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25 and Under...and 23...and 22 I'm trekking southern Australia in the World Nomads Ambassador van with my little brother & his girlfriend. This should be interesting.

Penguins: The Adventure

AUSTRALIA | Thursday, 17 January 2008 | Views [1149]

Penguins!

Penguins!

Day 6

Have I mentioned Australians are nice?

If not, now’s a good time. Last night we stayed in a caravan park on the beach for free (with showers, wahoo!) purely because the awesome lady at the reservation center took pity on Crystal and I. It was probably because we made some serious sad eyes when she informed us there was no free camping anywhere in the area. I’ll keep the location under wraps, but if you’re reading this, you know who you are. Thank you!

Two shower days in a row — amazing.

Moving on. We started our morning in the tiny seaside town of Queenscliff. It reminded me of Long Island in the summer, probably because the vacationing hordes were out in full force. I admit I have a weakness for tiny seaside towns. I grew up in one, so perhaps it’s in my blood. The ice cream parlors on every corner, the tiny cafes, the beachwear stores — I love it all. I got my fill in Queenscliff, and two coffees and a chai tea latte later at the LP recommended Café Gusto, we were on our way to Sorrento.

Sorrento is equally as charming a seaside town as Queenscliff, but much, much busier. This being the case, we decided to ditch the crowds and head to the Mornington Peninsula National Park. The Back Beach was peppered with a few families and a fair share of children braving the waves on their boogie boards. We stayed dry, picnicked on the beach and took a nap. Not a bad way to spend a morning.

Our afternoon drive would take us across the picturesque peninsula — probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in Australia — and right outside Melbourne! Who knew? It constantly amazes me the beauty found so near to Australia’s major cities. You’ve got to drive to rural Pennsylvania to find anything like this in the Northeast United States. It really becomes evident just how different the population is.

Finally, at 6:30 p.m., one tank of gas and more than a few granola bars later, we made it to our final destination: Phillip Island. The famous Penguin Parade would begin at 9 p.m., and we’d be there to see it.

Quote of the Day: “Every day I eat a Tim-Tam I find a new way to eat it.” — Crystal

Day 7

So, those penguins? So. Damn. Cute.

I’ll get to them in a second, but first I must thank the folks at Phillip Island Nature Parks Australia. They were kind enough to let us peruse all three sections of the park — the Little Penguins, the picturesque 1800s Churchill Island Heritage Farm and the Koala Conservation Centre. Each experience had its own particular highlights, but seriously, back to those penguins.

By 7:30 p.m. we’d staked out our spot on the bleachers and were ready and waiting for our little feathered friends to make the trek from sea to beach.

A little background for you: According to my press materials, people have been coming down to this section of PI beach to watch the world’s smallest penguin walk back to its burrow at sunset since the 1920s (the 1920s!). Now, more than 500,000 tourists visit the Penguin Parade each year.

Each morning, the penguins go out to sea to fish all day. One parent stays home with the chick and the other goes out to sea. The little guys are actually perfectly camouflaged for the water — deep blue feathers on the top to blend in with the water from above and white on bottom to blend with the surface from below — but that doesn’t work on land. This is why they leave an hour before sunrise to go out to sea, and why they come back at sunset. The walk from sea to burrow is their most vulnerable time of the day. So they wait in groups of penguin rafts just out to sea until it’s dark enough to feel somewhat safe.

They waited; we waited; and by sunset, at the ridiculously late and lovely time of 9:15, the first group of Little Penguins returned to shore.

“They’re so little!” Crystal exclaimed as we spotted the first group. Indeed, the little birds were barely a foot tall. Small groups waddled as fast as they could to their burrows, where waiting chicks were screaming for food. We dashed up to the boardwalk to see them coming home, and what a sight it was. By the end of the night we saw hundreds of penguins and more than a few feeding their chicks.

When I was frozen enough to drag myself away from the parade, I walked back up, joined by a group of six penguins whose burrow was almost at the carpark itself. Now I get why there are “Check under your car before driving away!” signs everywhere.

For more info on the penguins —you can even adopt a penguin! — check out http://www.penguins.org.au. We all agreed this was definitely a highlight of our trip so far. So much so that both Jeff couldn’t resist purchasing a cuddly, talking penguin. He has a red scarf and hat on, and he’s almost as cute as the little ones themselves. Almost.

Day 7

The next morning, we drove straight to the Koala Conservation Centre to view the animals up close. We’d seen them in the Otways, but the centre has an elevated boardwalk to put you eye to eye with the koalas. We got some close ups, ogled a mother and baby, and even spotted some wallabies down below in the 30 hectare park.

Next we headed off to the Churchill Island Heritage Farm. The farmhouse on the island has been there since the early 1800s as a vacation home, and has been a working farm since the 1850s. We met and fed Sophie and Matilda, the gorgeous Clydesdale horses, and Crystal had a bit of a run-in with some particularly aggressive sheep. They liked her best, probably because she’s allergic to wool!

The house on the island has been beautifully restored, down to the original wallpaper, and it actually reminded me of all the old colonial houses on Long Island where Jeff and I grew up. And this place was tranquil. Just birds chirping, sheep baaing and the breeze blowing through the trees. Although we were a bit disappointed we missed all the weekend activities (Butter churning! Cow milking! Carriage rides! Sheep shearing!) it was nice to feel the real tranquility of the place.

The afternoon brought us to the GP Racetrack, and to something I haven’t done in more than ten years — go-karting. We geared up and hit the track. My fastest lap was 1:01, Jeff’s was something considerably less than that. What can I say, I like to brake on my turns!

The rest of the afternoon was spent lounging around on Woolamai Beach.

Tomorrow: Wilson’s Prom.

Tags: Adventures

 

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