Phillip Island seems to be well known for the penguin parade, but there is more to do and see to make the long trip truly worthwhile. I know in asking about the island, there were many that said "don't bother", but we ended up taking a tour out that direction, and found it very worthwhile. The big difference is probably us "furr-i-ners", who can truly marvel at the uniqueness of native wildlife, and the native Aussies, who take such for granted. (Wonder if y'all would be impressed with a skunk at your backdoor?)
I can't get enough of the koalas and wallabies, and there was plenty of exposure here. My pre-conceived notion from the description was this was going to be like a zoo-type setting; instead, their are boardwalk areas set up throughout the trees the koalas are living in, so you can get up close and personal to them. Most were snoozing away, since they do sleep about 20 hours a day, but we came across one that was truly pigging out, and could care less about all of us so close to her.
Also, as we wandered about, we came across quite a few wallabies that we had to stalk to see how good of a close-up picture we could get. Wasn't sure at times who was staring harder at who...
If you are a visitor to Melbourne, I would definitely say you need to see the penguin parade, but do make sure you take time to stop by the koala center -- they are just too sweet to pass up.
The cost for just the center is about AU$10, though some internet sites are slightly less, and if you get all the Phillip Island parks together, it will be cheaper.
If you are a nature lover, and especially if Australian wildlife is new to you, do not let the nay-sayers cloud your thinking about a trip to see this nightly phenomenon. It is truly amazing, and so very precious. But, definitely combine the trip with a visit to the Koala Conservation Center, and maybe other parts of the island.
There are many ways you can get the history and education of the penguins prior to the event. What you will see, though, is come night fall, the "little penguins" come back from their hunt for food in wave after wave. You can see big bundles of penguins in the waves, then there they are waddling up the sand. We sat in the premium seating, so we had beautiful views of them just stopping in front of us, grooming each other, then going in waves up the hill to their burrows. At the same time, there were some wallabies that seemed to be a bit miffed at not being paid attention to, so first of all, across the top of the hillside they went, making a beautiful silhoutte. That didn't seem to be good enough, though, as later, there they came across the beach.
We took a bus tour that got us to the island, took us to Churchill Island, Koala Conservation Center, then the Penguin Parade. Paid an extra $10 for the premium seating, and it was well worth it (plus, included a "complimentary drink"). After being trampled in Sydney on NYE, I was delighted to be in these up-close bleachers where I could have reached out and touched the penguins. Then, walking back up the boardwalk, we were walking right next to the penguins still waddling to their burrows -- all protected from the crowds of people. There was also a ranger there giving us a pre-briefing before the first wave came in -- I'm sure the crowds over in the main seating get that, also, but not as easy to hear.
Another benefit of the bus tour, we were taken along a back road prior to going into the visitor center; here we saw alot of the burrows, and even saw many of the chicks peaking out, looking for their parents with dinner. If you do drive yourself, make sure you go early and take that back road -- and take it SLOWLY -- we had some very impatient people speeding past us, don't know why they were there!
Warnings: they are NOT kidding when they say to dress warm. We were there in "summer", and it was very cold. It was cold at the Koala joint in the daytime; can't imagine how really chilly it gets in winter. Also, because people would not obey rules in the past, you cannot take pictures at all, period. They will take your camera away if they catch you.
If you are very interested in wildlife like I am, do pay a little more and sign up for a guided penguin watching experience with a ranger. These private groups are kept small (about 10-15pp) and you get front row seats to the amazing sight of Fairy penguins emerging from the sea. You will be provided with headphones to listening to explanations given by the ranger about the penguins. Binoculars provided also give you a better view of the peguins. After that the ranger will take you to the boardwalk to see the penguins up close.
This is way better than crowding with the hundreds of people on the concrete stands. You learn a lot more with a personal ranger who will answer all your questions. Well worth the price!
The park is hands on, literally.
Feed kangaroos out of the palm of your hand. This 60 acre park had about 100 species.
Many different animals to get up and close with. You can see Koalas up close and personal from there board walk. (Its illegal to touch Koalas in the Melbourne, so this is as good as it get here).
Once you get in the park, the Kangaroos flock to you looking for your food, so be ready. Its a blast!
Opens at 10am
Child (4 to 14 years): $7.50
Family (2 Adults & up to 3 Children, 4 to 14 years): $40.00
FREE - One bag of Kangaroo food is included with every ticket purchased per person.
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So in a pinch for money?
Want to see some penguins, but don't want to pay for the "penguin parade"?
Well go to the nobbies about 1-2 hours before the parade, maybe even anytime? When your walking on the board walk, take note of what is occurring under the dock. Many times there are penguins sitting under the board walk. Keep an eye open and maybe you will see some. I saw about 10.
The Island is famous as a place full with Australian wildlife. We visited the Koala Conservation Center, where one can see the koalas in their real environment, sleeping on an eukalyptus tree. The highlight was a koala eating leaves (as all the ones we saw till now were actually asleep)...In the afternoon a boat took us to the Sealion rocks, where a colony of 6000 sealions relax in the sun or play in the water. One could smell them from a km before already...
A great ending of the day is the Penguin Parade (a colony of 60 000 penguins lives on the island), which starts every evening after sunset when the penguin parents come back from a day of fishing to feed their little ones. We saw the smallest penguin species in the world (around 30cm) waddling from the sea to their babies, who lives in holes/houses within the sand. Please be aware that no photos should be taken so those little creatures dont get scared.
Phillip Island is a 90 minute to 2 hour drive away from Melbourne. There's plenty to do there including visiting the Koala conservation centre, The Nobbies centre as well as the world famous Penguin Parade.
Some attractions are free and some you need to pay for. Bring a camera and something warm to wear but bear in mind that photography is not permitted during the penguin parade.
See my Phillip Island page for more info-
Summary: go see the penguins
We had a bad experience in our Autopia tour, a consequence of an inexperienced driver.
However, the management went to great lengths to make us happier, including refunding half the cost of the trip. I am very impressed with how responsive the management was to our complaints and its commitment to making the tour better.
Phillip Island is a favourite destination for lovers of nature. See koalas and a colony of thousands of fur seals gathering on the rocks, at close range. Or attend Australia's most popular wildlife event – the parade of little penguins that make their way up the beach to their burrows each day at dusk.
Did the Penguin Parade day-tour to Philip Island twice (02 and 08) with Gowest Tours.
The tour goes through The Dandenongs, making stops along the way before finally hitting Philip Island in the late evening for the main show.
The morning saw stops made at a local vineyard, The Gurdies Winery, and then on to Maru Koala and Fauna Park, a wildlife park where you can mingle with kangaroos, emus, cockatoos, dingoes and wombats and eventually, a koala conservatory. (Note: Photo with koala is a separate A$15, circa 2008)
The tour smartly stopped the overloading of Australiasia fauna by making a stop at The Nobbies and Seal Rocks on Philip Island in the afternoon. This area offers spectacular coastal viewing from the boardwalks and lookout points set amongst natural sea bird gardens. Plenty of screeching seagulls here. 1.5 kms offshore from The Nobbies are Seal Rocks, home to Australia's largest Australian Fur Seal colony.
Let the wind literally knocks your sense off. It was very windy and very chilly here. Come prepared for the chills. Unfortunately, my tour arrived at a time (Oz autumn) when the seals had more or less left the spot, which was a real pity.
The last stop was of course the Philip Island Nature Park for the main show: The Little Penguins. The duration of the Parade is about 50 mins when the penguins first crossed the beach. PLEASE COME PREPARED FOR THE COLD. There is no shelter. Many tours arrived with thick blankets as you stood behind a barricade in the chilling howling winds, straining your neck for the first sighting. Do go down to the beach early; there is no announcements. (Folks can sign up for the Penguin Plus Package for another A$11, circa 2008, just so to increase chances for a sighting)
Visitors then followed the penguins back to their nests on covered boardwalks. No one is allowed to step onto the sand. Photography & video cameras are NOT allowed. The Visitor Centre has a carnival-like atmosphere, with souvenir shops and cafes. I did not enjoy it that much, compared to the more simpler understated but practical approach on Tasmania. It was almost like a theme park.
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