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Published October 11th 2013
Are there really penguins in St Kilda?
You're not likely to find a penguin admiring the red mullet at a fish stall at the Queen Victoria market but surprisingly you don't need to journey far from the Central Business District to see wild penguins in Melbourne.
The St Kilda breakwater at the end of the St Kilda Pier is home to a colony of about 1200 Little Penguins. At the end of each day, just around dusk, come penguins swim back to the breakwater, climb out of the water and waddle over the breakwater rocks to their nests amongst the rocks.
Each night tourists and some knowledgeable locals head to the far end of the St Kilda pier as it starts to get dark and wait expectantly for the penguins to appear from the water. The number of penguins returning each night varies depending on a number of factors. In mid winter you may only see a few but in summer there are plenty. Their return will be spread over a number of hours. The penguins do not need to return to land each night since they are so buoyant that they can sleep at sea.
Crowd waiting for the penguins to arrive
There is no charge for visiting the penguins. There are a number of rangers at the pier each night who manage the crowds, help find the penguins nesting in the rocks and also answer any questions from enquiring visitors. It is also possible to spot elusive Rakali, native water rats.
It is very important not to use flash photography since penguins don't have eye lids and the flash can cause epileptic fits. A tip is to bring a torch with red light or you can use the infrared light on your camera to help spot the penguins in the rocks.
Penguin in the St Kilda Breakwater Rocks
Near the start of the pier is Catani Gardens where you will see huge possums in the trees at night time.
Possums at Catani Gardens
You can also take a day trip to Phillip Island, only 90 minutes from Melbourne, to see the more famous penguin parade, where each night at sunset the Little Penguins emerge from the sea, waddle across the beach and seek out their burrows in the sand dunes. There are a range of elevated boardwalks and viewing stands to help get a good view. No filming or photography is allowed at the Parade.
The cost of seeing the Penguin Parade can be quite expensive with General Viewing starting from $23 per adult, close-up viewing packages such as Penguins Plus starting at $44 per adult and a Guided Ranger tour being $69.
A tip is to visit The Nobbies at the western end of Phillip Island. There is a boardwalk with spectacular views of the rugged coast and blow hole plus you will have a good chance to get a close-up view of a penguin. The Nobbies Visitor Centre can offer a warm refuge if the weather is cold and blustery.
Penguin at The Nobbies
There are also opportunities in Melbourne to see captive King and Gentoo penguins at the Melbourne Aquarium. Adult entry prices are $38. You can also suit up in Antarctic snow gear and spend 45 minutes with the penguins and see the food preparation and veterinary areas with a Penguin Passport Experience which starts from $199 per person. Melbourne Zoo has a penguin group in a display area which has extensive underwater viewing areas. Admission costs for the zoo are $26.80 for an adult and $13.20 for children aged 4-15 years although children are free on weekends, Victorian public holidays and Victorian government school holidays.