The Penguin Parade

Oh man, I haven’t written a post in quite some time. My apologies. Life, politics, and a exploring a new country got in the way. I’ll talk about all of this, but first, since the world needs a little happiness, I’m going to talk about penguins.

Picture this. You drive at dusk to Phillip Island Nature Park, feeling slightly rebellious that you’re allowed into the park after sunset. You park your car amongst more tour buses than you’ve ever seen in one place and make your way to a concrete structure swarming with people from all over the world. You push through the crowd to the ticket desk feeling overwhelmed by all the people. You’re convinced there aren’t any tickets left because you came too late. The man at the counter laughs at you when you inform him of your fears. He tells you that this is a quiet night so of course there are tickets. You gape at him while he rings up your purchase. Ticket in hand you head through the double glass doors onto a boardwalk. 

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Penguin nesting boxes

You speed walk along the boardwalk, barely noticing the tiny hutches hidden amongst the reeds. You want to get to wherever you’re going before everyone else. The boardwalk ends in a series of grandstands facing the pounding ocean. The wind hits you and you’re freezing. Good thing you brought a warm jacket and a blanket. You squeeze your way into a seat next to a tour group from China. They’re taking pictures of everything even though there is nothing yet to see except the white-capped waves.

Ten minutes later the Park Rangers inform everyone that no photography is allowed, even if you roll your eyes and look sullen like the man sitting next to you. You put your phone away, but that’s okay since you can’t feel your fingers anyways.

The sun sinks below the horizon, on its way to light up another place, and still you wait. You and 4,000 of your closest friends, all staring at the ocean, squinting through the dark, looking for movement.

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4,000 of your closest friends

The water swirls white. What was that? Everyone leans forward, but it’s nothing. Someone points to a dark mass and people stand, excited. It’s a wad of seaweed. A woman asks if we could please speed this up. With more patience than you would have the Ranger assures her that Nature cannot be rushed.

The little girl sitting behind you kicks you and then shrieks. The noise is so loud it must have scared away all the wildlife within miles. You resist the urge to turn around and glare at her parents. Who thought it was a good idea to bring a two year old to this?

You can’t feel your fingers, or your butt for that matter. The wind brings tears to your eyes and you’ve started fantasizing about hot cups of tea. And then, out of nowhere, a raft of ten Little Blue Penguins washes onto shore. They fight the waves, being pulled back and forth until they’re far enough on the beach to stand up.

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What these penguins look like in the daytime (from Wikipedia)

They’re tiny. Only a foot high. Their fronts are stark white, their backs dark, slicked with water. They waddle into the glow of the dull floodlights, casting small shadows as they move. They’re unsure of all the people staring at them, excited they’ve finally arrived. They take a step forward as a group and then three steps back. Everyone holds their breath as the Rangers making shushing noises. After a few moments they’re convinced you’re not going to eat them and they leap forward, their bodies awkward on land. They swing back and forth, some tripping falling on their stomachs. And then they’re gone, climbing through the rocks and grass to their homes.

You turn back to the ocean where more penguins are emerging from their day of hunting.

After ten minutes most of the people in the stadiums have left, too cold or bored to continue. You stay because now you have an unobstructed view of the little birds flying out of the ocean. You even deign to stand up. The Rangers don’t seem to mind. A few people standing isn’t going to cause any trouble.

The penguins keep coming out of the waves. They glide through the water, diving in and out as they make their way to shore. When they come onto shore it seems as though they are tossed onto the beach by the ocean. It’s spitting them out. They don’t taste very good anymore. Some come by themselves, others in groups of twelve or more. No matter the size of their group they always pause to make sure none of you are going to do them any harm.

After thirty minutes the Rangers remind people that the lights will be going off soon. If we want to see the penguins going to their nests we should head back. It’s hard to turn away from the ocean. Each time new penguins appear its still magical. They really do seem to appear out of nowhere. You wait as long as possible but then, since you do want to see this other aspect of penguin life, you leave the grandstand.

You walk along the boardwalk, trying not to make too much noise. This is a futile action since everyone else is clomping along but it makes you feel better. You glance over the railing to find a penguin preening itself. You stare at it, afraid to move. It’s so small, so delicate, and yet it somehow it can handle the violent water and the long trek back to its home. You’re amazed by it. You also want to cuddle it.

You move on. Two fluffy brown chicks come into sight. They make a screeching call and another call answers. They waddle away, fluff blending into the sand dune.

A possum leaps onto the boardwalk, eyes bulging. It seems surprised that there are so many people around. It’s fatter than any other possum you’ve seen. It must enjoy this nightly penguin routine. People must leave enough food to keep it fat forever. It scurries back over the edge, hiding amongst the foliage until the lights go out.

All the way back to the main entrance you march with the penguins. You stop every now and again to gaze at them in wonder. You even snap a few covert pictures and feel like a picture ninja because no one caught you.

It’s hard to step off the boardwalk and go back through the glass doors. You want to stay watching the penguins all night. What would happen if you just sat down and refused to budge? Did they have penguin security that would kick you out? But then your pride kicks in. You don’t want to be evicted from a penguin sanctuary. That would be embarrassing.

You say a silent good-bye to the penguins before heading inside.

And then you go to the gift shop and buy all the penguin memorabilia you can because you’ve just realized you’re cold and hungry and you want to take a penguin home with you in your suitcase.

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