Feeling groggy, still in need of more sleep I checked the time on my phone. 9:30AM. We had an hour to get cleaned up, packed up and out of the Buln Buln cabins. It was going to be tight. Quick showers, breakfast and the hurried pushing of clothes into backpacks followed. We made it, just in time. The morning was bright and blue. It would have been a perfect day to take in more of Wilson’s Prom but Elena and I had other plans. We were going to explore Phillip Island, taking the long way home.
We drove through Gippsland. The countryside looked so different now, in the final warm days of summer. When I’d been this way for the wine tour all those months ago it had been baked brown. Now it was showing signs of the wetter days to come, lush green grasses filled the fields and lined the roads. We followed the rugged, southern surf beaches of Australia. There’s nothing between here and Tasmania except the huge crashing waves.
Phillip Island is both bigger and smaller than I expected. On first arrival, I thought we’d be able to see most of the island strolling around on foot. As we drove from point to point and back again I soon realised this was not going to be possible. I began comparing it to the Isle of White which is almost 100 square miles bigger. I had no idea how big the island was.
We parked up for a short while on the south coast of the island. The surf beaches here are a fantastic place to stop and watch people of all ages ride the waves. Not being one graced with the gift of coordination, surfing looks like a lot of hard work. It still tempts me though, being on the water, catching a wave. I could have watched them for hours.
Elena knew there was a place at the western tip of the island where we might be able to watch some seals. She had been there as a child, known as Seal Rock it sounded like the perfect place to spot a seal or two. We arrived at the Nobbies to find no such place. There were no seals either. We still took a walk along the boardwalk that climbed through the cliffs. The nesting boxes of silver gulls nestled in the nooks.
We drove to Cowes, the reason I’d compared Phillip Island to the Isle of White. Two islands, two towns with the same name. It wasn’t much of a coincidence. I don’t remember ever being to the Cowes I’d call the original. I imagined they’d be similar. The main high street lined with surf shops, souvenirs and ice cream parlous. I suspect most of the houses behind them were empty. It seemed an idyllic spot for a holiday but I wouldn’t want to live here. We bought an ice cream each, the Nutella was bad and the Violet Crumble good. The sun was beating down, so we meandered down to the beach to enjoy it.
We walked along the sand and back to the car. It was about time for lunch. We drove back towards the Nobbies and pulled in to the car park for Flynn’s beach. We sat overlooking the protected waters between the island and the mainland. It was without doubt one of the last days we’d be able to enjoy being on the beach this year. Winter is coming.
Once we finished eating we walked out on the beach again. Sheltered from the wind, the sun at it’s hottest I found the ocean tempting. Had I prepared for anything, I’d have gone for it. I’d have waded out and swam. Instead, I walked just beyond the reach of the waves around the small bay. As the sun began to set we moved on, our reason for being here approached.
Phillip Island’s Penguin Parade is world famous. The island is home to the largest permanent colony of little penguins in Victoria. Tourists have flocked to the site since the 1920s to watch the penguins waddle across the beach. Two huge concrete terraces stand on the water front. Elena and I found a seat close to the front. The sun had already lost it’s grip on the beach, it was still shining across the bay on the island’s headlands. Pastel pinks and yellows reached up from the ocean and pulled the sky down, dragging the darkness of the night with them. Stars descended towards the horizon until the sky and the sea were the same shade of black.
Shadows were moving in the shallows. Were they seagulls paddling or penguins swimming? After a small lifetime, the first little penguin emerged. He waited on the rocks for a few minutes before braving the open sand alone. Its little head bobbed forward and it waddled like a toddler taking its first steps, racing across the beach.
The crowd waited on in the cold. The first penguin had come alone and well ahead of the rest of the colony. How much longer would it be until the rest began to emerge from the dark waters? A group of three popped out on the rocks. They were hard to spot, the light from towering floodlights glistening off the wet rocks. Flashes of white might have been penguins, they might have been the rocks.
100 or fewer penguins had marched up the beach. The numbers coming in from the sea slowed. Most of the crowd had begun to make their way back to the carpark. Along the boardwalk people had stopped to spot the penguins finding their nests. It took a while to actually find the first one. It was waiting underneath the boardwalk for what ever penguins wait for. After we’d seen one, many more followed. They walked up animal tracks through the sand dunes and alongside the boardwalk.
I suppose it’s both a good and bad thing that you can’t take photographs of the penguins. I’m not a fan of someone using a flash in my face when it’s dark and I’m getting ready for bed. I can respect the penguins for not being mad keen on this either. The narrative coming from the nature park was that it’s intrusive. I find it hard to believe a few photographs are going to be worse than two massive concrete stands.
After the penguins it was time to go home. Elena drove along the coast until we decided it was time for dinner. We pulled off the main road and into another dark and scary town called Lang Lang. There was one fish and chip shop which which closed as we collected our order. The country had been a welcome break from the bustle and noise of the city. We pulled up at home feeling exhausted, the fresh ocean air had cleansed up. Close to 11PM it was time for bed.