Please Pet the Koala

And feed the kangaroos too.

Last Friday, I went on a day tour out to Phillip Island to see the little penguins. I hadn’t realized how far from Melbourne Phillip Island is, and found out that I wouldn’t be able to make my own way out there. Hence the tour.

Since the Penguin Parade at Philip Island starts at sundown and lasts around an hour, the tours add some additional nature experiences to fill out the day. What’s the Penguin Parade, you ask? Merely groups of adorable little penguins about a foot high (yes, that’s their fully grown height) that come in from the sea in groups and head to their homes, little holes or burrows off the sea.

Our first stop was Moonlit Sanctuary, which has a couple of koalas and loads of grey kangaroos and cute little wallabies, along with a number of birds, Tasmanian devils, and reptiles. For an additional fee, you can hug a koala. Of course I opted to do so!

They bring the koala out into a special enclosure and make sure he is well supplied with eucalyptus leaves. He honestly only seemed to care about his food, as long as nobody touched his head. Koalas spend most of a day asleep, only waking to eat for a few hours each day.20160602214207

His fur was incredibly beautiful and soft. I spent some time petting his back, while someone from the tour kindly snapped some pictures. (By some, I mean about fifty! But it did let me choose the ones where I don’t look supremely silly or awkward, so I am very grateful.)

Then I wandered down the wallaby walk with some food I’d purchased to feed the wallabies and kangaroos. The wallabies are incredibly gentle when they eat from your hand. They also, for your information, drool. Not the mild amount of drool that licking food off your hand entails, either. Totally worth it though of course. At the end of the walk, I coaxed this shy, small wallaby over. He put his paws on my hand while he ate. He was so endearing!

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Kangaroos are also lovely, but I could definitely tell that they have larger teeth. I made sure to keep my hand flat while feeding them!

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We had one of the perennial tour bbqs, then headed to the heritage farm on Churchill Island. We watched a sheep shearing and a whip cracking demo. Interesting though they were, this was definitely the least interesting part of the day. The view was lovely, though, and I got to peek in the old pioneer houses which I always enjoy.

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We then headed to the Koala Conservation Center on Phillip Island, where I got a closer view of koalas in the (more or less) wild. This is a fenced off area meant to keep the koalas contained from roaming the island. There are boardwalks that let you come much closer to the height at which koalas like to settle.

Wandering through, I heard this screeching noise as if someone were in pain or in trouble, so I rushed towards it only to see bunches of  tourists taking pictures. Turns out it was the female koala reprimanding one of the males for getting fresh!

It was getting closer to sunset (when the penguins come out of water) so we had one last stop before the Penguin Parade: the walk at the Nobbies, a beautiful walk in an area filled with penguin homes. We caught glimpses of penguins in some of the holes – just a flash of white, really. Our guide explained to us that little penguins spend long times (if I remember correctly, he said weeks) out at sea catching fish, only catching brief naps while in the water. When they are full, they come back to land, where they may spend days sleeping. This return to land is the Penguin Parade, which happens just after sunset because Little penguins are prey to almost everything (except, apparently, the seals that live nearby). Crossing the beach is slow going for the little birds, and leaves them vulnerable and exposed. And in fact, once the Penguin Parade had started, I did hear and see some predatory sounding birds swooping in.

The Penguin Parade is delightful. A crowd stands on wooden tiers, straining their eyes and ears to see the penguins coming. And then suddenly you can make out a group of small white blobs resting, standing still on the beach. Then they keep coming and are suddenly over the dune, pausing to rest again while more penguins follow their path behind them. Suddenly they are waddling past in classic penguin style, 10-20 of them in the first groups we saw. You can follow them by going along the boardwalk, watching them peel off one by one, then stand outside and chatter. Then another group waddles by.

No pictures are allowed at all, as the penguins’ eyes are very sensitive. I did actually see a ranger throw out some women from the main viewing area after giving them numerous warnings.

I wrapped up the evening back in Melbourne with dumplings in Chinatown with a young woman I met on the trip.

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