From Melbourne, it was a fairly easy journey southeast around Western Port and onto Phillip Island. It is a fairly small island right where Western Port opens into Bass Strait. On this island is a colony of Little Penguins (once called Fairy Penguins). These penguins are only about a foot tall (the smallest of the 17 species of penguins) and are the only penguins resident to Australia. They spend about three weeks out at sea in the Southern Ocean feeding and getting fat. Then they come ashore for a week or two to rest and raise their young. They live in burrows which may be as much as a mile inland from the beach. (Those are probably the younger adults and the individuals that are lower on the pecking order.) There are three viewing stands set up on the beach where we could watch the Penguin Parade as they came to the beach and headed for home.
Just after dark, they begin to appear at the water’s edge singly or in groups of up to a dozen. They usually waited there until there were several of them because they had to run a gauntlet of gulls that were lined up along the shore. We never figured out what the gulls were after unless they were looking for a sick or weakened penguin to attack. That never happened during our watch. Unfortunately, we can’t show you any pictures of all this because we weren’t allow to take any. With several hundred people there to watch, all the flashing of cameras would blind and confuse the little guys. They had tried to allow pictures asking people to turn off the flash, but too many either couldn’t or wouldn’t turn them off, so they banned pictures altogether.
Adjacent to the Penguin Parade site is The Nobbies within the Phillip Island Nature Park. The Nobbies is a series of rocky knobs extending out from the tip of the island. Those are pretty much inaccessible except by boat, but there are several boardwalks that lead along the cliff edges to spectacular views of the coastline and wildlife.
Up until 1985, this area was a housing development situated in the midst of another Little Penguin colony. At that time, the government began buying back the houses, and by 2010 the last ones were gone. Now penguin burrows are scattered all over the area so high above the water that a person would have difficulty climbing up; I don’t know how those little guys do it. Since we were there in the middle of the day, we didn’t see any penguins climbing out of the ocean, but we did see several chicks in the process of fledging that their parents had stashed under the boardwalk. It was fun to watch human kids lying on their bellies on the walk sticking their heads underneath to look at the chicks.
You may recall that we have visited three of the four extreme points on the Australian continent – each with increasing difficulty of access. Well, the southernmost point has represented the greatest challenge yet. It is located at the tip of Wilsons Promontory (locally known as “The Prom”) and is named, strangely enough, South Point. Wilsons Promontory National Park is another hiker/walker park. There are miles and miles of trails, but very few roads. There is only one campground, Tidal River, where we stayed just “for the experience” but decided to move to a caravan park outside the park because they charged $56 for a campsite with NO power and NO water – just a place to park! We did go back into the park to hike trails with names like Tidal Overlook Circuit and Loo Errn Boardwalk and visited Telegraph Saddle, Norman Lookout, Vereker Outlook, and Squeaky Beach. We even saw the “southernmost stand of mangrove in the world” at Millers Landing. But not South Point. That would require a 16 kilometer (about 10-mile) hike one way. We have not backpacked in over 30 years and no longer have any kind of that equipment. Our solution? We flew! We found Prom Country Scenic Flights in the person of James Morey, "The Yanakie Pilot", who gave us a grand aerial tour of the entire peninsula with special circling around South Point. No, we didn’t set foot on it, but we have pictures to prove we saw it. That’s all four of the extreme points.