My Melbourne trip was long overdue – it took me twenty years to return to the land of the koalas, kangaroos, and kookaburras! My trip to Sydney facilitated my visit to Melbourne too! While I was keen to explore this city known for its old world charm and its cultural and literary ethos, it was the Phillip Island Little Penguin Parade that I really wanted to see. So I ensured that my itinerary included this unique spectacle!
I had also decided to reach Melbourne by train instead of flying down as I wanted to experience and savor the beautiful Australian countryside
The Murray River tales
The Sydney-Melbourne XPT started dot on time at 7.32am from Sydney Central and what a relaxed journey it was! The train chugged through several stations, through the beautiful open countryside, spectacular meadows – some with huge herds of sheep or cattle grazing lazily on them, gently rolling hills and dales, quaint towns and an incredible variety of natural flora and fauna!
We had the company of a very interesting fellow-passenger who alighted at Albury. He told us that Albury, which is in NSW has a twin town, Woodonga on the Victorian side, separated by the Murray River. We soon got chatting about Australian history, cricket, aborigine music etc., over beer, grilled chicken, sausages and salads from the train cafeteria. The eleven hours passed so pleasantly and swiftly and before we knew the train had reached Melbourne Southern Cross station exactly on time at 6:30 pm.
We had booked our tour to Phillip Island from Sydney itself, so on the very next day we set forth on the tour with a small group of fellow tourists.
The bushlands of Moonlit Sanctuary
Enroute to Phillip Island which is South East of Melbourne, we visited the Moonlit Sanctuary. We wandered around the bushland from one pen to the other seeing unique Australian marsupials, mammals, migratory water birds, cockatoos and bird species. The sanctuary is also a safe haven for many an endangered species like the orange bellied parrots and the Tasmanian devils.
The sanctuary visit complete it was time for some wine and cheese tasting at the Phillip Island Vineyard and Winery where they served us their best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and other wines with a large selection of different breads, Gippsland cheeses, and dips followed by the Ploughman’s Platter of meats.
And finally, the Blue Penguins
Our heady break over, we continued towards the southwestern coast of the island to the Nobbies Ocean Discovery Centre where when we walked along the interconnected wooden boardwalks we had awe-inspiring views not only of the Phillip Island and the blowhole but of the Nobbies overlooking the Seal Rocks – home to a vast number of fur seals that were capering around.
And suddenly we chanced upon what we were waiting to see the whole day – a few tiny Fairy or Blue Penguins as they are called, standing just around a foot tall, snuggled into man-made burrows under the boardwalks! Soon we found some more, cozying in their shelters and knew it was time to proceed towards the sea for the grand finale – the Little Penguin Parade!
Little Penguins are the smallest of the Penguin family. There are an estimated 32,000 on Phillip Island. They are mostly at sea, fishing for days or even weeks and its only at sunset everyday that they emerge from the sea avoiding predators and waddling on their tiny feet to the safety of their shelters on the interior parts of the island.
The opera of the Sea Fairies
On reaching the viewing decks there was a sight to see – hundreds of people pouring in with excitement in their voices and making their way to their respective seats. The sun was setting; the floodlights were dimmed and then switched off. In front of us were the dark waves rising up and down gently, lapping the sands of this pristine beach. In them, unseen as yet were the little penguins.
There was pin-drop silence. It was like people waiting for an opera to begin. Everyone waited with bated breath to see these blue and white bodied little creatures braving the waves and emerging out of the sea. And suddenly they were there, in waves of hundreds! The silence was broken with loud whispers of “look there!” “look here!”, adults and children, watching in amazement at these little creatures clambering up the sand and onto paths carved in the thick brush on the sandy slopes.
Within minutes there were thousands of them tumbling out of the sea making a dash to the land, waddling across the beach, parading in row after row to the safety of their man-made shelters and natural mud burrows on Summerland Beach. People excitedly ran to watch and film the Penguin Parade! What a treat it was for our eyes! The cute little penguins waddled in lines of threes and fours across. Some even seemed to help those that lagged behind. It was obvious that they wanted to get to their burrows before dark when predators would be on the prowl.
Soon it was time for us to retire like the tiny creatures and our journey back to Melbourne was a bag full of wonderful memories of the Phillip Island and the Fairy Penguins.