The ultimate visitor’s guide to Melbourne’s Little Penguins – the world’s smallest penguins and the famous Penguin Parade.
Seeing penguins in the wild is an incredible experience, and there’s no better place to do it than the Phillip Island Penguin Parade. The island is home to the largest colony of Little Penguins in the world. More than 30,000 penguins nest on Phillip Islands beaches and sand dunes.
If you want to experience the magic of the Penguin Parade, we recommend taking our Phillip Island Day Trip from Melbourne. It’s an unforgettable day trip from the city which finishes up with penguins waddling right past your feet.
Every evening, thousands of Little Penguins emerge from the ocean and waddle across the beach to their burrows in the sand dunes. To learn more about this incredible show in nature, we’ve put together this guide to Melbourne’s Little Penguins.
Guide to Melbourne’s Little Penguins
The World’s Smallest Penguin
Melbourne’s Little Penguins are 40 – 45 cm tall and weigh up to 1.2 kg. They are the world’s smallest penguin! In addition, they are the only blue and white penguins in the world. Their colouring provides camouflage for them at sea because their predators can see only white from below and blue from above.
The Little Penguin can only be found nesting in Australia and New Zealand. Particularly along the southern edge of Australia’s mainland and Tasmania. The major colonies live on islands such as Kangaroo Island and Phillip Island.
Life at Sea
A Little Penguin will spend much of its life at sea, hunting for food. It can even consume the equivalent of its body weight in food every day. Little Penguins swallow their catch whole, and will bring food home to the nest for their young. To catch fish, they can dive up to 60 metres below the surface. They may need to stay out for multiple days if the food supply is low. Therefore they can sleep at sea by dozing on the water surface.
Life on Land
Little Penguins need to come to shore to rest, mate and moult. They built burrows in the sand dunes but can also be found among rocks and caves. Moulting and growing new feathers can take up to 2 weeks every year. During this time they cannot return to sea to feed, as they are not waterproofed. After mating the female will lay 1 to 2 white eggs in the burrow. The males and females then share the job of incubating the eggs – by taking shifts. The other parent will go to the sea for food.
Where is Phillip Island?
Phillip Island is just under a 2 hour trip from Melbourne. It is the best place to view penguins as the Penguin Parade provides facilities for visitors. You are guaranteed to see hundreds of penguins and can watch them up close without disturbing them or their natural environment.
The Parade is at Summerlands Beach, on the southern coast of Phillip Island. You can explore the Visitor Centre before making your way down to the beach. The Visitor Centre provides a great introduction to the lives of Melbourne’s Little Penguins that you are about to witness arriving at the beach.
Visiting the Penguin Parade
Action after sunset
The Penguin Parade is the best way to witness thousands of Little Penguins returning home from the ocean. Each day there are either hundreds or thousands of penguins returning to the colony at Summerland Beach. After one or multiple days at sea, with full bellies, they return to land. To avoid predators, they will wait for the sun to set before leaving the ocean.
Therefore you need to wait until after sunset to view these penguins. For this reason we think it’s a great idea to take a tour, rather than drive yourself. You won’t have to drive back to Melbourne in the dark after the Parade. You can sit back and relax as your driver does that for you.
Viewing in the sand dunes
There are multiple viewing areas with seats to sit and watch the penguins arriving at the beach. You will see them leaving the ocean in groups and waddling across the sand. However, after this you can also walk along the boardwalks and see the penguins up close. Little Penguins make burrows in the sand dunes to stay warm and safe from predators. As you take the boardwalks back from the beach to the Visitor Centre, you will see the Little Penguins walking right beside you.
Pack warm clothing
We recommend taking an extra layer (or two) for your visit to the Penguin Parade can be a chilly location. Summerlands Beach is in the south side of Phillip Island and can be exposed to the cold southerly winds. Even in summertime it can get quite cold after sunset – which is when the penguins arrive.
Where else can you see Little Penguins near Melbourne?
Little Penguins can also be seen up close in St Kilda or at the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road. Both locations only have very small colonies so, unlike the Penguin Parade, there is no guarantee that you will see the penguins. At the St Kilda Pier you can view penguins up close if they return to the rock wall after sunset. At the 12 Apostles you can peer down from the lookout in the evenings and you may spot some small shapes (penguins) crossing the sand from the ocean to the dunes.
Take a Tour to Phillip Island
The Penguin Parade is an exciting end to our Phillip Island day tour that includes visits to the Brighton Beach bathing boxes and Moonlit Sanctuary, as well as scenic stops on the island.
Here’s what is included:
- Visit the famous Brighton Beach boxes
- Take a guided tour of the award-winning Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park
- Meet and feed a wide range of Australian animals including koalas, wombats, dingoes, and more
- Visit Point Grant on Phillip Island to view the Nobbies and Seal Rocks
- Stroll the coastal boardwalks to enjoy amazing panoramic views
- Finish the day at the world famous Penguin Parade on Phillip Island tour
Written by: Leah Furey – Digital Content Coordinator @gowest.com.au