Phillip Island, where penguins roam

G Magazine

There's much to be said for exploring closer to home.


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I realise it's been a long while since I've taken the time to sit and simply observe the transition from day to night. The light dims in imperceptible increments as the waves mark time on the sand of Summerland Beach on Phillip Island, Victoria.

We are sitting in the Penguin Parade viewing area, anticipating an internationally famous natural spectacle.

It's a long wait for the younger spectators, who are bundled up in brightly coloured fleecy jackets and beanies and probably expecting dancing or surfing penguins, like the ones in the movies. But the Little Penguins of Australia's most popular wildlife attraction are not here to perform.

Ranger Sally O'Neill reminds us that there is never a guarantee of exactly when the penguins will arrive, or how many will make the trek across the beach to their burrows on any given night.

"You're experiencing Little Penguins in the wild," she says. "You're just watching what they do naturally."

Finally, we hear the "huck, huck" marshalling call of the penguins just before seeing them pop their heads above the water.

They assemble in small huddles at the water's edge. Some groups spook and dive back into the water. Other gatherings edge forward across the dimly lit sand like a troupe of slightly tipsy Roman soldiers in formation.

As the name suggests, Little Penguins are small in stature - the littlest of all 17 species of penguins, in fact. Standing around 33 cm tall, they are less than a quarter the size of their Antarctic cousin, the Emperor Penguin.

As they trudge up the hillside in search of their burrows, we're able to walk alongside and watch the progress of these diminutive creatures from a boardwalk.

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