The History of the Phillip Island Penguin Parade

The pristine shores and lush green forests of Phillip Island make it the perfect backdrop for some of Australia’s best-loved wildlife. Boasting national parks filled with native species and scenery that looks like it’s stepped out of a book, it really is a nature-lover’s dream.

One of the most popular things to do on the island is watch the Penguin Parade as darkness falls. The colony of Little Penguins that reside on the island scamper up the beach to their homes for the night, past mesmerised onlookers.

Penguin Parade in Phillip Island

The History of Phillip Island

The first residences of Phillip Island were the traditional owners of the land; the Aboriginal people. The tribe inhabiting the island was the Bunurong tribe, which were based around western Port. However, they were not permanently within this area, rather only coming during the mutton bird season to gather the eggs and young birds for food.

The next to discover the island was George Bass, who voyaged there in 1798 on January the 5th. As he travelled down from Port Jackson, he named the area of Western Port as it was west from his sighting. After this, sealers soon approached the area, hunting the seals at the Seal Rocks nearby the Nobbies.

It wasn’t until 1842 when the next residences came to Phillip Island. When the two McHaffie Brothers leased the island in the goal to herd sheep. However, this didn’t last long, as the brothers lost the majority of the island once a new settlement opened on the island in 1868.

Unfortunately, Phillip Island’s new settlement did not prosper right away, with the harsh conditions leading to drought and failed crops. Due to the lack of water and food, many of the settlers left. However, it wasn’t until they planted the plant Chicory and grew successfully, did the people see the island’s potential. This plant has grown on Phillip Island ever since, thriving in the wildlife for over 100 years, being the Island’s visual icon.

Phillip Island

The History of the Parade

Little Penguins have called the shores of Phillip Island home for thousands of years. They head out to fish during the day, and head home as night falls to look after their nests and, for more than 80 years, people have been heading to Phillip Island at sunset to watch the show unfold.

It all began back in the 1920s, when island residents Bert West, Bern Denham, and Bert Watchorn opened Summerland Beach up for the first organised viewings of the penguins.

They greeted visitors off the ferry and charged five shillings for a personalised tour of Phillip Island (an additional shilling would get you strawberries and cream).

Visitor numbers soared in the 40s when the bridge from the mainland to Phillip Island was erected. At this point, tourists began flocking to the pristine shores, and people began building houses around Summerland Beach.

People would take picnic baskets and blankets down to the beach and sit on the sand to watch the penguins waddle ashore, but soon this meant that the burrows and penguin habitats began to get damaged. This wasn’t helped by visitors bringing their dogs to the beaches, who sadly killed many of the Little Penguin colony. The population of these cute little sea birds began to decrease, calling for a radical change in how the penguins were treated by the public.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that fences and viewing stands were built to stop visitors standing on and ruining the penguins’ burrows. Ever since then, constant upgrades have been taking place, making the boardwalks, platforms, and viewing boxes safer for the penguins.

Fast forward to today, and the residential housing blocks have been removed from the Summerland Estate, and the Phillip Island Nature Park is one of the best eco-tourism facilities in the world, balancing scientific research and conservation with visitor education and unique wildlife experiences.

How You Can See the Penguin

Penguin Parade

The main penguin viewing area provides a 180-degree elevated platform to the coast. As these penguins spend the majority of their day in the ocean hunting for food, they only swim up to rest for the night. Therefore, as the sunsets and the penguins come home from a long day of fishing, they herd will shuffle their way up the beach to their burrows. The penguin parade platform is nestled right along the sandy shore, promising guests a front row seat the penguins waddle up the sand. The platform fills up quickly, so its best you get there earlier to snag a seat for the viewing.

Penguin Plus

If you’ve got a little bit more money to spare, why not upgrade to the Penguins Plus. This viewing platform is inspired by the Island’s natural scenery, mirroring the coves of the southern coastline. It offers even closer views of the nearby penguins, with ticket seating limited to 300 people, so it is never overcrowded with visitors. The section also includes ranger commentary, so guests can understand and learn about the fascinating lives of these penguins.

Penguin Plus

Underground Viewing

For an even better view, grab an underground viewing option during your visit! This section is limited to just 70 people per night, as well as being comfortable indoors. What makes this viewing section so special is the close and eye level proximately to the waddling penguins nearby. With a professional guide detailing the history, daily life, and interesting facts about these cute creatures.

Check out the Best Things to Do on Phillip Island.

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