On the evening of January 27th I began my journey to visit Australia for the second time in my life. My first visit to the land down under was in 2014 when I spoke at and attended my first linux.conf.au in Perth. Perth was beautiful, in addition to the conference (which I wrote about here, here and here), I took some time to see the beach and visit the zoo during my tourist adventures.
This time I was headed for Melbourne to once again attend and speak at linux.conf.au, this time in the port city of Geelong. I arrived the morning of Friday the 29th to spend a couple days adjusting to the time zone and visiting some animals. However, I was surprised at the unexpected discovery of something else I love in Melbourne: historic street cars. Called trams there, they run a free City Circle Tram that uses the historic cars! There’s even a The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant which allows you to dine inside one as you make your way along the city rails. Unfortunately my trip was not long enough to ride in a tram or enjoy a meal, but this alone puts Melbourne right on my list of cities to visit again.
At the Perth Zoo I got my first glimpse of a wombat (they are BIG!) and enjoyed walking through an enclosure where the kangaroos roamed freely. This time I had some more animals on my checklist, and wanted to get a bit closer to some others. After checking into my hotel in Melbourne, I went straight to the Melbourne Zoo.
I love zoos. I’ve visited zoos in countries all over the world. But there’s something special you should know about the Melbourne Zoo: they have a platypus. Everything I’ve read indicate that they don’t do very well in captivity and captive breeding is very rare. As a result, no zoos outside of Australia have platypuses, so if I wanted to see one it had to be in Australia. I bought my zoo ticket and immediately asked “where can I find the platypus?” With that, I got to see a platypus! They platypus was swimming in it’s enclosure and I wasn’t able to get a photo of it (moving too fast), but I did get a lovely video. They are funny creatures, and very cute!
The rest of the zoo was very nice. I didn’t see everything, but I spent a couple hours visiting the local animals and checking out some of their bigger exhibits. I almost skipped their seals (seals live at home!) and penguins (I’d see wild ones the next day!), but I’m glad I didn’t since it was a very nice setup. Plus, I wasn’t able to take pictures of the wild fairy penguins as to not disturb them in their natural habitat, but the ones at the zoo were fine.
I also got a video of the penguins!
More photos from the Melbourne Zoo here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157664216488166
When I got into a cab to return to my hotel it began to rain. I was able to pick up an early dinner and spend the evening catching up on some work and getting to bed early.
Saturday was animal tour day! I booked a AAT Kings full day Phillip Island – Penguins, Kangaroos & Koalas tour that had a tour bus picking me up right at my hotel. I selected the Viewing Platform Upgrade and it was well worth it.
Philip Island is about two hours from Melbourne, and it’s where the penguins live. They come out onto the beach at sunset and all rush back to their homes. The rest of the tour was a series of activities leading up to this grand event, beginning with a stop at MARU Koala & Animal Park. We were in the bus for nearly two hours to get to the small park, during which the tour guide told us about the history of Melbourne and about the penguins we’d see later in the evening.
The tour included entrance fees, but I paid an extra $20 to pet a koala and get some food for the kangaroos and other animals. First up, koala! The koala I got to pet was an active critter. It sat still during my photo, but between people it could be seen reaching toward the keepers to get back the stem of eucalyptus that it got to munch on during the tourist photos. It was fun to learn that instead of being really soft like they look, their fur feels a lot more like wool.
The rest of my time at the park was spent with the kangaroos. Not only are they just hopping around for everyone to see like in the Perth Zoo, when you have a container of food you get to feed them! And pet them! In case you’re wondering, it’s one of the best things ever. They’re all very used to being around human tourists all day, and when you lay your hand flat as instructed to have them eat from your hand they don’t bite.
I got to feed and pet lots of kangaroos!
The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting a couple scenic outlooks and a beach before stopping for dinner in the town of Cowes on Philip Island where I enjoyed a lovely fish dinner with a stunning view at Harry’s on the Esplanade. The weather was so nice!
As we approached the “skinny tip of the island” the tour guide told us a bit about the history of the island and the nature preserve where the penguins live. The area had once been heavily populated with vacation homes, but with the accidental introduction of foxes, which kill penguins, and increased human population, the island quickly saw their penguin (and other local wildlife populations) drop. We learned that a program was put in place to buy back all the private property and turn it into a preserve, and work was also done to rid the island of foxes. The program seems to have worked, the preserve no longer has private homes and we saw dozens of wild wallabies as well as some of the large native geese that were also targets of the foxes. Most exciting for me was that the penguin population was preserved for us to enjoy.
As the bus made its way through the park, we could see little penguin homes throughout the landscape. Some were natural holes built by the penguins, and others were man-made houses put in place when they tore down a private home and discovered penguins had been using it for a burrow and required some kind of replacement. The hills were also covered in deep trails that we learned were little penguin highways, used for centuries (millennia?) for the little penguins to make their way from the ocean where they hunted throughout the day, to their nests where they spend the nights. The bus then stopped at the top of a hill that looked down onto the beach where we’d spend the evening watching the penguins come ashore. I took the picture from inside the bus, but if you look closely at this picture you see the big rows of stadium seating, and then to the left, and closer, there are some benches that are curvy. The stadium like seating was general admission and the curvy ones are the viewing platform upgrade I paid for.
The penguins come ashore when it gets dark (just before 9PM while I was there), so we had about an hour before then to visit the gift shop and get settled in to our seats. I took the opportunity to send post cards to my family, featuring penguins and sent out right there from the island. I also picked up a blanket, because in spite of the warm day and my rain jacket, the wind had picked up to make it a bit chilly and it was threatening rain by the time dusk came around.
It was then time for the penguins. With the viewing platform upgrade the penguins were still a bit far when they came out of the ocean, but we got a nice view of them as they approached up the beach, walking right past our seating area! They come out of the ocean in big clumps of a couple dozen, so each time we saw another grouping the human crowd would pipe up and notice. I think for the general admission it would be a lot harder to see them come up on the beach. The rest of the penguin parade is fun for everyone though, they waddle and scuttle up the island to their little homes, and they pass all the trails, regardless of where you were seated. Along the pathways the penguins get so close to you that you could reach out and touch them (of course, you don’t!). Photos are strictly prohibited since the risk is too high that someone would accidentally use a flash and disturb them, but it was kind of refreshing to just soak in the time with the penguins without a camera/phone. All told, I understand there are nearly 1,500 penguins each night that come out of the ocean at that spot.
The hills then come alive with penguin noises as they enjoy their evenings, chatting away and settling in with their chicks. Apparently this parade lasts well into the night, though most of them do come out of the ocean during the hour or so that I spent there with the tour group. At 10PM it was time to meet back at the bus to take us back to Melbourne. The timing was very good, about 10 minutes after getting in the bus it started raining. We got to watch the film Oddball on our journey home, about another island of penguins in Victoria that was at risk from foxes but were saved.
In all, the day was pretty overwhelming for me. In a good way. Petting some of these incredibly cute Australian animals! Seeing adorable penguins in the wild! A day that I’ll cherish for a lifetime.
More photos from the tour here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157664216521696
The next day it was time to take a train to Geelong for the Linux conference. An event with a whole different type of penguins!