If you’re looking for an island escape (there and back in under a day), then pack a picnic, some towels, your bathers, sunscreen and a camera and drive down to Shoalwater Marine Park where you’ll find Pengos Cafe and the ticket office/gift shop.
Rockingham Wild Encounters run daily tours to Penguin Island (the home of ten Little Penguins, wild penguins, seagulls and sea birds). Penguin Island is the only island in the marine park which can be accessed by locals and tourists alike.
You have three tour packages to choose from, a ferry to and from the island (with optional Penguin Feeding at an additional cost), a 60 minute tour of Seal Lion Island Wildlife Cruise and the action packed 90 minute Dolphin, Penguin and Seal Lion Adventure Cruise.
My sister was gracious enough to make the decision for me by gifting me a voucher for the 90 minute cruise as a Christmas present.
The tour can be booked online for a date and time of your choice, just ensure that you arrive to the centre 30 minutes before the departure time to check in. (You can always pull up a chair and have a drink at the cafe) or sit out on the beach and watch the ferries go by.
The cruise begins with a cruise up to the Northern end of the marine park with short stops at Gull Rock and Bird Island. There’s also a cruise into Aladdin’s Cave so be sure to have your cameras’ at the ready.
While you’re looking out at the transparent water, spotting the water enthusiasts who are out kayaking, boating, swimming or snorkeling, you get the chance to spot some marine life too- dolphins. As this is an eco-tour, the dolphins are only spotted in their natural habitat and aren’t coaxed to the boat with food. So, this part of the tour will vary, your skipper may have to venture out to the far north side of the park to find the dolphins or they may be closer to Penguin Island.
On my tour, we ventured out to Coalwater Bay, the northern side of the park where we found three dolphins hunting for food. Our group was also lucky enough to see a stingray and a dolphin which captured an octopus (or stole from the sting ray…)
The skipper ensures that all aboard gets to see the dolphins as well (by rotating the boat around) and if you want to live in the moment, the tour guide also acts as a photographer and you can access the photos captured by the company in the email which they send out later that day or the following day.
Once the dolphins have been spotted and seen by all, it’s time to sit down and fasten your seat belts (if you’re seated in the front half of the boat) as things get a little bumpy! The adventure element of the tour commences with a fast boat ride back to Seal Lion Island where you’ll get the chance to see the male seal lions lazing about on the shore. If you’re a lover of pelicans, there is large number lazing on the shore with the lions as well.
Then it’s further south to Penguin Island where the water based part of the tour ends and you’ll have the chance to have your photo taken at the front of the boat or you can disembark and make your way to the Discovery Centre to watch the Penguin Feeding.
As it was a 40 degree (celcius) day when I went, numbers were limited and the 12:30pm show was full. Instead, I chose to walk around the island briefly to the northern lookouts and then back to the Southern Beach to take in the view of the coast. I was lucky enough to see four wild Little Penguins nestled in one of the many water tubs situated around the island on the walk back down.
If you have time, there is a 2km, 1 hour trail which goes around the island providing beautiful views of the marine park. Otherwise, there are ample places to indulge in a picnic, go for a swim or soak up the sunshine.
Either way, you can tailor the adventure to suit yourself- just be sure to hop aboard a return ferry (the last departure is at 4pm sharp).