Seeing as many of Australia’s incredible wildlife is top of the bucket list for visitors to Australia. Whether it’s seeing a kangaroo hopping across a field or a koala sleeping in a eucalyptus tree or any of its wonderfully unique marsupials, birds and reptiles. But did you know that the south coast of Australia is home to penguins? Yes, actual penguins. And even better, the penguins are easy to see while you are staying in Australia’s hippest city, Melbourne.
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I absolutely adore penguins ever since I was a little kid. So seeing one in the wild for the first time shot up to the top of my Melbourne bucket list. I just had to decide on my options to see them.
What are Fairy Penguins?
Fairy Penguins, also called little penguins or blue penguins, are the smallest species of penguin. These little guys are about a foot tall with a bluish colouring. They are native to Australia’s south coast, as well as New Zealand.
How to see fairy penguins in Melbourne
The little fairy penguins spend their days at sea catching fish. But once night starts to fall, they one by one return to the shore and back towards their dens. You have two options for seeing the fairy penguins while in Melbourne, each with their own set of pros and cons.
Option 1 – Spend the day at Phillip Island
The best way to see hundreds, if not thousands of penguins is to head over to Phillip Island. A colony of 32,000 little penguins call this island home and thousands make the walk back home from the sea every night.
To see this phenomenon, known as the penguin parade, you’ll need to book a ticket for a viewing spot. And there’s a lot of options. You can find the different types of options from general viewing to VIP here. These options require you to get to the island yourself. You can also book a tour if you don’t have your own transportation. Find some options here.
The island is also home to a large colony of fur seals and further from the sea cliffs, koalas.
Option 2 – Head to St Kilda, Melbourne
So say that you don’t have a car and you are travelling on a budget. The Phillip Island tours start to look a bit expensive. And maybe you don’t want to allocate an entire one of your precious days in Melbourne to a tour. If none of these apply to you, go to Philip’s Island and skip this part of this post.
If any of these do apply to you, and you want a free (yes completely free) way to see some of the penguins, please read on. You will not see nearly the numbers that you will in Phillip Island, in fact estimations are that the penguin colony in St Kilda is only about 100. So you will only see a handful. But, I really enjoyed spending part of my evening watching them.
Seeing the fairy penguins at St Kilda Melbourne
You can see the penguins from St Kilda Pier at the breakwater. Past the cafe, you’ll see an area with a boardwalk next to the beach and another above the rocks to your right. This is the viewing area for watching the penguins come in for the evening.
When is the best time to see the penguins?
Fairy penguins spend their days swimming the sea and catching fish. So, the best time to spot them is around sunset when they return to shore to go to their nests. Get there early to get a good spot and watch the penguins waddle back to their nests.
Responsible Penguin Watching
When you are watching the penguins from the boardwalk in St. Kilda, you aren’t too far from them as they waddle onto shore and into their dens. In fact, some of them nest under the boardwalk itself. It is so important not to disturb them. Make sure your flash is off on your phone/camera as mentioned. And be as quiet as possible, they are easily scared. I had a spot at the front of the board walk and can be so tempting to want to hang your legs over the side, especially when you have been sat for awhile but please don’t. Try to keep your distance as much as possible.
Tips for seeing the penguins at St Kilda Melbourne
I am the only person I know that has gone to see the fairy penguins and not been absolutely freezing as the temperature usually drops quite significantly in the evening. Of course, you can never predict the weather in Melbourne and I was there on a very mild day. Make sure to bring some layers to wrap up as the sun goes down.
Get there early
It does get really busy so I recommend getting there early. It was a gorgeous day when I went so I headed to the pier very early and after visiting the cafe, grabbed a spot in the sun to read a book. I had nabbed a spot at the front of the boardwalk and it was quite crowded by the time the penguins started to show up.
Other things to do in St Kilda
One of the reasons I chose to see the penguins at St. Kilda is because I wanted to explore the area. Like all of Melbourne, it’s a pretty cool place. Start your day on Acland Street, where you’ll find cafes, street eats, and laid back clothing stores galore. Nearby Vineyard is good for lunch, dinner, or drinks after seeing the penguins.
I spent the majority of my day exploring St Kilda’s beach. It’s a lively, popular beach that’s great for swimming. After, grab a cold drink and/or some food at beachfront Republica.
Getting to St Kilda
If you are coming from Melbourne’s city centre, the best way to get to St Kilda is by tram. Take the number 16 tram from Swanston Street, number 96 from Bourke Street, or number 12 from Collins Street to St Kilda. It takes about 20 minutes to get there.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.This means, at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase.