Last Friday night, we spent the evening at St. Kilda Beach & Pier, just south of the city center. We spent our first two weeks in the more residential part of the St. Kilda area, so we knew we had to make time for exploring the commercial/tourist center. And we picked the perfect night to do it – the sunset was gorgeous. Everyone – kids, fishermen, city employees, everyone – had to stop and admire the pink clouds as the sun went down. From the pier, in particular, you get a pretty great view of the Melbourne skyline, as well. So lovely with all those pink and orange clouds, merging into a million shades of blue. The lighting, the atmosphere, the weather – everything about it was just perfect.
We set out for the pier not for the sunset, but for rumors of penguins that no one could really confirm. So far, no Melburnians that we’ve met have seen the penguins; they couldn’t even tell us what time of year was the best. There is a website describing it, but as these are just wild animals, the volunteers who oversee it pretty much just pick up trash and yell at people for using their camera’s flash.
We wandered over there around 7:45pm or so to learn that the good stuff didn’t start until around 9:30. Nevertheless, around maybe 8:30 or so, we saw our first penguin, and it was exciting. Like, almost whales-on-the-beach-in-Byron-Bay exciting. Almost. I was silently squealing along with the plethora of French, Japanese, and other toddlers. (Well, they were less silent.) The penguins who were out early on in the day, before sunset, were molting; they were fatter than the ones in the water, and their bodies were covered in matted, unattractive feathers. The volunteers told us that the molting ones hung out up there in their nests in the rocks, waiting until they could get in the water.
As soon as the sun was truly down – around 9:15 or so – John and I hunkered down in a good spot on the boardwalk, gasping with each ripple that appeared in the water. The whole crowd was semi-hushed in anticipation (as semi-hushed as toddlers can be), and then a ripple would appear and a tiny head would pop up. Everyone would gasp simultaneously and the excitement just sort of rose as the penguins made it to the sand, waddled up with unexpected speed, and darted under the boardwalk to the rocks. John and I had perfect seats – more than once, they darted right underneath our seats! As we were leaving, around 10:00 or so, we saw two penguins get in a fight; one was seriously bullying the other on the rocks, ultimately slinging the other guy down into some crevice. I’m not sure I understood the dynamic that the volunteer was trying to explain.
Altogether, we had a fantastic time, and it was sort of unexpected. We didn’t really leave the house on Friday afternoon looking to see penguins, and we didn’t really know if we were going to find them as we walked down there. We didn’t even bring the good camera! We’re looking forward not only to sharing this site with family (who start arriving in FIVE weeks), but also to seeing the bigger, cooler penguin colonies down at Philip Island!