Just off the coast of Western Australia is a small island named after its very tiny inhabitants: Penguin Island.
Just a five minute ferry ride off the coast to an island full of penguins? Of course we went.
We drove from Perth down to Rockingham and after making a quick stop to buy a snorkel we boarded the ferry across the bay.
Around the island is a circular footpath, crossing several of the beaches and sections made up of elevated boardwalks. Scott and I headed clockwise around the island, crossing a small beach and following the boardwalk around the southern tip. There’s a viewing platform about halfway that gives fabulous views of the whole tiny island.
It was on the western side of Penguin Island that we got the closest view of a wild penguin we were going to bed. All across the beach were trails of Little Penguin prints.
Like many of the other islands up and down the west coast, its highly likely that it was utilised by Aboriginal people. There is even a legend about a young girl who was imprisoned in a rock on the northern end of the island for breaking tribal law and running away with a lover (he was killed) – apparently you can still hear her singing from Singing Rock today.
On the other side of the beach, boardwalks start up again. A large section of the northern part of the island is closed off for Pelicans.
The first recorded human inhabitant was Seaford McKenzie, a man from New Zealand who holed himself up in some caves from 1914. Four years later he gained a lease from the government to set up a holiday resort, after which he set about hollowing out the limestone caves into rooms, a store and even a library. He left Penguin Island in 1926 and went back to New Zealand to his wife and children, who hadn’t seen him for forty-five years and apparently had just run out on one day. There are still some features left over from the ‘King of Penguin Island’, including some of his caves and the well.
Nowadays, the Island is primarily managed by the Department of Conservation and Land Management and is a designated conservation park. During the winter the penguins return to the island to nest, at which time it is closed to the public.
There are wild Little Penguins in the island throughout the year, but they typically only land at night when its closed. In the education centre there are ten penguins that are unable to return to the wild and visitors can pop in at set times during the day to watch their feeding.
The island can be accessed through the Perth Wild Encounters company between September and June, weather dependent.
While it is possible to see wild penguins, they should not be approached and any issues should be reported to the wardens on site.