The Penguin Parade: A Boxing Day Event!
Philip Island, Victoria, Australia
After arriving in Sydney and becoming really overwhelmed by all the people, I took a bus to Melbourne to meet my friend Claire. I first met her traveling in Fiji and again in New Zealand. Claire was staying with relatives in Dandenong, a small suburban town outside of Melbourne. We rented a car (in Australia, they don’t say “rent” they say “hire”). We drove to Phillip Island to witness the pelican feeding at 11:30 a.m. and the penguin parade at sunset.
Claire was driving. She was familiar with driving on the left side of the road, but we weren’t so keen on maps or the layout of the land ‘down under’. After several u-turns in the first hour, Claire was introduced for the first time to the expression “flip a bitch”. We laughed hysterically. After much persistence, and more u-turns, I jumped out at the gas station to finally ask for assistance. The closer we got to the island, the more vehicles seemed to crawl down the road in front of our automobile. Instead of arriving at the pelican feeding, we enjoyed a lovely sea of red brake lights.
Since the pelican feeding was over before we arrived, the penguin parade was our next destination. But we had several hours to wander around the island before the event. All drivers must enter the island through the town of San Remo, because there is only one bridge. We drove over this bridge, and found the island to have very few roads. Our first stop was at the visitor center to get a map of the island. We stopped in Cowes for fish and chips and a wander down the main drag. We sat at the edge of the beach until the flies got us back on our feet. With six hours until the penguin parade, we wandered through the town of Rhyll, which included a short walk along the shore. But the flies followed, thick in flight swarming heavily around our heads. I returned to the car and read my book while Claire continued the walk. Less than ten minutes later, she too returned, annoyed by all the flies. We kept driving and arrived at Amaze n’ Things: a tourist money pit of puzzles, and put-put golf. So we played a game of miniature golf. At the second hole, I hit the ball so hard I nearly missed the head of a man who sat and ate a meal. Oops! (I guess my time at the driving range with my father gave me a bit of a swing).
Eventually we found ourselves at the Penguin Reserve to learn of the different types of penguins in the museum before venturing out to watch the penguin parade. Little did we know there was an entire museum dedicated to these little tuxedo birds. And we definitely had no idea that people had arrived so early to find the perfect seat on the bleachers that lined the beach a story tall. Bleachers on the beach ï¿½ half a stadium was built to look out onto the ocean. There must have been 3000 people there this day. And we were not allowed to take a single photo ï¿½ for the flash from the camera would make the penguins blind.
We waited till the sun began to set before we were able to see the fairy penguins swim towards land. These penguins are the smallest of its kind, weighing only one kilogram and 30 centimeters high, meaning, approximately 2 pounds and not quite 12 inches of the ground. They struggled with the current to make it towards land. They would jump back into the water, as the seagulls would begin to dive bomb for their little bodies. This continued to occur several times. The penguins never stopped. They would attempt their journey in groups of about ten, to help their chances of making it safely to their homes. The crowd of people cheered and gasped in relief at the near misses from the seagulls. Eventually it became too dark for the seagulls to see the penguins wobbling on the beach towards their burrows for the night.
This “penguin parade” occurs every night. But we experienced this even on the Australian national holiday celebrated on December 26th ï¿½ Boxing Day. Though the adventure the penguins endured on a nightly basis did not nearly compare to that of our journey to the island; I am grateful for experiencing this event. Watching the penguins climb the beach towards their burrows was an amazing feat for these half-pint sized penguins. It was a true struggle, a proper ‘fight’, for Boxing Day.