Feature

Phillip Island, where penguins roam

penguins

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It's a far cry from the 1920s and 30s, when local residents took visitors on informal tours conducted by torchlight. In the 1960s, once viewing platforms had been built, the penguins were corralled up the slope through a series of small gates for the entertainment of the viewing public.

Ranger Sally, a resident of the island, describes the present-day eco-accredited tourist attraction as a "reverse zoo": people are "controlled on boardwalks and behind fences" while the penguins "can roam free and watch us".

The impact of human presence on the penguins here has been thoroughly researched over several decades and the number of penguins crossing Summerland Beach documented nightly since 1968.

Today, every effort is made to minimise disruption to the penguin colony: lighting at the parade is muted, photography is banned and the roads leading to nesting areas beyond the parade are closed at nightfall to reduce penguin casualties and restrict human access.

The breeding rates of the Summerland beach penguins are the highest of all the groups on the island, proof of the effectiveness of the rangers' efforts.

Cost

General admission is $21.65 for adults and $10.80 for children (4 to 15 years). There are a number of recently updated and expanded viewing options available. I sat in the Penguins Plus area, which has a viewing platform and boardwalk restricted to 190 visitors per night; adults, $41.20, children, $20.60.

I also popped my head into the Skybox, an elevated and enclosed viewing platform the rangers use to count the penguins each night. Although you're not right up close to the penguins, this is a good choice in colder weather as you're sheltered from rain and wind, unlike the other viewing areas. Adults, $62.00.

Public transport

V-line buses run between Melbourne CBD and Cowes on Phillip Island. For transport around the island, you will need to hire a car or a bicycle.

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