We recently spent a fortnight holidaying in Western Australia, seeing lots of amazing sights. One of our favourite trips was to Penguin Island in the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park, where we snorkelled, swam, saw lots of birds and, of course, met the penguins.
It took us about an hour to drive from Perth to Rockingham, where you can catch the ferry to Penguin Island. The ferry and all the wildlife tours of the island are run by a company called Rockingham Wild Encounters, which has its offices at the jetty opposite the island.
We'd managed to choose a day that was not only scorching (nearly 40 degrees) but was also one of their busiest of the year (just after Christmas). Still, we got through the queue in about 20 minutes and had our four ferry tickets clutched in our sweaty hands.
For a five-minute ferry trip, the prices are steep -- $12 per person, even for kids. If you want to watch the penguin feeding when you get there, add another $4.50 for children and $7.50 for adults. We took the family 'ferry and feeding' deal and paid $72 for four of us. While we waited for the ferry, we watched locals walk across to the island for free, using a sandbar. On a calm day this looks easy, but tourists have died doing this walk, and there are plenty of signs warning against it.
The ferry was a pleasant trip when it arrived. We motored across the bright blue water spotting pelicans and dolphins and watching other holiday-makers paddle around in kayaks. Within five minutes we were at the island and making our way along the boardwalks admiring the abundant birdlife.
We saw terns nestled close to the boardwalks, fuzzy brown seagull chicks (which look nothing like their mums), and plenty of pelicans swooping and swimming. Heading over to the other side of the island, we saw penguins hiding out under rock overhangs and even sheltering under the boardwalk itself. (But don't go expecting this -- the wild penguins are usually out hunting, and were only hanging around on our visit because they were moulting and less active than usual.)
After checking out the rocky coastline and getting very, very hot, we came back to the mainland side of the island and got cool in some of that beautiful water. Two of us snorkelled while the other two just swam and played. Half an hour or so later, we dried off and headed to the Penguin Island Discovery Centre for the penguin feeding.
The feeding was fun and educational, with a ranger giving lots of information while feeding six or so tame penguins who have previously been rescued. My sons, aged 9 and 11, really loved seeing the penguins waddle on land and glide through the water, and I thought the quality of the information provided was very good.
Show over, we headed outside. If we'd had our own food (there are no food outlets on the island), we could have dined in the shady picnic area by the water's edge. Instead we leapt on the ferry and headed back to the mainland, then drove to Mandurah where we enjoyed a great meal at the Brighton Hotel.
Penguin Island is not particularly well-known (my sister in Perth had not heard of it) but it makes a lovely day trip if you like nature and the outdoors. If you pack a picnic lunch you could easily spend a day lolling about on the beach and enjoying its natural beauties.
Or, if you're a bit more cashed up, you could do a sea lion and pelican tour ($36.50/adult, $27.50/child), a dolphin watch adventure ($85/adult, $50/child), or hit the water with a stand-up paddleboard, kiteboard or kayak (from $100/person). Just make sure when booking any activity that you check that ferry departure times will get you where you need to be on time.
As for us, we feel privileged to have seen what we did, and pleased that Penguin Island is part of a protected area.
PS Big thanks to the Rockingham local who guided us to the jetty after we got hopelessly lost trying to get there. After we asked directions, he insisted on driving all the way with us so we got there safely. He then waved a cheery goodbye after proclaiming that the Rockingham coast was 'God's own country'. I tend to agree with him.