Monday, July 09, 2007

Australia - Day 6 - Penguin Parade

Postcard of the Penguin Parade.

I've been social so many days in a row, today I was finding it more difficult. The urge to curl up with a book and declare that "I want to be alone" was strong, but even stronger was my desire to hang out with the family and see the penguins.

We picked up a rental bus this morning, one that accommodates 12. It made shuffling us all around easier.

Our first stop was the crematorium gardens where my Uncle Ray and Cousin Ian had their ashes spread. Two years ago, my Mom brought a few of my Dad's ashes and scattered them in the same flower bed in the garden so that a little bit of my Dad will always be here in Australia.

The gardens were really gorgeous, even though it was winter. We each placed a rose in the flower bed and paid our respects, then explored the grounds.

A nice feature of the gardens is the seasonal pavilions containing memory books of the people officially memorialized here.

At one point, Dave pulled me aside and told me quite seriously, "They've made a mistake. The books are in the wrong room. June, July and August are in the winter room, and December, January, February are in the summer room."

I had to really look at him to try to gauge his intent. "You're serious, right?" I asked.

"Yeah, they've messed up." Then, after a moment, realization dawned. "Oh, that's right. Southern Hemisphere. I keep forgetting. The seasons are reversed."

Funny thing was, not 2 minutes later, I heard my nephews having the same conversation.

Peter, Lynn and Alicia joined us at the Crematorium, which was really nice, since I'd never really gotten to spend much time with any of them before, except for a few quick conversations at the reunion.

After the Crematorium visit, Margaret and Edie left to take Ro to the airport, and the rest of us drove on to our next destination -- to meet up with Ross, Gill and Ben and see the Penguin Parade.

The Penguin Parade is located on Phillip Island, south of Melbourne. It's a little bit of a hike by car, but still easily a day trip. The island is home to a colony of Little Penguins, which are the smallest penguin species. During the day, many of the penguins are out fishing in the ocean, but at sunset, when they deem it safest from predators, they'll come ashore and waddle to their homes.

When we were in Melbourne 20 years ago, we came to see the penguins, and I've always considered it one of my favorite Australian stops.

Since the penguins come ashore on the beach and walk right past the spectators, the park has had to implement more and more safeguards over the years. From reading the website, it seemed like we'd have to take more of an organized tour to get the close-up experience we were hoping for.

Taking the ranger tour was our best decision of the day. Not only because we got all the extra little details that a tour guide provides, but because she walked us back to the viewing stand as part of the tour and pointed out the best seats to watch from. We were all set up by the time the rest of the crowd was allowed in. The only drawback was that we had a full hour to wait for the sun to go down and the penguins to start coming ashore. It was a really cold hour. But, at least Margaret had sent us off this morning well prepared. We had blankets to sit on and blankets to wrap ourselves in.

And when the penguins arrived, they walked right past us. Just a few feet away. So very, very cute as they waddled past. I think there were about 350 that came ashore that night total.

Unfortunately for us, photography was strictly prohibited. They didn't want people using flash photography and hurting the penguins' vision -- and since they didn't trust people to keep their flashes turned off, they made all photography verboten. (We had about 30 seconds during daylight when the ranger said it was OK, and I was able to get one hasty shot of us getting settled in the viewing stand.)

When the penguin parade was done, we were a cold group of people wandering into the visitor center to warm up. After a round of hot drinks, we were back into the bus for the long drive home.

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