Despite the fact that I swear like a sailor and guzzle beer like its my job, there is a big part of me that never grew up. The appearance of one adorable animal can totally make my day, and hell, if its cute enough – my week. I squeal like a five year old anytime I see a puppy or frankly anything with fur (hairless pets aren’t really my thing, but some lizards are really cute). So when Vic suggested we plan a visit to Phillip Island to see the Penguin Parade and fondle some other local creatures while I was down in Melbourne, I couldn’t say YES fast enough!
We woke in a bit of a haze from our Australia Day festivities, but were ready to hit the road in the early afternoon! Phillip Island is a smallish island just over 2 hours south of Melbourne, Australia and it is home to a large colony of Little Penguins (formerly Fairy Penguins… don’t even get me started), and is a holiday destination for the region – and I totally understand why. The island is just stunning, and largely unpopulated outside of a few main towns.
To start off our afternoon of animal encounters, we hit up the Phillip Island Wildlife Park where I was promised close encounters of the big eared and bouncy variety 🙂 The park did not disappoint! We were given bags of pellets on the way in and essentially unleashed into a wildly unsupervised open range park. Vic suggested that we head out to the large back paddock area first to seek out some of the bigger Roos. On our way out to the paddock we first encountered a rather large bird and sadly my first thought was “Dude, its a Llama!” – which is unfortunately a terrible quote from the movie Dude, Where’s my Car? Anywho, there were some Emu around and man are they creepy. They have really big eyes, leave their mouths awkwardly dangling open and instantly started stalking us – not to mention that they are huge.
When we finally shook off the Emu (after I tossed some pellets at the ground and hurried away), we spied some Kangaroos lazing in the shade. We approached and took a few photos, and one of them got up and started slowly making its way towards us. Upon review, his approach was probably the least threatening animal behaviour in the world:
- Movement was slow and not terribly deliberate
- He chose to walk (well, a Roo walk/crawl) instead of bouncing
- Appeared timid, which increased as he got closer
- Approached with his body low to the ground, not standing up to show his size
Regardless, my first instinct was to toss the bag and run, so I hid behind Vic for a bit – I’m pretty sure he was on the RUN bandwagon, but we stuck it out. As the incoming beast finally reached us, all he did was carefully nose around and it became blatantly clear that he just wanted some pellets. And he was the cutest thing I had ever seen. Ever. Ok, maybe not ever, my theory is that baby raccoons are the cutest things ever – but seriously I was dying. Feeding this particular Kangaroo was a very lovely experience, it felt like feeding a horse with a very small mouth – ie. no teeth, it was gentle, and it kind of tickled. In comparison to experiences later in the day where teeth and claws were involved, this was bliss. Mr. Roo snacked from both our hands and followed us for awhile (still gently) as we headed back to the main area.
We did eventually separate ourselves from our first love and went to feed the rest of the flock. As I mentioned before, the Roos and Wallabies that hung out in the more heavily trafficked areas weren’t as subtle about what they wanted and would grab your hand with their scary claws and eat with quite a bit more passion – but it was still pretty adorable. I have to admit, when you’re surrounded by four or five of them it doesn’t matter how cute they are though, its a bit unnerving.
The highlight of the park was definitely the hand feeding, but there were also several other animals that were available just for regular zoo-like viewing, including three incredibly fluffy Koalas and a few packs of gnarly looking Tasmanian Devils. FYI – the Looney Tunes totally lied to us! Taz was brown, stood on two feet, twirled around and made noises mostly with his tongue out of his mouth – the real ones look like small black bears with white rings around their necks (well they would be white if they weren’t covered in blood), they walk on all fours and make truly creepy and indescribable noises.
By the time we were ready to leave I was on my last nerve dealing with the flies, unbelievably sweaty, and both hands were full of animal slobber – I couldn’t have been happier, and the day wasn’t even over.
We spent the few remaining daylight hours in the town of Cowes, soaking in the sunlight on Vic’s friends Penthouse balcony – it was pretty posh. We hopped in the car just before 8 and scooted down to the Penguin Parade. To digress a bit, the Penguin Parade is a naturally occurring nightly migration of the world’s smallest Penguin – the Little Penguin – as they return from the sea and waddle across the beach to their homes in the sand dunes. Its the animal equivalent of watching rush hour, except with less honking and cursing. Sort of.
Vic’s Mom had sent us well prepared with sweaters and blankets so we gathered our pile of layers (which seemed ridiculous at the time as it was still a million degrees out) and headed into the venue. The setup is essentially this: You walk into a horribly commercial touristy building and then out onto a lovely boardwalk that leads out onto the beach where two separate stadium seating areas sit on either side of the entrance to the Penguin’s burrows amongst the sand dunes. While mildly irritating due to the lack of photographic memories, I ended up enjoying the fact that no filming or photography was allowed once you enter the boardwalk or the stadium – its rare these days to watch something amazing and not see flashes and haze from screens absolutely everywhere.
As we entered the seating area, we noticed that there was room to sit right on the beach, which is the closet you can be to the Penguins waddling up from the shore and we were amazed that such prime seating was still available. After an unusually long and confusing conversation over where to put the blankets we settled in for the show. The sweaters and blankets turned out to be a great idea, and while we were possibly over prepared, I definitely saw some jealous glances as we created a blanket fort and watched the show in comfort.
The Penguins eventually emerge, in nervous little huddles and appear to hurry with all their might up the beach – which is a hilariously slow process because they are just so tiny. Its pretty precious to watch groups of Penguins emerge out of the water, and then disappear again out of fear, only to then spend the next ten minutes scurrying in a little clump towards home. We probably watched little packs of Penguins parade by for an hour or so, and I assumed that was the entire event. However, I was thrilled to find out when we returned to the boardwalk that there were Penguins EVERYWHERE amongst the dunes. Silly me, I figured that since they were so nervous and had to travel in packs, that they would just disappear into the sand and bushes – but no, they were scattered around the dunes, completely out in the open and generally alone making cute calls (possibly territorial, but they sounded cute) at each other and staring back at us staring at them.
I can happily report that my need for animal interaction has been filled (for now)! Needless to say, this was one of my favourite days ever 🙂