Elephant Cove, Denmark, Western Australia.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Penguin Island.

Penguin Island is south of Perth and just a short ferry ride off the coast of Rockingham.  

I remember going there many many year ago.  I remember walking around the island and looking for, and seeing, fairy penguins in their natural habitat.  I remember walking across to the island.   

Of course, like a lot of things, things change.  The penguins are now called Little Penguins instead of Fairy Penguins.  According to one of the rangers on the island it is the preferred title.    To me they will always be fairy penguins,   The authorities no longer like you walking across to the island.  Maybe they never did but since there have been a few drownings they now try and discourage it.

A year or so ago Husband and I were in Rockingham and called in to get some information about the island and while there we bought a coffee from the cafe.  I remember that coffee for all the wrong reasons...it was warm, weak, in a disposable cup...I like my coffee hot, strong, real crockery..
Anyway I lost that information and *forgot* about Penguin Island but recently read a review about the island and as we had the grandkid that loves penguins for a weekend I thought we could take her over for a look.

So, last Saturday was The Day.
I researched so knew the first ferry to the island left at 9am.  I knew how far Rockingham was from us, about how long it would take...I was sure that we'd be there in plenty of time to get a ticket.  We were driving down the road to where the ferry leaves from and the car clock was saying we wouldn't make it in time.  Bummer, that would mean we would have to wait until the next ferry at 10.
Pulling into the carpark we saw a couple of other people rushing towards the ticket place so I left husband to deal with the stuff from the car and went to see if we would make the first ferry.  She sold me our tickets and rang through to the ferry to say the last lot were on their way...made it!  It was close though, another minute and we would of had to wait.  I have no idea why it took us so long to get there, I must have had the times wrong or maybe the stop to buy bananas, the loo stop, both took longer than I calculated.

The first ferry wasn't very busy so it was easy to get a seat near the window so we could look out  the water and watch the walkers making their way across the sandbar to the island. 
 We went from back there
                                     To here in under way 10min.

 Our plan was to find a nice spot under a tree where we could leave our esky and bag while we went off and explored.

There is a lovely shaded and grassed area with tables and seats so we picked a spot and plonked down our stuff,  Grandkid was getting impatient and wanted to be off.

Years ago people could walk all over the island but nowadays there are wooden boardwalks that take you from one end to the other, lots of steps too!  We headed North first.  Walked down to the beach to look at the caves there.  People used to live in these caves and they did look dry but I'm not sure how warm and cosy it would have been.  Great ocean views though.

This one had a neat doorway cut into it and was quite big on the inside.

 Up the steps to the boardwalk, down some more steps to a different beach, back up those steps...

 Eventually we came to the end of the walk, not allowed to go further because it is a Pelican breeding area.

Both ends of the island had breeding colonies of Pelicans but they were too far away to see clearly.  At the northern end there are binocular things where you put in $2 coin.  We didn't have any $2 coins but thought they should have been free anyway as we'd already payed out $55.  If we had $2 we probably would have used it to have a better look.

After exploring the Northern end we went back to have something to eat.
There are no shops on PI so you need to take food and water over with you.  There is a cafe where the ferry leaves from but buying from there could add a lot to an already expensive day out.  We take food and drinks when we go out and always have enough for snacks throughtout the day, all kept cold with frozen drinks and icepacks.

Different areas of the island have different rock formations, I thought they were really cool and would go back just for another look at them all.

The beaches were clean, calm, shallow...except on the western side of the island.  That beach was rocky, not smooth, rough...it didn't look safe at all so the grandkid was not allowed in that side.  Lovely views from wherever you were.  This is a beautiful area 

Penguin Island is a bird sanctuary and there are thousands of birds.  When we were there a lot were nesting and a lot of seagulls were quite close to the boardwalks.  It was interesting to see the eggs they have.  Some nests had 1 egg others 2.

  On the way to the toilets there is an old rusty car.  There isn't much left of it but it was interesting to see.

 We would go explore a bit, come back for a snack, a drink and a rest, go off again...

There were a couple of groups that came over in kayaks, it was a bit of a treat seeing them coming across and onto the beach.  

The trees in the grassed area were a popular thing for kids to climb and after a bit the grandaughter thought she's have a go too.

The main reason for going over to the island was to see some Fairy Penguins so to make sure we did we paid the entry fee to the Discovery Centre.  This ensured that we did see some of the cute little creatures and we also listened to the talk about them and watched them get fed.  The birds in here live in here all the time, it is thought that they will not be able to look after themselves out in the natural way as they were either raised in there or had been sick or injured.  They have a pretty nifty area with a swimming pool, nesting areas and feeding on a regular basis.  Why would they want to leave, that's sounds like a good life!

We had promised the child that she could go swimming before we left and as she kept looking longingly at the water here I took her down to it.  This is the eastern side of the Island, the mainland can be easily seen and it is a sheltered area so was quite safe. 

                 The water was clear, calm, shallow, cold!  Safe enough for the young and not so young. 

We caught the 2 oclock ferry back to the mainland, it was full but not uncomfortably crowded.  And!  We found our beach towel that I thought I'd lost on the island.  Oops, looks like I left in on the boat but we were lucky enough that it was still there 5 hours and hundreds of passengers later.

The ferry costs $12 per person, even 3 year olds need to pay that much...well, their parents do! so for a family it could work out to be quite a bit.  You pay again to get into the Discovery Centre...for us, 2 adults and a 5 year old it cost $55 for the ferry and DC entrant fee.
Do I think it is worth it.  I liked the island and would like to go again, spend more time looking around.   I don't think it is worth the money that we paid but in saying that I would like to go back.  If I went again I don't think I would go into the DC again, been there done that type thing but if it was just me I could have a lovely day out for $12 plus petrol money.  

$12 for 1 person is maybe not too much but start adding in other members of your family...it adds up.  As a nice day out though it would probably be worth going without takeaway or other bought treats a few times and putting the money towards this. 


  1. Good story Barb.

    I grew up in Safety Bay and used to work in the shop at Pengo in the school holidays. In those days there was quite a good shop there, also cabins etc. I'm talking early 1960's. I used to drive the barge back and forth occasionally too. Also, in those days long gone, they used to have an Army DUKW (duck) as the ferry transport.


    Some summer days we would spend the entire day over there. If we got hungry there was a fig tree near Seaforth McKenzie's cave (the one you photographed).

    [The first person to have lived on the Island was an eccentric New Zealander by the name of Seaforth McKenzie. He was described as a 'bearded man with gallant manners and a twinkling eye' and first squatted on the island in 1914. In 1918 McKenzie was granted an annual lease by the WA government and he set about establishing a holiday resort on the island. Several of the limestone caves on the eastern side of the island were hollowed out and crudely furnished for use as accommodation, a library and a small store where visitors could manage their own account as long as you left a fair amount of money or something of equal value. McKenzie also excavated a 'grand ballroom' known as the palace where he was crowned the 'King of Penguin Island' at a grand ceremony. He was a lover of literature and visitors were invited to his 'library cave' for lamp lit poetry readings. By all accounts visitors greatly admired and respected Seaforth McKenzie despite his eccentricities. McKenzie left the island in 1926 and returned home to his wife Sarah and six children in New Zealand after an absence of 45 years! Apparently he left home to go to work one day and failed to return- his explanation being that he had only just regained his memory of his family!]

    I took our son back there when he was about 12 or 13 and we circumnavigated the island with goggles and snorkels. On the northern end there is a tunnel you can crawl through from one side to the other. There's a petrifried tree there too. Unfortunately all that is now unaccessible because of the island's bird sanctuary status. I'm not sure that's a good thing.

    Cheers, Stephen (Gone Bush in a Bushtracker)

  2. Stephen, Hi. Thankyou so much for this, it so interesting, I like the tunnel bit, How exciting would it be to find that!


  3. Hi Barb, this is one spot I keep meaning to visit, got really close once, but got sidetracked. Enjoyed your account of your day spent there...p.s. I like my coffee HOT and strong also, the hot prt is the hardest to get I find!

  4. Hi Barb
    Love your blog and have also been to some of these places.
    Just recently to Kings Park with a friend. I enjoyed my time with you under the cool trees. What a great place right in the middle of our city.
    As a teenager some friends and I walked out to Penguin Island in waist high water. We swam a part of the way. This was the day's before it was resticted to go onto the island.
    I will always remember the feeling of achievement we all felt and the pleasure we got from this pristine island.
    Must visit again one day. Thank you for sharing your adventures with me.

  5. i'm 50 and grew up going over as a kid and crawling through the tunnel to the other side and some times half way through we would get attacked by mutton birds and penguins.......so much fun.

  6. Hi Barb, My dad used to drive the army dukw that ferried people over to the island so as a child we often went over there. I heard there was a photo in the Sunday times of a Dukw and have been trying to find it. Thanks for the article