Friday, November 12, 2010

Phillip and Churchill Islands

Like most tourists to Melbourne, I was very keen to see the Fairy Penguins at Phillip Island, and somewhat daunted to discover how far we had to drive to get there and at how large the island was. It's a pleasant drive around Westernport Bay, however, and we can recommend the Sorrento Fisherman's Co-op for good fish and chips. They also feed the local pelicans at lunch time.

But as the penguins come in after sunset, what do you do beforehand? We spent the afternoon at Churchill Island, nestled on the Westernport Bay side of Phillip Island. It's a heritage farm these days, part historic site, part farm education centre, part nature reserve and part petting zoo. The kids had a cart ride, and saw some shearing and blacksmithing. The sheepdogs showed off their training (apparently a fully-trained sheepdog costs about $5000) by rounding up first sheep, then a pair of turkeys!

And as it was spring, love was in the air. Portrait of a young man trying to impress a young lady:

A number of wallabies live in a large enclosure, and we told there was a mother with her joey, but that she was very shy and we'd be lucky to see it.

The caretaker was quite thrilled when we came upon the mother in an open area and the joey was not only awake, but peeping out of the pouch in the classic manner!

The historic house and its outbuildings and garden fascinated me more than the children, but we all loved this pump-activated fountain made out of old tractor seats.

In the late afternoon we drove down to The Nobbies, the extreme western end of Phillip Island, to visit a new Seal Centre. It would be good to see some seals while we were here, I thought. We went into the Centre, full of interesting information about Australian Fur Seals -- but where were the animals?

It turns out that the seal colony is on this islet. It's only 1500m from shore, and you might be able to see some of them if you just put $5 into one of the telescopes. The same telescopes that you put $1 into everywhere else in Australia.

But The Nobbies are also home to a huge colony of seagulls. Did I mention it was spring?

I'd never seen seagull chicks before. This gull was happily nesting right next to the boardwalk. Perhaps this shouldn't have surprised me, given how assertive seagulls are, but it did.

From the parking area on the north side, we could see the sheltered waters of Westernport Bay.

And at the end of the boardwalk, we could see the south coast of Phillip Island, and the wild waves of Bass Strait.

What a contrast! But it is in Bass Strait that the Fairy Penguins Little Penguins spend a couple of days at a time fishing. Then they come in on the southern beaches and waddle up to their burrows. Photography is prohibited as it hurts the penguins' eyes, but you can watch footage at the Penguin Island site.
I found the Penguin Parade quite magical. For a long time there are no penguins, just the ebb and flow of waves on the sand. Then a wave recedes and magically, there are a dozen little silvery bodies standing where you thought there was only foam. They march together, rather timid on the exposed sand but confident once into the dunes, to their burrows. There are penguin highways through the grass and under the boardwalks, and the birds make extraordinary noises to each other. Each bird has a unique call, and it is by this call that they identify themselves to their spouses, who at this time are already incubating eggs in the hundreds of burrows. I'm grateful that sometimes, we get it right with our wildlife.


Cazzie!!! said...

Great pictures!We used to go to the Island a fair bit years ago. Hubby's Opa and Oma lived at Rhyll. We also used to have a boat and when I was pregnant with Tomas we used to travel down there to go fishing. The mission for us was to try and find the "spot out there"that hubby's Opa used to catch Schnapper. Yeah.. he used to stand there and put his arm out front of him and spread his fingers out and say "out there". We did find a spot, but we are not sure if it was the right one.
When we were kids, the penguin parade was alot different to what it is now. We used to sit on the actual sand behind a roped off area. Wait for the penguins to come in. Cuteness waddling on through the waves in the darkness and onto the sand right before us!
The co op is awesome for Fish and Chips :)
Glad you enjoyed the trip

Mistress B said...

definitely need to put that on my list of places to visit!

Great pics :)