Australia 2010

A circumnavigation (with risks).

Countdown to Penguins.

The tension in the car park (where this web page is being written) is palpable. The occupants of the motley collection of cars and campervans have all been into the visitor centre to check on the exact time of the event.

We are all waiting, counting down the minutes.

We are on Phillip Island, famous for its Penguin Parade (of which more later) and Australia's Newest Marine Attraction the soon to be famous Nobbies (Seal) Centre.

The Nobbies Centre is so called because it overlooks two very small rocky islands called the Nobbies. A few hundred metres beyond the Nobbies are two more rocky islands called Seal Rock and Black Rock. There is reputedly a colony of seals on Seal Rock.

The centre is a large and impressive structure that features many seals and penguins in its decor, but it is in truth, just a large cafe and souvenir shop with a distant view of an island.

However all is not lost for the dedicated naturalist keen to observe seals in their natural habitat. Technology has come the the rescue! In addition to the old fashioned coin-in-the-slot (almost-but-not-quite-in-focus) telescopes there are...

... your very own remote control video cameras on the rocks 500 metres away.

Whilst you are waiting for your seal photos to be printed you can buy your tickets for the main event - the Penguin Parade! Tickets cost between €13 and €50 per person.

What is a "Penguin Parade" I hear you ask. Even after a trip to the visitor centre this is far from clear. What is abundantly clear is that you are not allowed to photograph it.

But you can watch a short and very earnest video in the theatrette, buy popcorn, have yourself photographed with virtual penguins, eat chips (but not penguins), adopt a penguin, or upgrade your depressingly cheap "ordinary" ticket to a Penguin-Plus ticket or even to a Penguin-SkyBox ticket!

You can also buy any number of tasteful souvenir penguins in a variety of colours and sizes.

How it works. Half an hour before the appointed time you walk along a raised boardwalk the 300 metres from the visitor centre to the concrete viewing stands on the beach. There you wait till sunset when around 1000 "Little Penguins" make a dash from the sea to their burrows on land.

(Note that the photograph below is a photograph of a public display board, no little penguins were injured by my flash when taking this photograph.)

They are little, they are penguins and they are cute.

Take binoculars.

In spite of everything the show is impressive and it is hard to think of any other way of letting a couple of thousand people watch the "parade" every evening without disturbing the birds.

Take great care driving away afterwards, otherwise it could ruin your evening.