Day 129: P-p-p-pick up a Penguin!

Today was a day for animal encounters after arriving into Melbourne yesterday.

Arrival was smooth though it was impossible to see anything as the plane landed because of the smoke shrouding the city.

The view in Auckland had been eerie. Here in Melbourne, I could smell and actually taste the smoke.

However, though smoky, life was still going on. I passed busy karate classes, friends going out for drinks and people taking photos.

Some were wearing masks though to be honest, unless they are specifically designed to deal with pollution and are fitted, their effectiveness is limited.

The wind had blown the smoke from the bushfires into the city that day and it was set to last for another couple of days.

So, today I was leaving the city behind to go to Philip Island about 85miles South of Melbourne… to see the penguins. This was a previously booked trip so a result of luck rather than good judgement.

The first stop was the Brighton Bathhouses.

The 82 bathing boxes at Port Philip Bay were built well over a century ago in response to very Victorian ideas of morality and seaside bathing.

Today they unchanged – no electricity, no amenities. All retain classic Victorian architectural features with timber framing, weatherboards and corrugated iron roofs, though they also bear the hallmarks of individual owner’ artistic and colourful embellishments.

Most of these have been in families for years and the last time one was sold, it went for 285,000AUD.

I’ll have two.

As the bus drove out of Melbourne the sky was gradually clearing. The next visit was to to Moonlit Bay Sanctuary.

The Sanctuary was set up as a family venture in the late 1990s. It is now staffed by around 45 paid employees and volunteers to conserve nature and help people learn more about the environment.

I was there in time for a talk about the koalas and the enthusiasm was wildlife and the passion for conserving nature was absolutely clear.

There was no discussion about the bushfires though there was lots of signage around the sanctuary about the situation. And to be fair, I doubt anybody in Australia needs a reminder about the bushfires.

The Sanctuary provides a great opportunity to see these animals up close, without distressing them and the rangers are happy to answer all questions.

From there, it was a brief stop at Woolamai Bay…

…and then to the Nobbies, where the warnings about copperhead snakes were slightly alarming.

The Nobbies are also a spot for nesting penguins and I was lucky enough to spot a chick peeping out of its burrow.

Wooden nesting boxes have been placed there for the birds, but some of them clearly prefer going back to nature.

The sky was clear over the Nobbies and the air smelled and tasted fresh.

But we were here for the evening Penguin Parade.

Each night, when the sky darkens, the Fairy Penguins, the smallest of penguins (at 30cm tall) make their way out of the water to head up the cliffs to their nests.

Watching this take place was magical.

The penguins gather in small groups in the waves and then tentatively make their way up the beach, wary of predators and any threats.

One small group made about three false starts before finally dashing up the sand.

And once on the beach, they make their way up the cliffs in large and small groups to where the chicks had emerged from their nests and burrows and were calling for their dinners.

Photography is not allowed at night as the flashes of cameras can dazzle and damage the penguins’ eyes so these three shots are downloaded, with permission from the Philip Island Nature Parks.

It’s an incredible experience watching these tiny birds dash up the cliff paths.

I booked my tour through Go West Tours for this combined trip and paid 150AUD. I didn’t pay for any additions and I got a great view. It was utterly brilliant.

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