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Phillip Island Penguin Parade: 23 Essential Things You Should Know Before You Go

by Michele
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Phillip Island Penguin Parade Tour - 23 Things You Should Know
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From kangaroos to koalas, emus to echidnas, Australia is home to some incredible wildlife. But did you know it’s also home to the world’s smallest penguin? Every night on Phillip Island, located just 2 hours drive south of Melbourne off the coast of Victoria, a huge colony of Little Penguins return to shore in what is famously known as the Phillip Island Penguin Parade.

Planning a trip to Melbourne? Make sure you visit Phillip Island for this unique and once in a lifetime experience. Here’s everything you need to know about seeing the Phillip Island Penguin Parade and the best Phillip Island tour from Melbourne.

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Included in this Phillip Island Penguin Parade guide

What is the Phillip Island Penguin Parade?

The Phillip Island Penguin Parade is one of nature’s incredible shows which takes place every night. After spending all day at sea, just after sunset as the last light begins to fade, thousands of Little Penguins emerge from the surf and waddle their way up the beach. They follow along their familiar and well-worn paths toward their burrows, they stop and socialise, and depending on the season, find a mating partner.

Growing up on the Mornington Peninsula, visiting Phillip Island to see the Penguin Parade was a childhood rite of passage. We would have school trips out there and do school projects about what we Australian’s call Fairy Penguins. In fact, these penguins have various names. Today, they are more generally known as “little penguins”. In New Zealand, they are more commonly known as little blue penguins or blue penguins because of their slate-blue plumage.

Another reason why the Penguin Parade is so special is that it’s one of the only ways to see the little penguin which is the smallest species of penguin in the world! They grow to an average of 33 cm (13 in) in height and 43 cm (17 in) in length. They are only found on the coastlines of southern Australia and New Zealand, and there have been unconfirmed records from Chile. 

How many penguins are there?

Phillip Island Penguin Parade Tips - Little Penguins waddling Phillip Island Penguin Parade Tips - Little Penguins on the sand Up until the mid-1980s, the little penguins lived alongside the residents of the island and in close proximity to cars, pets, and foxes which caused the number of penguins to fall dramatically.

Luckily, in 1985, the state government stepped in and purchased every piece of property on the Summerland Peninsula with the aim to give the land to the penguins. This incredible feat was completed in 2010.

Today, these precious birds are thriving again. There are some 31,000 breeding penguins on the peninsula – a huge increase from 12,000 in the 1980s. 

The number of returning penguins vary day-to-day, but the two times I saw the Phillip Island Penguin Parade, there were approximately 1900+ penguins. 

What to expect at the Phillip Island Penguin Parade 

Penguin Parade Visitor Centre

Phillip Island Penguin Parade Tips - Inside Penguin Parade Visitor Centre Phillip Island Penguin Parade Tips - Inside Visitor CentreThe Penguin Parade Visitor Centre is a huge and newly rebuilt complex that welcomes guests via the arrivals hall which then leads through the building to the penguin viewing boardwalks.

This world-class and award-winning building is nestled strategically in a junction of wetland, dune, and headland. The building is environmentally friendly with 666 solar panels on its expansive roof, a water filtration system to recycle rainwater for non-potable use, increased roof and floor insulation, and double-glazed windows. Low carbon building materials were used throughout the centre’s construction, including sustainably sourced Victorian Ash hardwood for the impressive laminated beams.

Every inch of the building showcases the penguins and their habitats. Take a moment to notice the penguin feather shapes tiles in the building design and the burrows built into the walls.

Inside the centre you’ll find a wide range of facilities, including fun and interactive activities, a state-of-the-art theatre, a restaurant and café catering to all tastes and budgets, plus two retail spaces. 

It’s important to note the Penguin Parade Visitor Centre is non-profit, which means all the money you spend, including your ticket, goes towards the rehabilitation, protection, and preservation of the little penguins. So, when you purchase a souvenir penguin from the gift shop, just know you’re doing your helping to protect these lovely little creatures.

There are also plenty of toilet facilities, located both outside near the car park and inside the visitor centre. 

Heading out to the viewing boardwalk

Phillip Island Penguin Parade Tips - BoardwalkAt the end of the entrance hall, a large screen has a countdown to when the doors will be opened for visitors to head out onto the boardwalk. 

Roughly 45 minutes before the penguins are due to arrive, the doors will open and staff will scan your tickets. As you exit the building, you’ll follow a wide boardwalk down towards the beach where you’ll find a spot to sit in your designated sitting area according to your ticket. 

There’s no need to rush as there is plenty to see along the way. This is your chance to spot some wildlife in the grassy hills including wallabies and cape barren geese, and spot some penguin burrows – some of which may not be empty!

Presentation by an expert guide

While the sky is still light, an expert guide appears before the crowd for a short 15-minute presentation to share some interesting information about the little penguins, such as their habits and features. 

Photography is prohibited

Phillip Island Penguin Parade Tips - Little Penguin looking around

The guide also takes this opportunity to remind visitors that photography is strictly prohibited. This is due to the sensitive nature of the penguins’ eyes when a camera flash is used. To avoid any accidental flashes going off, all use of cameras and smartphone cameras isn’t allowed.

It’s important to mention here that I was very privileged to obtain a special pass to take the photos you see in this guide. This meant I wore a lovely orange high vis jacket with “official photographer” written on the back (so visitors new I was there under special circumstances) and was accompanied by a guide who made sure I didn’t use a flash. This is no joke guys. 

Throughout the visitor centre grounds and beach area, they only use special orange light filters on all light sources so as to protect the penguins’ eyesight. With barely any light and without the ability to use a flash, these are super challenging conditions to shoot in, so don’t bother whipping out your camera or smartphone. I was even told that professional photographers from National Geographic struggled to get decent shots so I’m pretty happy I was able to get a few photos to share with you.

Here come the penguins!

Phillip Island Penguin Parade Tips - Little Penguins walking up the beach Phillip Island Penguin Parade Tips - Little Penguins walking over the rocks Phillip Island Penguin Parade Tips - Little Penguins arriving after sunsetAfter the sun has set below the waterline, pink, orange and purple clouds dance across the horizon and before long the sky begins to darken. Roughly 20 minutes after sunset, the first few little penguins begin to arrive on the shoreline. They stay close together in small groups and are on the lookout for any predators. All along the beach more and more penguins begin to arrive and wait for a large enough group to form. Once the coast is clear (pun intended), each group will continue up the beach and make their way back to their burrows. 

After the penguins come ashore

Phillip Island Penguin Parade Tips - Little Penguin under viewing platform Phillip Island Penguin Parade Tips - Blue Penguin

After about 20-25 minutes from seeing the first penguins arrive on the shore, the guides will start encouraging you to return to the boardwalk where you can wander around and see the penguins make their way back to their burrows, socialise or find a mating partner.

Guides are also on hand to answer any questions and share more information about their research, findings, and conservation projects that are happening at the moment.

Lights out!

Since the time of sunset changes daily, it’s difficult to give you exact times when the penguin parade closes. As a guide, when I visited, sunset was at 19:30 and the penguins started to come ashore around 20:10. By 20:30, you can start to make your way back to the boardwalk and see the penguins up close. By 21:30, the guides and staff will usher you out so that all lights can be turned off and the penguins can be left alone.

Why should I see the Penguin Parade?

Phillip Island Penguin Parade Tips - Little Penguins waddling along the penguin highwayIt’s not every day you get to see one of nature’s rarest species up close. Along with New Zealand, this is the only place in the world you can see the Little Penguin. By seeing the Phillip Island Penguin Parade, you’re also supporting this non-profit organisation which protects, educates and promotes the well-being of the little penguins.

Who is the Penguin Parade suitable for?

The Penguin Parade is a wonderful day out and a great experience for all ages. Child tickets for 4-15-year-olds, inclusive are available and children under 4 are free.

When is the best time to go to the Penguin Parade?

You can see the penguins all year round, so anytime is a good time, really.  If you are planning a visit from mid-December to late January, or during a Long Weekend or School Holidays period, book your tickets in advance and allow extra travel time as the traffic can get busy. 

Where can I purchase tickets?

To see the Phillip Island Penguin Parade, there are a number two ways to choose from:

  • By car – If you’re making your own way down to Phillip Island by car, you can purchase tickets for the Phillip Island Penguin Parade online in advance or once you arrive at the venue. I highly recommend purchasing your ticket in advance to avoid disappointment and also avoid the queues. During the summer, tickets sell out quickly so it would be a shame to drive all that way and not get tickets. Book your tickets here.
  • Day trip – If you’re based in Melbourne, you can join this guided tour which will take care of your transportation to and from the Penguin Parade Visitor Centre to your hotel, and includes your ticket. Book your tour here

What ticket types are available?

General Viewing

Phillip Island Penguin Parade Tips - General Viewing areaIf you have a General Viewing tickets, you’ll be led down to the main viewing platform which gives you a 180-degree view of the beach and every opportunity to spot the little penguins as they come ashore and cross the beach to their sand dune burrows. I recommend sitting as close to the front as possible.

Penguin Plus Upgrade

For even more chances of seeing the penguins up close, you should purchase the Penguins Plus ticket which gives you access to the main thoroughfare or “penguin highway” as I would call it. This is where a large number of penguins enter through and via a designated platform you can see the penguins up close while an expert guide describes the habits and features of these incredible penguins. This area is limited to just 300 people, so book your tickets in advance here.

Underground Viewing

Phillip Island Penguin Parade Tips - Little Penguin aloneAlso located on the penguin highway is the Underground Viewing area where you get a penguin’s eye view from this subterranean viewing platform. This area is limited to only 70 people so make sure you book before your arrival, as the tickets sell out fast. Book your tickets in advance here.

Penguin Skybox VIP Experience

For the VIP experience, there’s the Penguin Sky Box experience, where you can watch the parade unfold from above. The elevated viewing platform looks over the route the penguins take, and visitors are encouraged to join in with the rangers as they count the penguins as they come ashore. Book your tickets in advance here.

What time should I arrive? 

The penguins arrive at sunset every evening, so check your phone’s weather app or online for an accurate time. The park suggested arriving at least one hour before the penguin arrival time as this will allow you time to explore the visitor centre displays or grab a quick bite at the café. 

Access doors to the viewing areas will open approximately one hour prior to estimated penguin arrival time.

  • General Viewing and Penguins Plus ticket holders should plan to arrive at least 1 hour before penguin arrival time.
  • Underground ticket holders should plan to arrive 30 minutes before penguin arrival time.

What should I wear to the Penguin Parade?

Even in summer, it can get cold out sitting out on the beach with the sea breeze. Dress warm and in layers. Bring something soft to sit on as the seats are cold and hard. Even in Spring, you may also want to bring a blanket or you can purchase one from the gift shop.

Top Tips for seeing the Phillip Island Penguin Parade

  • Please respect the rules and put your phone and camera away. There’s no photo you could take on your phone that is better than the photos on a postcard in the gift shop.
  • If you’re making your own way to Phillip Island by car, try to arrive earlier in the day. The gates will be open until 16:30 and you can wander through to the viewing platforms and see wildlife. This will give you the opportunity to get the lay of the land and decide where you want to sit.
  • As you wait for the penguins to arrive, keep an eye out for wallabies in the hillside to your right and seals in the water.
  • The Penguin Parade is an all-weather event that takes place outside and without shelter – pack a raincoat or umbrella if rain is predicted. 
  • Not sure which ticket to get? The first time I went I got the General Viewing ticket which was great, however, the second time I got the Penguin Plus ticket. I think this offers the best value for money as it gives you more time to see the penguins up close as they waddle up the penguin highway. 
  • Don’t miss the presentation by the expert guide. They share some really fascinating s facts such as the little penguin has 10,000 feathers and what looks like kissing is actually the penguins grooming each other.
  • Summerland Beach isn’t the only spot where the penguins come ashore on Phillip Island, but this is the only place where you can watch them. All along the Summerland Peninsula, the penguins have their burrows. The road to the Nobbies (located past the visitor centre) is closed by park rangers 30 minutes before sunset to ensure no vehicles or persons enter or are left inside. This is to allow the penguins to return to their burrows undisturbed.

Book your individual tickets here or book your guided tour from Melbourne here. 

Got more time? Take a Day Trip

Based in Melbourne? Take one of these day trips

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Phillip Island Penguin Parade Tour - 23 Things You Should Know

Over to you!

Have you seen the penguin parade? What else would you recommend? Do you have a question about visiting Phillip Island or seeing the penguin parade? Ask me below! Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.
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