Every night of the year, the world’s most adorable invasion takes place on the shores of Phillip Island. As the sun goes down, hundreds (often thousands) of Little Penguins return to their beach burrows after days — sometimes even weeks — out at sea. It’s the Penguin Parade, and a must-see spectacle of nature. An added bonus: it’s also a stone’s throw from Melbourne.
A 32,000-strong colony of Little Penguins call this 40-square-mile island home. At barely one-foot tall (33 cm), the aptly named bird is the smallest of all the 18 penguin species around the world, and lives along the southern parts of Australia and New Zealand. But it’s here on Phillip Island that the most famous crew is found.
November is springtime in Australia, and on the shores of Summerland Beach, fluffy chicks patiently wait inside burrows for mom and dad to come home with a meal. Well, sometimes patiently. Come sunset, hungry babies will often peek out of their burrows to see what’s taking their parents so long.
“It’s funny, they’re pushy little beggars,” said Phillip Island Nature Parks’ Roland Pick, “because to any penguin that happens to be passing their burrows, they’ll kind of go, ‘give me your food, give me your food!’ They hassle every penguin walking past.”
Little Penguins spend 80 percent of their lives at sea, typically foraging within a 30-mile zone. But when there are chicks to feed, the adult penguins will come ashore more often than usual, Pick told Travel + Leisure. On one recent evening he estimated 2,400 penguins crossed the beach in less than an hour. “They’re a lot of fun to watch,” he said.
While spring is the inherent time for baby penguins to hatch, Pick said in recent years they’ve witnessed a couple of double-breeding cycles, including in 2019. A working theory for the reason is that rising sea temperatures may be triggering earlier than usual breeding cycles.
“This year, and a couple of years ago also, [the penguins] had a very successful breeding cycle start in July-August, in the middle of winter,” Pick said. “By the time October came round the chicks had already fledged.” What did the penguin parents do after that? They decided to have some more babies.
“Some pairs of penguins actually went through having two lots of eggs and two lots of chicks,” Pick explained. “Long-term, what that’s going to mean, we don’t know yet. We’ll just keep monitoring, and see how [warming seas affect] the overall health of the population. Currently, the population is nice and steady and stable.”
And for now, that also means a great number of Little Penguins for people to come and see.
Before You Go
The Penguin Parade is an extremely popular attraction and does sell out, so book a couple of months in advance, if possible, particularly if you choose the “Penguins Plus” ticket. It’s also a good idea to check when the local school holidays are scheduled, as tickets tend to sell out quickly during these periods as well.
Phillip Island is a about a 90-minute drive from Melbourne.
A number of tour operators office bus trips to the Penguin Parade from Melbourne. See official tourism site visitmelbourne.com for a list of available options.
When to Go
Little Penguins live year-round on Phillip Island, and the parade takes place every evening. Penguin activity changes with the seasons: In spring and early summer, the birds tend to their chicks. Later in summer, the penguins molt, a process gone through ashore. When not breeding, the penguins spend their time on land renovating burrows and preparing nests for spring.
Plan to arrive at least an hour before sunset to ensure you secure a good viewing spot. The experts at Penguin Parade Phillip Island have created a handy penguin arrival time and breeding calendar, to help you plan your visit.