As my kids did their best penguin waddle across the golden, hot sand to the crystal clear water I had to admit some shame in my ignorance - how could I not know this place existed?
Josh had lived in Perth, Western Australia for over 30 years. My parents brought me to Perth nearly 20 years ago. We, as I’m sure a lot of people would, find it difficult to go exploring our hometown compared to the rest of the world. I have travelled to 41 countries and with embarrassment I can admit I didn’t even know this gem was in our own backyard.
Josh and I have been endeavouring to change this and have started exploring our own stomping grounds over the last month. It was upon some research that I came across Rockingham Wild Encounters offering trips to Penguin Island.
Rockingham Wild Encounters
Rockingham Wild Encounters offers different attractions from their base in Rockingham, including swimming with dolphins, glass-bottom boats, cruises to see sea lions, dolphins & penguins and, of course, a ferry to Penguin Island.
The gift shop is well-organised, nestled just steps from the beach. You can buy tickets here, last-minute (and much-needed) sunscreen, toys, gifts and souvenirs. There is a parking lot located next to it that can fill quickly, but alternative parking can be found nearby with directions on their website.
We opted for the Dolphin, Penguin & Sea Lion cruise – a 90 minute ocean adventure on a speed boat.
We started our ride sitting on the ferry listening to safety instructions and then transferred onto the speedboat. This vessel represented the safety-conscious Australian culture so it had sturdy seat belts and a clear plastic sheet partially blocking off the front of the boat (to protect from ocean spray), which I thought at the time was slightly over the top. But the revved up ride was immense fun with our skipper leading us through the ocean, or more accurately, over the ocean with insane pounding over the waves. On second thoughts, those seat belts might have been a good idea.
Our first stop was to see the wild dolphins. Once the boat had slowed down everyone was allowed out of the seats to see the accumulating number of dolphins happily swimming around in a little alcove just off the shore.
How beautiful are dolphins? It’s so bizarre how something so similar to man-eating sharks can just make you so happy. We stayed for a while watching them, snapping photos, then the skipper decided to help them play and created waves for them to surf on and jump through. We even got to listen to their unique clicks and communication with an “underwater phone”.
The viewing time was lengthy but I enjoyed that we weren’t feeling rushed. Next stop was the rocky outcrop, Aladdin’s Cave, to view fossilized remnants of an ancient Tuart forest.
After spying the ospreys on Shag Rock we headed to Seal Island where quite a number of rare Australian sea lions limply sun-baked on the beach. Big, fat, hefty sea lions dozing in the morning sun, spread out, flippers covering their eyes, not even peeking at the boatload of curious tourists who came for a visit. There was one sea lion out of the pack, all alone cooling off in the waters enjoying the attention.
Finally the boat headed towards our final destination, Penguin Island.
This tiny island is home to nearly 1200 little penguins, the smallest species of the penguin family in the world. It is located only 700m from the Rockingham coastline and is 12.5 ha in size. There is a sandbar that can be used to walk to the island, however it is closed off at certain times when the tide is in. You’d be looking at a lot more swimming than walking most of the time and unfortunately there have been incidents from people crossing, so it’s not really recommended.
The ferry is only 5 minutes and $14 allows you multiple crossings if you wish to come back to the mainland for anything.
There are no food and drink outlets or rubbish bins on the island. You are encouraged to take all your rubbish back to the mainland. You are free to bring a picnic, towels, chairs, and anything you need to the island and that is a great idea, because it is a lovely spot to spend the day.
The sand is golden and the water clear. The shallow bays are calm and warm. You can walk around the whole island and try to find the little penguins yourself. They hide in the rocks and generally are easier to find when you see a crowd of onlookers huddled around a spot. If you miss them there is a Discovery Centre which houses a few very cute rescued penguins. Experienced wildlife carers offer public feeding sessions scheduled regularly throughout the day too.
We had a beautiful day on the island, but my skin started turning several shades of pink in the sizzling Australian sun (close to 39°C/102°F that day) so we decided to head off the island with our zippy 5-minute return ferry ride back to the mainland.
Rockingham is blessed with this environmental goldmine 700m from its shores. We found Penguin Island to be just as pretty as Rottnest Island and much less expensive. We have friends coming to visit this month and we will be taking them here, it’s truly one of Australia’s beautiful natural wonders.
What You Need To Know
Rockingham Wild encounters is located on the corner of Arcadia Dr & Penguin Rd, Shoalwater, about 45 mins south of the centre of Perth city.
Dolphin, Sea Lion & Penguin Cruse is AUD$85 per adult and children 3 – 12 AUD$50, under 3 free.
When you’re in Perth, put this cruise at the top of your list and, like us, it will be a day you will remember for many years to come.