After we were finished in Melbourne, we had to motor back to Sydney to meet my family!
Just south of Melbourne is Phillip Island, a little place most famous for its Penguin Parade. It was a rainy day when we arrived, but fortunately the weather cleared while we were looking around the Nobbies, some tiny islands just offshore from the tip of Phillip Island. This area is also where a lot of birds nest, including penguins, and we saw some of them peeking out from the nesting boxes scattered along the shoreline.
The rain was nice in that it brought all of the wallabies out as we headed to the main event.
We arrived at the beach for the Penguin Parade shortly before sunset. Little penguins spend the daylight hours hunting for fish, then return to their nests along the coast when the sun goes down. Penguin colonies are large, and the little penguins tend to return to shore in large groups for safety, which creates quite the spectacle. There are lots of penguin colonies around Australia, but Philip Island is home to one of the largest, making it probably the most popular place to watch them. As such, there is a big fancy visitors centre there, and big bleachers set up on the beach for people to watch. A regular ticket gets you a spot on the bleachers, and they also have “Penguin Plus” tickets which get you into a more “exclusive” seating area. Not sure if you actually see any more penguins from there, but it’s less crowded I suppose. It was low season, so we went with the regular tickets since it wasn’t that busy. Of course busy is a relative term, as the bleachers were still pretty full, but I’m told this place is actually capable of holding like a thousand visitors during peak season.
Anyways, we got good seats and settled in to watch the sunset and wait. You could actually see the penguins floating together in “rafts” a hundred meters offshore, waiting for it to get dark enough to come in. Some rangers came a gave a little talk, and then the penguins started to arrive. They are very cute, and come to shore in groups of twenty or so. Sometimes it would take them a few tries to get up the nerve to cross the beach to the bushes. Occasionally a few would get left behind, and then they would have to wait until the next wave of penguins showed up to cross the beach. Apparently it’s too scary to cross alone. The rangers said that over a thousand penguins make their way up the beach each night. Unfortunately, due to previous peoples’ inability to remember to turn the flash off on their cameras, they don’t allow any photography at all of the penguins. And the rangers are pretty strict about it, if you even lifted a cell phone they would come over and tell you to put it away.
As it got darker and more penguins came ashore, you could go walk around the boardwalks as the penguins waddled around looking for their mates and nests. They are pretty noisy and funny, and you can get pretty close to them on the boardwalks. The penguins actually climb pretty far up the shore, and we were told to check under our cars before we left, as some even go as far as the parking lot.
Next it was over to Wilson’s Promontory, or “The Prom”, as they call it. Wilson’s Promontory is a peninsula and the most southern point of mainland Australia. We were feeling spry so we did a bunch of hikes in the area. First, we climbed up Mount Oberon, where we got some good views of the beaches below.
Next we took a walk through the very lush Lilly Pilly Gully, and took quick visit to Squeaky Beach (named so because the sand squeaks when you walk on it).
By this time it was getting close to sunset, so we decided to check out the Wildlife Walk, because I STILL hadn’t seen a wombat in the wild and was told there were a lot here. And I were not disappointed! We actually saw four different wombats trundling along and grazing amongst the kangaroos. Interestingly, some of them were more skittish than others. There was one that had a pretty impressive scar across his forehead, and he wasn’t afraid of us at all, so we figured he was the badass one.
There was also a mob of kangaroos in the area. Lots of them had been tagged for research, so they had colourful collars and tags in their ears.
After leaving the Prom, we headed to the Gippsland Lakes. In the lake area there is a little island called Raymond Island, which you can reach via a free pedestrian ferry. The island is know for its large koala population. The koalas were brought there back in the day when they were worried that colonization and disease were going to make koalas extinct on the mainland.
We look a walk around and saw lots and lots of koalas napping in the trees, even the ones that were in people’s yards.
The main tourist town on the Gippsland Lakes seems to be Lakes Entrance, named so because it is where the lakes enter the ocean. As it was raining crazily when we arrived, we decided to splurge and stay in a cabin while in town. Even though we had originally only planned on passing through, we ended up staying two days because there were several mini golf courses in town that Chris really wanted to play.
They were the exciting kind of mini golf, with lots of moving parts and tubes and things to jump your ball off of. One was also attached to a very exciting candy and ice cream store.
From town you can walk along Ninety Mile Beach right up to the actual lake entrance. In order to keep the entrance from closing off, they have a big machine that pumps out the sand and shoots it back into the ocean.
At the entrance there were a bunch of seals hanging out. We watched one hunt fish for a while. He was pretty successful, which was exciting because then he would surface and throw his catch around a bit, which would make all the seagulls go crazy.
Croajingolong National Park
Further up the coast we took a quick detour into Croajingolong National Park to climb up Genoa Peak. It was a relatively easy hike with some nice views.
Ben Boyd National Park
We also took a short walk through Ben Boyd National Park to look at Victoria’s version of the Pinnacles.
We stopped for the night in the town of Merimbula. Merimbula has a nice long boardwalk along the lake, where we took a nice sunset walk.
The next day, it was into the capital!