We’re off to see the penguins; the wonderful penguins of Oz

If there was any remaining doubts that I turn into a child around cute animals then today should expel them. 

The morning started with the short walk from my hotel to Federation Square and hopping onto the tour bus that was taking me to Philip Island and an encounter with a creature that I wanted to see in the wild ever since I first saw one in an aquarium. 

Today I got to see penguins… and koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, emus, alpacas, peacocks, parrots and whole bunch of farm animals; and do you know what? It was bloody brilliant. 

The first stop was Warrook Cattle Farm. Here we were handed a voucher for a “Devonshire Tea” and let loose to look around the farm. Roger, our driver for the day, advised us to get the tea first and then go into the farm; so this is what I did. 

The Devonshire Tea consisted of something called a scone, whipped cream and jam, together with a cup of tea or coffee. I looked at my scone with interest. I say “something called a scone” because what I had looked like a scone but was like no scone that I’d ever had before. Scones, should be firm, a little crumbly if broken. 

They shouldn’t be squishy and have the consistency of a rubbery sponge cake. 

I ate my abomination in the company of Emilie, who I met in the queue. She’s French and has been living in Oz for the last few months working in Sydney and is now looking to work for a while in Melbourne before moving on and traveling the country. 

We walked into the farm and into the enclosure that hold a wombat. A wombat that goes by the name of Stewart. Stewart was hungry wombat judging by the way he was grabbing at the carrots proffered towards him. Something I hadn’t noticed in Perth was just how big a wombats teeth are. They look like they can do some serious damage if he took a bite out of you. 

I’m fast coming to the conclusion that I love wombats. They’ve got a bit of charm to them. 

We next walked around a large pond. Here ducks and geese roamed freely, as did a few Kangaroos. These needed no introduction and they certainly had no fear of of as they bounded up to us. We stopped and give them a bit of attention, with stroking and scratching behind the ear until they saw someone else coming – someone with food, and they ditched us. 

We walked around the farm, looking at the other animals – cows, goats, emus (of which I have grown suspicious with their big red eyes). Rather funnily our conversation turned to which of these animals we’d eaten before and about how we found it strange that  the cows were as exotic to some people as the native Australian animals were to us. Even now I find it odd that people in countries were farming is abundant have never seen a cow or a sheep just because they live in a city. 

Our next stop was the Koala Conservation Centre on Philip Island. 

We walked around the centre trying to spot Koalas up in the trees. Somehow I managed to spot one that was miles away whilst managing to be oblivious to one hanging in a tree just a couple of meters away. We saw a fair few of them hanging around, but the highlight had to be the mother and baby that were munching away without a care in the world.

Next we drove down to Cowes, the largest town on the island, where we were deposited and left to our own devices. We walked along the beach, and up to the shopping centre where Emilie displayed great patience as I looked around a shop that specialised in MotoGP memorabilia. Philip Island is where the Australian MotoGP is held, and as such is a bit of a Mecca as the track is probably the best in the world. The shop we were in had loads of signed helmets, leathers, paintings and other souvenirs. I managed to escape without spending anything, but it  was a close call. 

Instead we went to a local chip shop and got fish and chips. These we ate outside in the sun, kept cool by the breeze coming in off of the sea. We then walked back down to the beach and sat on a wall chatting about our homes and various travels until it was time to get back onto the bus. 

Now we drove along the coast on the way to the beach where the penguins live. As we drove along, we could see wallabies in the long grass and would occasionally stop to get out and look at the amazing coastline. At one point as we were driving along, emilie jumped up and shouted that she’d seen a penguin in the grass. From that point everyone started scanning the grass closely. 

We were going to see hundred of penguins later on. But the one thing that everyone wanted right now was to see just one penguin out in the open. 

This was because when the penguins come out the sea, darkness has descended. Because some idiots could not be bothered to turn off their flashes when requested, all cameras are banned from the beach – whether they have a flash or not. So right now our only hope of getting a photograph of our own was to spot one out here on the cliffs. 

“Penguin, right hand side” shouted Roger.

There he was. One Little Penguin (not a typo, they are called “Little Penguins”) stood by the side of the track. He watched as the coach inched past him. 

I got a couple of shots. Not the greatest, and they had to be taken through a bus window – but still I got exactly what I’d been hoping for. 

So I could go home now? Right? 

Nope, because the main event was still to come.

At the Penguin Centre, we looked around and I went shopping for my magnet. My ticket also got me a free program, which I kept and a hot drink, which I gave to Emilie. 

Whilst Emilie was getting her drink, I broke out the long sleeved shirt that I’ve been carrying for the last five months and not worn once. However it was sufficiently cold that I wanted it now. As I put it on I was delighted to discover that the shirt, which was a little tight when I left home, was now hanging loosely off of me – even with the t-shirt on underneath.   Its the first indication I’ve had that I’ve lost any weight. I’ve been wearing the same four polo shirts and pair of shorts for months now, and this was the first time I’d worn anything of my own that wasn’t brand new. 

We walked down towards the beach and then had to split up as I had a ticket to a different platform, which held less people and so let you move around more. 

I took my seat on the steps and waited for the action.

At around 9:10 the first penguin appeared from the sea and promptly ran back in. 

A short time later the first group appeared. They walked onto the shore, just as a large seagull swooped down and landed amongst them. 

They scattered and ran back into the sea again.

More time passed and a couple of penguins came out. This time they waddled up the beach and paused by a gap through which all the penguins would eventually walk. 

Soon penguins were appearing frequently, coming out of the water  en masse. They obviously believed in safety in numbers as they did not stop coming even when a wallaby jumped off of the small hillock next to the beach and started jumping alongside them.

The rangers then said that we could get up and go along the boardwalk if we wanted. I made my way around and then realised just how close we could get to the penguins. If I’d wanted to, I could have reached down and scooped one up as we were right on top of them.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a little penguin walking, but it is hilarious and adorable at the same time. They hold their little wings out for balance and then they just rock from side to side like a some sort of miniature go-go dancer. They always look on the point of falling over, yet cover distance at a surprising speed when you consider their size. 

The rangers kept the boardwalks open for about 50 minutes and I watched entranced the whole time as the penguins waddled along to their nests. 

I met Emilie back in the centre and we talked excitedly about what we’d seen. Then it was back on the coach and we chatted the whole way back to Melbourne and as it was past midnight it was time to say goodbye. 

I had a flight to Sydney at 8am, which meant that I was getting very little sleep. I’ve liked Melbourne, and I wish that I’d had a few more days there because I could have spent more time with Tony and Emilie. Of course when I planned my time in Australia I  didn’t know either of them, but in direct contrast to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, I don’t feel like I had enough time in Melbourne. 

It was a really good couple of days though and it was great to have some social interaction again after a week without any. 

I’m in Sydney for a short while, before I fly up to Cairns. I hope its as good as Melbourne was. 

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