During our Aussie vacation week, we visited Phillip Island, south of Melbourne, as Kangaroo Island just proved too complicated to reach within our limited time-span The island has many interesting features (although it is heavily inhabited, even in the winter), including volcanic feature and plenty of wildlife (like the goose above). However, the major attraction of this place is the daily (and “insanely popular” to quote from Lonely Planet Australia) ritual of fairy penguins, a special type of tiny penguins (33cm!) that go fishing in Melbourne Bay for a day or two and return to their burrow at dusk. The “fairy” denomination comes from the fact that they appear to pop out from the sea in a magical way, being “suddenly” there on the shore… It was an interesting experience to sit and watch hundreds of birds rush through the beach and climb the hills toward their burrow by group of five to ten penguins.
However, I was quite puzzled (and, to be completely honest, rather incensed!) by the commercialisation of the “penguin parade”: it is impossible to see the landing without paying a fee to the company owning the only beach where this occurs… The argument is that this is a non-profit organisation and that the money goes to research and rehabilitation of the penguin habitat (and this is presumably the case!), but I feel queasy about the whole process of putting lights on the landing beach and walkways next to the penguins’ path to their burrow (some are even located right below the visitors’ centre, with lights and openings to see inside the burrow!). Hundreds of (“oohing-and-aahing” to quote again Lonely Planet!) tourists sit every evening to watch the penguins, with a certain amount of noise and movements. I find this mix of protection (as indeed this part of the island is full of replanted grass and man-made burrows) and raw business (the side business of selling hot food and junk products to tourists is less of an issue as it does not impact the penguins) quite counter-natural. (I do not think a national park would tolerate such an intrusive behaviour… However, I did not find much protest about this on the web.)