Thankfully the next day our flight wasn’t leaving at some un godly hour, instead we got to actually see sunlight before boarding the shuttle to the airport. We had a lazy morning packing and getting checked out of our rooms until it was time to meet the shuttle, which showed up over thirty minutes late due to some road construction delays. When we got to the airport we learned that our flight had been delayed too. Dad, who had spent two hours sitting on the runway at LAX with Julie due to a Qantas delay was growing quite impatient with this routine (not that it takes much to make him impatient) and he said “ You know I could work for Qantas. I would just have to be able to say, sorry for the delay. “
Eventually we did get onto our flight and once we arrived in Melbourne it was much chillier than it had been in Cairns. Since it was getting close to the end of the day we didn’t have any time to explore museums, so instead we checked into our rooms and headed down to the hotel bar for a light dinner and of course mom and dad got drinks, thus continuing the “Lapointes Get Hammered Tour.” After dinner Julie and I gathered up some $1 and $2 coins and headed to the Internet kiosk in the lobby to catch up on our facebook news feeds and check our email before heading up to bed.
Even though our tour of Phillips Island didn’t start till 1pm the following day, we had decided that we would get up early the next morning and spend the day exploring the city. So we got up the next day around 9am, had a quick breakfast at a cafe we found near our hotel and then headed towards Federation Square, which is the center of downtown near where all the museums are. I wanted to take everyone to the Australian Center for the Moving Image, a free and very interactive museum that I had really enjoyed when I was in Melbourne, and I thought that even Dad and Julie who have very little patience for museums, might enjoy this one. We arrived at the museum around 9:30am and since it didn’t open till 10 Dad and Mom explored the area around federation square while Julie and I sat at a table in the square to take advantage of the free wifi. Around ten we headed inside the museum and consulted one of the docents as to what exhibits were on for that day. Dad couldn’t have said more than three words to this woman when she asked “So what part of Ireland are you from?” In the United States people ask him if he is from Australia, and apparently Australians think he sounds like he is from Ireland. I don’t see why a Boston/New England accent is so hard to place but once even in Logan Airport in Boston someone asked him where he was from.
After spending a few hours wandering through the museum we ventured back outside to a sunnier day than we had left, as it had been rainy and overcast when we had woken up. Given the pleasant change in weather I decided that we should check out some of the street art that Melbourne is so famous for, so we headed over to Hoiser Lane, one of the most famous alleys in Melbourne. Last time I was in Melbourne Seth, Jordan, Lyndsay and I had spent easily 30 minutes carefully examining and gawking at all the amazing works of art we found there. Mom, Dad and Julie were quite content just to walk through it at a normal pace and tell me it was cool. Another thing that Melbourne is famous for is its many hidden alley ways as they hold art, galleries, cafes, and lots of shopping outlets. I steered us towards one where I knew we could get some great burgers for lunch. After eating we headed back up towards our hotel to meet up with the shuttle that would take us to Phillips Island.
Phillips Island is a small island that is located 140 km southeast from the city of Melbourne and is approximately 10,000 hectares in side. In addition to the town of Newhaven, which has a population of 428 people, the islands other residents all live on the Phillips Island Nature Park. Wombats, koalas, kangaroos, Tasmanian devils, parrots, birds of prey, and reptiles can all be found here, roaming free, but the most famous inhabitants of this park are the Little Penguins which nest there and come ashore in groups every night to do so.
Before reaching Phillips Island we made two other stops. The first of which was a petting zoo where Dad had his first real life encounter with a kangaroo. He seemed slightly less than amused, but mom seemed to really enjoy herself, although she was a bit timid at first to feed them since they can be a bit grabby.
After leaving the petting zoo our next stop was a koala sanctuary. By the time we got there it had started to rain, and since it was a bit chilly out, all the koalas were bundled up into balls sitting in the forks of trees sleeping. I can’t say I blame them. It was a rather miserable day to be outside. So that was somewhat disappointing. But I did manage to spot one of these:
Roughly another hour on the bus found us at Phillips Island about an hour before the penguins were expected to begin coming ashore. We wandered around the visitor center which was buzzing with activity. They had a fairly good exhibit on penguins that showed the different types of penguins and talked all about the breeding and social habits of the fairy penguins that nested on the island. It was all very well done. They even had some nesting boxes with little viewing holes in them and you could see some penguins that had not ventured into the ocean for the day. Around 6:30 it had gotten dark enough for the penguins to come out, and so we headed down to sit on the bleachers lining the shore. It was a cold and windy evening and it was still lightly drizzling. Mom, Dad, Julie and I huddled together to try and stay warm, but I don’t think any of us were really dressed to be sitting on the beach in the rain in the middle of the winter so we were cold.
While we waited the park rangers explained that every night the number of penguins that come ashore varies a great deal due to the moon being out and tides and such. They have seen as few as 20 and as many as 2,000 in a single evening. Since the moon was full that night we were told not to expect a huge number, because this would increase visibility for predators thus making the penguins a bit more timid about coming out onto the beach. The penguins have had a rough time in the past few decades with the introduction of species not native to Australia, like foxes and feral cats as they have taken a dent out of the population. Penguins can only have one egg at a time, but they have survived somehow. We kept hearing them referred to as “determined little birds” and they really are.
We shivered and waited for about 15 minutes before we saw the first penguin emerge from the water. It is unusual to see only one, as they typically come ashore in small groups of four or five called rafts. They do this because when you are a tiny little penguin there are many predators out to get you and there is safety in numbers. We watched this lone little penguin come out of the water and timidly make his way out of the surf until he was almost halfway up the beach and then he broke into a waddling run to get to the low lying bush where he would be better protected from birds and such. The ranger had told us that we should only spend half our time on the shore as once the penguins had come out of the water they could be better observed further up the beach socializing and coming home to their mates. We saw that first one, and then about two small rafts of five or six before the rain really started to pick up and we decided we had enough and were ready to head inside. As we did we saw some of the penguins waddling up beside us.
Since the penguins can be easily startled, we were not permitted to take pictures, so here are some that I stole from the Phillips Island Penguin Park website:
By the time we got back to the visitor center we were cold, wet, and somewhat disappointed. While the penguins we did see were adorable I think we had all been expecting to see a few more than the twelve or so we ended up seeing.
Dad said “I’m gonna tell people that there were so many penguins that we had to walk on them to get back to the visitor center. The sea was blackened by penguins.”
The four of us all got a very overpriced cup of hot chocolate in the visitor center before getting back on the bus and headed back into the city.