When you think of Penguins, I’m sure you’d agree with me that one of three images comes to mind. The first being of a small black and white flightless bird who enjoys playing on ice slides in Antarctica. Secondly a gender confused penguin who apparently has happy feet and thirdly, an aging small fat man who likes to dress in a penguin suit, and equally as mad as this may sound, to chase a man who dresses like a bat. Strange world we live in that’s for sure. Anyway with all these crazy penguin notions, it bring us to the 15th week of the Perth Project and last week I had the opportunity to visit Penguin Island for the first time in the 20 years that I have lived in Perth. In fact, if I was honest with you all, I didn’t even know that we had penguins in this hot state of ours. Yet here I was heading off to explore this small island off Rockingham, about an hour south of Perth.
As part of my science degree in ecotourism, I get to try a range of exciting activities such as catching birds, handling reptiles and observing our black and white friends. Sadly Niki couldn’t make this one, so I was on my own… surrounded by 20 other students. We arrived down at the jetty at about 12.30 and boarded a small floating device, barely recognizable as a boat. It was more like an oversized tub, yet the captain was in good spirits and introduced the island. The best news I had heard all day, and it has crossed my mind that morning, was that there were no snakes on this island. I had to cusp my hand to my mouth to stop the big whopppeeeee; I’m not a great fan of snakes you see. As we approached this small island, you could hear and see the hundreds of birds that call this small green island home. It was incredible; I’ve never seen so many species of birds in the wild, or in one spot before. They were thriving on this protected island.
As we were a student group, we had a quick educational talk from the ranger about what ecotourism developments were happening on the island and a little about the history, for example lets talk toilets. The toilet systems uses an enzyme that breaks down the waste to a point where it’s safe to then disperse along the gardens. Apparently they did this one year and they had a crop of tomatoes grow from it…need I say more.
Penguin Island is home to 3 pelican colonies, which I was very excited about. I’ve always been fascinated with these birds since feeding them as a kid up in Kalbarri, and I was enthralled at the option to get up and close with them. They are a large majestic bird that is incredible to see and even more amazing when there are hundreds flying and “talking” around you, almost intimidating. Apparently the pelicans only arrived a few years back, this was due to being displaced due to development in Mandurah. After walking along the board walks and viewing these mighty birds, I headed along the beach on the west side. The beach was dotted with craggy rocks and was currently being bombarded by dramatic waves on this overcast day. Fascinatingly, there was evidence of fossilized root systems from trees in some of the rock formations. Apparently the current beach of Western Australia extended for another 15km past Rottnest – who says global warming has never happened before?
After our walk and a quick lunch in the picnic area ( make sure to bring your lunch across as there are no shops on the island), we headed into the Penguin Discovery Centre. The attraction was home to about 12 penguins that were unfit to return to the wild. Known as fairy penguins, these penguins are the smallest species of penguins. Here is a small little fact for you, they pick a mate for life. However they will pick another partner if one dies or they will divorce if one is a bad parent. The enclosure has a great viewing platform and it is well worth visiting during feeding times, as you get a really good spiel on the penguins and the islands. Unlike Philip Island in Victoria, the wild penguins that do come ashore at night to breed or sleep are not viewable to tourists. However if you look closely into lower shrubs during the day you might in fact see one sleeping or guarding their young ones.
Once we finished cooing the penguins, we had the opportunity to coo the sea lions and dolphins that inhabit the area. We jumped onto a glass bottom boat and begun our tour around Shoalwater Bay, which was home to about dozen islands all protected from humans. This was the time I started to feel a little sick, by the time we returned, I was starting to feel really sick. The waters were a little choppy as the winds kicked up and to be honest, my see legs are as good as me putting on a pair of skates and trying to figure skate across a bowl of jelly…that’s being modest.
After we visited the sea lion colony on one of the small islands, accurately entitled seal island, we than headed back to the main land with the sun slowly setting on our backs, the birds retreating to their nest for the night and a small pod of dolphins inquisitively chasing us back into port, almost waving us goodbye with their fins. Time and time again I really realise how much I love nature and how important ecotourism’s role is in this world.
Now for my travel agent spiel; Penguin Island is about an hours south of Perth in Rockingham. Boats leave every hour between 9 and 3, it will cost you $12 for a return trip or $17.50 which includes the Penguin Discovery centre. Also note that they close the island during winter as to protect the penguins during their main breeding seasons, also its bloody cold and wet at this time. You can walk to the island via a sand bar, however please note: a couple of people die every year doing this and unless you are a strong, comfortable swimmer, it’s not worth putting your life at risk. Penguin Island is well worth the trek down and don’t forget to take picnic lunch for a great afternoon or morning of swimming, penguins and pelicans.