In a country brimming with venomous snakes, spiders and even mammals (platypuses are sneaky like that), it’s nice to know we have adorable critters like penguins, too.
Victoria is home to several fairy penguin (also called little penguin) colonies, where the cute-as-a-button sea chickens continue to win over hearts, but there are a few rules to go penguin spotting safely.
These guys are shy, so stay quiet, still and out of their way so you don’t scare them – keep a minimum of three metres distance. If you must bring a torch, make sure you put red cellophane over the bulb to minimise brightness and turn the flash off on your camera. And keep your dogs at home.
Where to find penguins
Yep, you can find wee flippered friends just six kilometres outside the CBD. The St Kilda colony live in the breakwater – the rocky outcrop at the end of the pier, past the kiosk. Standing on the boardwalk will give you the best view, and definitely don’t go on the rocks, as it scares the penguins nesting beneath them. Photos are permitted (no flash), and visitors are asked to obey the instructions of the volunteer penguin guides. St Kilda is even getting an upgrade to better protect and view the penguins.
Not only has Phillip Island produced a healthy population of seals and Hemsworths, it’s also home to a big colony of fairy penguins. Every day a parade of penguins waddles up the beaches at sunset heading towards their burrows. Visitors can watch them from the beach or in specially build tunnels for a fee – or see them anytime via the penguin burrow camera.
If you want to get really up close to penguins and don’t care whether they’re in the wild or not, head to Sea Life Melbourne. The aquarium runs ‘penguin passport’ experiences, where you can join king and gentoo penguins in their icy, sub-zero enclosures. The experience also shows you where the penguins’ food is prepared and includes all-day entry to the rest of the aquarium.
The penguins of Middle Island (near Warrnambool) were made famous in the 2015 movie Oddball, which tells the story of how the colony was saved by introducing Maremma sheepdogs to protect against foxes. Because the penguins are still under threat, humans are not permitted on the island; however, you can visit their canine protectors during summer and donate to the conservation effort.