I'm a freelance writer living in Perth. Having 2 young kids with endless energy, we are always on the lookout for new outdoor activities.
Published June 7th 2012
If you ask any Perth locals whether Perth has any islands worth visiting, they would mention Rottnest. Enough said. However, I'm going to talk about its less famous relative, which is also very much worth-visiting: the Penguin Island.
Penguin Island Ferry from the Mersey Point Jetty, Rockingham
Penguin Island lies in the waters of Rockingham (42 km south of Perth). It is five minutes away by the Penguin Island Ferry which departs and returns hourly from the Mersey Point Jetty, corner Arcadia Drive and Penguin Rd, Shoalwater ($12 p/person return). It operates from mid September to early June as the island is closed over the penguin's nesting period in winter.
Feeding time at the Discovery Centre
Your priority when you reach the island of course would be to see the little penguins. Afterall, the island is said to have the largest known breeding colony in Western Australia, with an estimated 1200 penguins. You could meet them either by going to the scheduled penguin feeding at the Penguin Island Discovery Centre (fee applies), or by trying your luck and peering under boardwalks or into their little homes in the bushes. It's not so easy to sight one walking around as they're mostly out at sea during the day.
In your quest you would have to keep to the boardwalk, but the rangers are good enough to position some of the penguin homes so that it's possible to peer inside. And the network of boardwalk is extensive enough to keep the little ones quite busy playing hide and seek with the penguins.
Once your appetite for penguin has been satiated, however, do keep your eyes open still for other species occupying the island. Well, actually you could spot one even without your eyes open. You could hear them every step of the way, they're the seagulls.
But that's a bad advice. Don't walk around with your eyes closed please, especially if you come during the seagull breeding season, as you might step on their nests. They're obviously not very afraid of humans (and maybe they should), as they often built their nests right next to the boardwalk.
Who would have thought that seagulls would produce such beautiful dark coloured spotted eggs when chickens (who are more colourful in terms of feathers) could only produce boring plain eggs. And seagulls' chicks are the same colour as their eggs - brown-speckled!
A seagull and her chick
Another bird colony that favours Penguin Island as their nest is the mighty pelicans. The areas adjacent to this colony nest is off limit however, so you could only enjoy the faraway view from the top of the boardwalk.
The pelican colony on Penguin Island
You could also view the pelican colony from a different point of view by joining the Penguin & Sea Lion Cruise ($34.50 per person, includes return ferry and entry to Discovery Centre). It's conducted on a glass-bottom boat so you get to see the life among the seagrass of the Shoalwater Bay. The boat would also take you cruising by the Seal Island, where if you're lucky you would greet the Australian sea lions (from the boat--the public are not allowed on the island). They're the rarest species of sea lion in the world, but they obviously share the same hobby with the other sea lions - lying around doing nothing on the beach.
The lonely sea lion sunbathing on the beach of Seal Island
If you're not into wildlife, then the next best things you would get out of the island are the kids-friendly beaches and picnic spots. Right in front of the Penguin Island Discovery Centre is a shaded, grassy picnic area which leads down to a very sheltered swimming beach.
Calm shallow water in front of the Discovery Centre
The other side of the island (the one facing away from the mainland) is a different story. As it faces the open ocean, it's more wavy and the beach itself is not strictly sandy. Interesting patterns made by the rocks form little pools that could be explored for hours by little hands and feet.
Little pools for little people to explore
If I have one complaint about the whole place, it would be that the cost of the ferry is a bit steep. $12 per person (from 3 yrs old onwards) seems much for twice 5 minute rides. And many locals seem to think the same, as they prefer to brave the waves and walk (yes, walk) the strait between the mainland and the island. They know the best route where the water is most shallow and it goes up only to an adult's waist. There are notices posted around the area on the obvious dangers of doing so, and that lives have been lost. So maybe $12 is not worth risking it. However, it would be nice if they could lower the fee a bit, so that we could all visit this wonderful island more frequently.
My wife and I travelled by public transport, the weather was none too good and we were dismayed to find that the Transperth bus from Rockingham station did not pass the ferry terminal. It was a long walk from the bus terminus to the ferry even though the road that passes there was suitable for buses etc. We were on holiday from England and plan to visit Australia in the future: it would be nice to think that Transperth would consider extending the bus service to the ferry as not everyone would wish to travel by car.
Thank you Judith W for your interesting article about Penguin Island. I have read about this excursion before and like you I think the cost of the Ferry ride is a bit high and certainly too much for us being pensioners and with school holidays coming up it would have been a nice outing for the 3 Grandsons but at $60.00 for a five minute ferry ride I can't see it happening.
I shall continue to follow Weekend Notes just in case there is a reduction in price over the holidays.
Yes the ferry cost is ridiculous ,In fact the whole deal of $35 is a bit rich ,but it is a great place to visit for a few hours . Public transport is a problem ,There is a bus that stops not to far from where the ferry leaves from which you can get from the ROCKINGHAM Train Station. Best to buy a family rider ticket for $12.70,1/2 adults and up to 5 children.