Friday, January 4, 2013
If you happen to be in Melbourne a day trip to see the fairy penguin parade is a must. It is amazing to huddle up on the windy beach as the sun goes down waiting for the first brave penguins to emerge from the waves to make their way up the shore to their burrows.
Magical twilight, pristine beaches and pastoral fields combined together make the Phillip Islands but the main draw for me here was a foot high flightless bird.
Animals usually associated with Australia certainly do not include the fairy penguin, but on a daily basis, scores of these adorable birds waddle from the sea onto the beach, up some tracks and into their homes. So off me set driving along from the South East of Melbourne passing through St Kilda Beach and vineyards, our first stop was the animal sanctuary. While it was the usual array of koalas, kangaroos, wombats and emus, it was worth the trip because our guide told us the story of when Captain Cook first saw the bouncing animal we now know as the Kangaroo. He asked a native aboriginal what the creature was, and got the reply, “Kangaroo”. It was only later discovered that “kangaroo”, in the aboriginal language, means “I don’t know”.
A pit stop at a nearby koala conservation centre, a patch of bush land where the island’s koala population lives, uncovered several of the cuddly creatures sleeping in the forks of trees. Interestingly the koalas are only 38 in number, and this centre has been successful in breeding a genetically diverse population to help preserve the species while providing excellent viewing opportunities for the tourists alongside students and for research.
I also shared a very intimate moment with a joey, a baby koala, who was napping at arm’s length away on a gum tree. Lunch was a quick sandwich and coffee as we were running late for a cruise out to seal rocks, where one can find thousands of seals living in a colony. And when I say thousands, I mean we saw an estimated eleven thousand seals that day. The colony can hold up to 20,000.
Finally it was time for the much-awaited penguin parade. Just after sunset, having sat outside on a freezing concrete viewing platform for about half an hour, I caught my first glimpse of a penguin. At first I could just spot a few white flecks in the breaking waves, and then suddenly a group of about 100 flecks appeared in the same area. Slowly the flecks grew larger as the penguins emerged from the water and made their way up the beach. Together, they edged closer to the lit area of beach, huddling into a small group, totally oblivious to the gathered audience. Suddenly, one penguin began to scurry away, as if he had gathered up all his courage and decided to make a break for it. They are very unsure of things and dive in and out of the water as if deciding on whether or not to start walking up the beach to their homes. No sooner did this one go than the rest raced off towards the foliage in the hilly distance, a hilarious site as the jacketed waddlers scurried away, as if to some unseen treasure. They get into little groups and make the journey (at surprising speeds) up the beach and walk right past where you sit and look absolutely adorable waddling up the beach as fast as they can and stumbling over at times. After the parade, we watched them from the boardwalk as they made their way up across the sandy dunes to their burrows, an amazing, heart-warming sight. It really is a bizarre sight and the penguins seem oblivious to the hundreds of gawking spectators.