Australia’s largest state is nowhere short of stunning locations for a serene, spectacular aquatic holiday. Penguin Island is one of the most beautiful destinations that Western Australia offers. A marine paradise, this location is located just about 45 minutes from the state’s capital city Perth. Set in the charming Shoalwater Islands, experience nature at its pristine best with virgin white, sandy beaches, clear blue waters and wildlife galore.
Penguin island is about 12.5 hectares in area and houses Western Australia’s largest colony of the smallest species of penguin on the planet-the little penguin. Popular among local and foreign tourists alike, catch a ferry to this island to watch wildlife thrive in its natural habitat, follow nature trails, swim and snorkel in the pristine blue waters or enjoy a quiet little family seaside holiday.
It is believed that Penguin Island was first inhabited by the Aborigines about 12,000 years ago. Singing Rock, just north of the island is steeped in romanticized legend. The story goes that an aboriginal girl broke tribal law and eloped with her lover. She was caught and her lover was killed with a spear. She was imprisoned inside the rock and it is said that you can still hear her singing out to her lover today.
Seaforth McKenzie, a New Zealander, was the first man to travel to the Island in 1914. He was commissioned by the Western Australian government to set up a travel resort in the destination. Thus began the hollowing out and furnishing of the region’s limestone caves to provide for shelter, a library and a store. McKenzie was crowned ‘King of Penguin Island’ at a grand ballroom that he constructed. The literature lover returned home to his family in New Zealand in 1926 after leaving for work 45 years ago and failing to return. Due to the shifting sands and exposure to weather, the topography of McKenzie’s island has been altered but catch a glimpse of its glory days in the nailed cave walls, the King’s old well and a few fig trees.
In the years to come, a number of budget accommodation options like shacks were introduced to the island by private companies. The island today is managed by the Department of Conservation and Land Management. The shacks today have been replaced by the Penguin Experience Discovery Centre, the Western Mining Research and Management Centre and better recreation amenities.
After about an hour’s drive from Perth, you should reach the Rockingham Wild Encounters site where you can park for free. Buy a ferry ticket from the gift shop and board a ferry from the Mersey Point Jetty.
Penguin Island deliberately has a minimum of facilities to preserve the natural atmosphere of the place. There aren’t any restaurants, so it is advised to stock up on your own food. Pengos Café, adjacent to the Rockingham Wild Encounters Gift Shop offers a smorgasbord of culinary delights with coffee, cakes, burgers, fish and chips and salads, all freshly made in case you want to grab a quick bite before you set off. You can choose between picnic and alfresco settings. You can also stock up on fresh rolls, wraps, salads, drinks and snacks to take along with you to Penguin Island.
Visitors are advised to dress comfortably and wear comfortable footwear. Stay sun smart with hats and sunscreen. Besides swimwear, towels, surf boards and fishing rods, you might also want to pack a light jacket as the afternoon sea breeze can get rather chilly even in the summer.
Penguin Island is open to visitors daily from mid September to early June.
Attractions and Activities
The island may well be home to the largest colony of little penguins in the country, you’ll have to look pretty hard for them because they spend the greater part of the day at sea, hunting prey. You will rarely see them on land, which is where they hide from predators. Whip out your binoculars an hour post sunset. They socialize at this time, so it’s your best bet to see them. The little penguins are a reticent species and you’ll often find them hidden under the boardwalks and behind caves. Be considerate and give the penguins 3-5 metres of space at all times, avoid loud noises and jerky movements and remember to turn off your flash. If you see a penguin come out of hiding and stand in shallow waters, it may be a sign of heat stress. In such a case, report it to the authorities and do not try to help the penguin yourself.
You can also feed penguins at the Discovery Centre and learn a lot about the little penguins. These feeding sessions are at 10:30 am, 12:30 pm and 2:30 pm and usually last for 20 minutes.
Take a short ferry ride across Shoalwater Bay and take in the sites. Look out for little penguins along the way. You can also see wild dolphins, rare Australian sea lions, pelicans, ospreys, king sinks, bridal terns and over 50 species of sea birds. You can also swim in the safe, sheltered waters and try a bit of snorkeling.
Take a 45-minute cruise in a glass bottom boat around the sanctuary zone of the marine park. You can see the rugged, beautiful coral reefs and islands and see hoards of wildlife along the way including a pelican rookery.
Take the special Dolphin, Penguin and Sea Lion adventure cruise. The dolphins are very playful and friendly and approach the visitor boat happily. An underwater microphone lets you listen to their clicks and whistles. You can also visit Aladin’s Cave to see the fossils of tuart forests. Shag Rock offers beautiful views of ospreys and Seal Island is perfect to see some rare Australian sea lions.
Beach activities are plenty. The place is a paradise for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing. Most equipment is available at the gift shop. The protected waters are ideal for kayaking, kite boarding and stand up paddle boarding.