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Perth and Western Australia provide easy access to a number of great outdoor adventures, day trips and getaways. Whether you are just visiting WA on holiday or you live in the Perth area, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to steal away for the day to Penguin Island.
Located in Shoalwater Bay near Rockingham, Penguin Island is a mere 45-minute drive south of Perth.
From there, a 5-minute ferry will take you to Penguin Island—home to a host of wildlife, including the world’s smallest penguins!
If you prefer public transit, you can take a bus or train to Rockingham Station-Shoalwater. To get to the Penguin Island ferry terminal, you can take advantage of a shuttle offered by some of the day tours, such as the kayaking tour, or make your own way there.
Penguin Island ferry times are hourly. Ferries depart on the hour from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Ferries returning to the mainland depart at ten minutes past the hour, so arrive a few minutes early to board. The last ferry is at 4.10 pm.
It’s also possible to walk to Penguin Island from the beach at Shoalwater Bay along the sandbank. While many people do this, it’s not recommended due to changing tide and ocean conditions.
These cute fairy penguins are the smallest breed of penguins. During the winter months, about 1,000 pairs of fairy penguins nest on Penguin Island, Western Australia’s largest breeding colony.
These shy creatures spend 80% of their time in the waters of the Shoalwater Island Marine Park and return to the island at dark. Since it is rare to spot them in the wild, the Discovery Centre provides the unique opportunity to see these inquisitive birds interact with the rangers.
Due to their shy nature, the penguins will only feed from their carers, but visitors can watch them be fed and swim in their enclosure, as well as learn more about these cute little creatures. All of the fairy penguins at the Discovery Centre are rescued penguins and were either orphaned, abandoned or injured. Sadly, the penguin numbers are in decline due to a number of environmental factors.
The Discovery Centre is open from 10 am to 3 pm and once you’ve paid the entry fee you’re free to visit as many times as you like during the day. There are daily feeding times at 10.30pm, 12.30pm and 2.30pm. There are three feeding sessions each day at 10:30 AM, 12:30 PM and 2:30 PM. Find out more about the fairy penguins here.
Note that many visitors have the expectations of seeing the little penguins in the wild. This is rarely the case as they spend most of their time in the water. If you ‘re lucky enough to spot them in the wild, keep at a reasonable distance. The penguins molt in the summer months and lose all their features. This is a particularly stressful time for these little creatures as they’re very forced to stay on land and are very vulnerable to predators during this time.
The waters surrounding Penguin Island are home not only to the world’s smallest penguins but also to a variety of other wildlife, including wild dolphins, rare Australian sea lions, pelicans, ospreys, king skinks and over fifty other species of seabirds that nest on Penguin Island and the nearby islands.
There are some excellent wildlife tours with Rockingham Wildlife Encounters that offer close up views of many of these animals, including the dolphin swim cruise where you can swim with wild dolphins.
Once on the island there are plenty of options to while away a few hours. On a warm summer’s day, the sheltered beaches are ideal for a swim or snorkel in the crystal clear waters of Shoalwater Marine Park. For a picnic or a rest, there’s a shady park with green lawn and picnic tables.
Amenities on the island are very limited. This is to conserve the natural environment. There’s no shop or cafe, so you need to bring all food and drinks yourself. There are no rubbish bins on the island in order to deter animals from feeding from the bins. Eco-toilets and change rooms are available and there’s one tap in the picnic area with potable water.
If you have a ferry ticket, you can return to the mainland to stock up on supplies or get a coffee from Pengos Cafe and catch the ferry back to the island.
For the best views, there’s a 1.5 km Penguin Island walk trail that loops around the island. You’ll be guaranteed to see plenty of birdlife, including large colonies of Pelicans and keep an eye out for dolphins and large manta rays.
Penguin Island is open daily from September 15 to early June, except for Christmas Day. From early June until mid-September, the island is closed for the nesting season. At that time, the only way to visit the island is by taking the Shoalwater Islands Marine Area cruise. On this cruise, expect to see wild dolphins, ospreys, pelicans and sea lions.
If you have never been to the island, we strongly recommend that you make your first visit between late September and early June. That way, you can meet the resident penguins and explore the natural beauty and other wildlife of the Shoalwater Islands.
Whatever you decide to do, we recommend that you allow a minimum of two to three hours to explore Penguin Island and view the penguins at its Discovery Centre.
Save time and skip the queues by purchasing your tickets in advance with these tour options with Get your Guide. The tickets can easily be purchased online and you can cancel without charge if you change your plans. You will still need to go to the ticket office before boarding the ferry.
Emma Kent owns and operates Budget Apartments, self-contained accommodation for the family based in South Perth.
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