The parade must go on every night, rain, hail or spectacular sunset. Phillip Island is home to the world’s largest colony of little blue penguins. Who, every evening, proud as punch in their blue and white tuxedos, waddle up the beach to their nesting burrows.
A Raft of Little Blue Penguins begins their parade. Photo Courtesy Phillip Island Discovery Centre
This parade of cuteness and wild excitement takes place on Melbourne‘s doorstep, 140km southeast of Australia‘s second-biggest city.
An institution in Melbourne, Victoria, the Phillip Island Penguin Parade is one of the most popular attractions for all who visit this part of the world.
About The Penguins
Unique in many ways, Phillip Island’s penguins are the smallest in the world.
Weighing one kilo, wringing wet, and standing 30cm or 12 inches, they punch above their weights.
These little penguins are sea birds; they don’t fly; they swim and waddle with wings that are used as flippers.
Spending 80% of their lives at sea, they only come ashore to breed, malt and tend young in small warren-type burrows.
This penguin species is the only one with blue feathers. All others are black. Regularly diving as deep as 200 feet or 60m looking for a meal. It’s not unusual for them to spend all day at sea feeding while trying to avoid becoming a feed themselves.
A Phillip Island Little Blue Penguin. Photo Courtesy Phillip Island Discovery Centre
Don’t be fooled or misled by their cuteness. They are carnivorous; fish, squid and anchovies are on the menu. They love to hunt and don’t think highly of the seaweed stuff.
Nights are spent ashore, paired with a mate in a burrow, part of a 30,000-strong colony that calls Phillip Island home.
They gather at sea each night in what’s called a Raft. The penguins only come ashore as a group in a parade that is now world-famous.
Where is Phillip Island, exactly?
Phillip Island is 140 km or 87 miles southeast of Melbourne. Via the M1 freeway, joining up with the Bass Highway, a journey of 90min.
Options for getting to Phillip Island?
: Hire a car for the most flexibility to do and see other things. Allow 90min for the drive from Melbourne; this will get you to the bridge onto the Island.
The bridge onto Phillip Island at San Remo, with local fishing boats in the harbour.
It’s a further 15min to the Penguin Parade site. Ensure you allow extra travel time during holiday periods or bad weather—free parking on site.
: Staying in a hotel in Melbourne? Tours run daily from the CBD to The Phillip Island Penguin Parade. This option eliminates the need to self-drive or hire a car. Tours go straight to the penguins and directly home again, with no spare time or detours.
: The V/Line bus departs Southern Cross Station in Melbourne‘s CBD to Cowes (Phillip Islands‘ biggest centre).
Be aware the V/Line bus does not take you directly to the penguins. It would help if you make your transport arrangements from Cowes; public transport options are limited on the Island.
By the time the penguin parade concludes, the V/line bus would have returned to Melbourne. As a result, you’ll have to overnight and return the following day.
Where are the Penguins?
The Discovery Centre, home to the penguin colony, is located at Summerlands Beach on Phillip Island. Once on the Island, it is well-signposted and easy to find. The discovery centre opens daily at 4 pm.
What are the Viewing Options & Costs at the Discovery Centre?
This is the option we choose. Pick your spot in a tiered seating area, enjoying sweeping views of Summerland Bay.
On a cold & rainy evening, everyone waits patiently for the parade. Summerland Bay, Phillip Island
Be front and centre to see the penguins leaving the water after the parade, and slowly return to the discovery centre along the boardwalk. Many penguins can be seen up close in the dunes.
Adults (16 years +) $30.00, Children (4-15 years) $15.00, Family (2 adults & 2 kids) $75.00, Pensioner (ID Required) $21.00
: Penguins Plus
This is a separate grandstand from the self-guided area. It’s smaller and closer to the beach with fewer people, a more personal experience.
Adults (16 years +) $75.00, Children (4-15 years) $37.50, Family (2 adults & 2 kids) $187.50
: Underground Viewing
Go underground, watching the penguins waddle right past you. Some might even come right up to the glass and say hello.
You are indoors; it’s enjoyable on a cold night, be aware although you see the penguins up close as they meander past, you do not see them come out of the ocean.
Adults (16 years +) $85.00, Children (4-15 years) $42.50, Family (2 adults & 2 kids) $212.50
: Ranger Guided Tour
Small groups wander into the night with a ranger to discover the penguins in their natural environment. This is an informative tour of the colony.
Adults (12 years & above for this tour) $95.00 per person.
Everybody is catered for exceptionally well, and all thoroughfares are wide and level. Ramps are frequently used along walkways, viewing areas and within the discovery centre.
Disabled and those with mobility issues, perhaps a parent with a pram will have no problems getting around. There is even a stroller parking zone.
What Time does it Start?
Sunset, penguins emerge from the ocean, beginning their parade up the beach. Penguins can continue appearing for up to 60 minutes after sunset, so don’t be too hasty to depart.
On your return to the visitor centre, take it slow along the boardwalk. Some of the best viewings will be at this Time.
It was freezing and worth every shiver. Enjoying the discovery centre after the penguin parade on Phillip Island.
Ensure you arrive up to an hour before the scheduled time of your tour, allowing Time to enjoy the exhibits and information within the visitor centre.
No photography or filming is permitted at the penguin parade with any device.
Penguins have sensitive eyes; a sudden flash can disorientate and frighten them. Should this occur, they may abandon their burrows and not return, starting again somewhere else.
A blanket ban exists on all photography to ensure this doesn’t happen and the future of the Phillip Island parade. The discovery centre provides Free, downloaded photos to be used on your social media.
This is a beautiful experience. Witnessing the penguins emerge from the ocean and wander up the beach, half just doing what they do, half putting on a show, is unique.
A Raft of Little Blue Penguins. Photo Courtesy Phillip Island Discovery Centre
These little sea birds’ sounds, banter and characters are on full display. Viewing from the boardwalks, the penguins can be beheld pairing up and finding their caves; it’s very social.
The discovery centre is well worth some time. It has numerous fascinating facts and engaging exhibits about the little blue penguins of Phillip Island.
While on Phillip Island, consider visiting
The Nobbies & Antarctic Journey Display
Continue onward, a short distance from the Penguin Discovery Centre. You’ll arrive at the Nobbies—a fantastic boardwalk that snakes around the cliffs with breathtaking views of the rock formations.
Keep a keen eye out. This is a fur seal breeding ground, Cape Barron Geese are numerous, and penguin burrows can be observed along the walk. Within the visitor centre is the Antarctic journey display; it’s visual and informative.
Being an island, there is no shortage of fantastic beaches; one of the most beautiful is Cape Woolamai.
Penguins aside, there is no shortage of opportunities to experience wildlife: the Koala conservation reserve, Phillip Island wildlife park, Churchhill Island and numerous cruises.
The Pelican feeding at San Remo is a must, especially for those with kids.
The Pelicans and Sculpture of the San Remo Pelican feeding
Food & Wine
An abundance of options is present for the foodies out there. The Phillip Island Winery, and Purple Hen Winery, are perfect for an afternoon glass.
The Phillip Island Chocolate Factory is perfect for all with a sweet tooth. Who doesn’t like fish & chips at the beach? The fish & chips at Rhyll Beach might be the best in Victoria.
The Island boasts three breweries Phillip Island Brewing Co, Rusty Water Brewery & Restaurant and Ocean Reach Brewing. Pino’s Trattoria is an excellent location for a pizza.
Outdoor attractions of Phillip Island are stunning and plentiful; however, sometimes, kids need something else. Grumpy’s crazy golf, Clip & Climb climbing centre and The Maze Theame Park are all solid options.
With the luxury of Time, a weekend or longer could easily be enjoyed on Phillip Island; it offers many things to want. Moreover, if a day is all you have, arrive early and leave late, with the Penguin Parade being the Piece de resistance.
Phillip Island is close enough to Melbourne to get to quickly and still feels far enough away that you’ve had a break.