingly, is the smallest penguin in the world at 30 cm tall and approx 1 kg body weight, and nests in hillside burrows. The nightly landing has become a major tourist attraction which is a shame in one respect but at least it guarantees the habitat remains secure and safe.

The viewing platforms are all on elevated wooden boardwalks so the penguins can walk underneath or around to access their burrows, and the area is closed off after dark apart from admittance to the paying viewers. No photography is permitted.

So we sat on a wooden bench in the driving rain and waited until dark, and little white blobs sparkling in the moonlight started to appear in the surf and congregate on the beach until there were sufficient numbers to make the long trundle across the sand, under the boardwalks and up the hills to their burrows.

They squeak and pip and chirrup to each other as they poddle along past the viewers, stopping to preen and oil themselves. There were approx 250 arrivals over about half an hour. In the summer the numbers can be 4-5 times this.

Apparently they will spend 2-3 weeks in the winter out at sea pilchard hunting before returning to clean out their burrows, catch up with their spouses and mates and generally socialise underground for a day or two before returning to sea.

To be so close to them observing the spectacle was inspirational.

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