The truth about penguin viewing: Bruny Island, Tasmania

The raised platform we stand on is soft and weathered and points out towards the thrashing ocean. It’s the color of sand, an attempt to blend the angular structure into the soft coastal scape it sits on. Admittedly it does quite a good job of it at this hour.

Hushed whispers float down the platform and along the raised boardwalk, disappearing into the soft breathing of the Marram grasses hemming the shoreline. They too are intruders to the Neck of Bruny Island, planted to slow erosion of the sandy isthmus connecting the island’s two land masses. Perhaps more welcome, however, to the black and white, foot-tall residents of the Neck. 

Worries grow of the bright full moon. “What if they don’t come?”

“We just need to be patient,” hushes another. “They should be landing on the beach in the next half an hour.” Sitting on steps, blocking anyone’s access to the sand below us, is the voice’s owner. Through a lens, his eyes fixate on the sea. Bigger than the subject he is capturing, his camera is relentlessly snapping, sure to be doing a better job at framing the full moon than my three-year-old phone. Next to him, a sign reads “Penguins only on the beach, from dusk to dawn”. 

A torch clicks on, flooding the faces, the bodies, the platform, the beach. 

“Are you serious?” grumbles the camera man. Stirring movement of bodies and angered voices disrupt the sleepy scene. 

“Sorry, sorry!” The owner of the torch wraps the light under his black fleece, fumbling to click it off. Behind him are two small children, their footsteps pitter-pattering down the boardwalk. Desperately trying to hush their excitement, the father settles them against the back hand railing of the platform. Our eyes slowly adjust again to the fuzzy darkness. Next to me, my partner checks his phone; one hour past sunset.

“Penguins, penguins, where are you?” sings the older child, hanging off his father’s leg.“ I wanna see some penguins, penguins.” The agitation is obvious among the group. I stifle a giggle.

The smaller child rests on her father’s hip, “Daddy, I’m cold,” he whines, burying his face into his father’s chest. Loud, purposeful sighs and aggressive head turns are made in the father’s direction. Most come from the cameraman. These are not exaggerated reactions, however.

The Little Penguin is the smallest penguin in the world, and can be seen after sunset on Bruny Island, Tasmania
The Little Penguin is the smallest penguin in the world, and can be seen after sunset on Bruny Island, Tasmania. Picture: Getty images

The Little Penguins nesting on Bruny Island are the smallest species of penguin in the world, so are understandably extremely wary of and vulnerable to predators. Particularly on the exposed open beach, between their fishing haven and their burrows, nestled between the marram grasses on shore.

One flash of a light or noise estranged from the coastline’s ecosystem is enough to keep the penguins from their chicks for another night.

“Do you want to stay and wait for the penguins?” asks the father.

“Yes, yes, yes!” The older child jumps, his feet sending thumping vibrations under our feet. I stifle another giggle. Groans and frustrations seep from the bodies.

“You need to stay really, really, quiet. Like you’re a grass in the sand.”

“Ok!” The child is still. The camera man’s shoulders relax, and he leans back against the platform railing. By now the moon is high enough to dissolve the fuzziness, bringing everyone’s features into view. Clenched jaws ease, and glares soften to gazes. Stark, sharp shadows of the platform are cast onto the beach. A chilly breeze has picked up, rustling the marram grasses. Its salty presence calms the group’s upset.

“Swish, swish, swish,” whispers the child. The cameraman’s body seizes up once more.

An hour and half since the sun sunk into the sea, there is movement on the shore. The group falls still, children included. The camera man adjusts focus, ready to take his shot. 

We watch the dark shape emerge from the sea, find its feet and waddle up the sand. The camera man’s finger curls, then snaps down on the trigger. A crunching click releases his tension, and finally, he smiles. 

The shape waddles closer. Another and another burst out of receding waves, belly-flopping onto the sand. We are silent, still, seemingly unthreatening, but the shapes give a wide berth from the platform, and disappear into the seas of marram grasses. Excited cheeps sing out above the dancing tufts, our confirmation the shapes were not tricks of the moon’s light. 

“Right, that’s it. Bedtime.” The father hoists the smaller child further up his hip with one hand, and grabs the older child’s arm with the other, leading his skips back down the boardwalk, to the carpark. 

“Penguins, penguins, cheep cheep!” echoes off the weathered wood. Giggles and grins are shared among us.

How and When to see the penguins

The Little Penguins, also known as Fairy Penguins can be seen at The Neck Game Reserve on Bruny Island. The best time to see them is in the warmer months, from September to February. You will need to take the SeaLink Bruny Island Ferry during the day, and stay overnight. 

There are plenty of airbnbs on the island, you can stay at Hotel Bruny, or camp across the island, including at The Neck Game Reserve

Before going to see the penguins, we suggest grabbing a take away dinner from Hotel Bruny. Park at The Neck Carpark and climb the steep set of stairs for a 360° view of the island for sunset at Truganini Lookout. Then, follow the boardwalk trail from the bottom of the stairs that takes you over the neck and to a viewing platform overlooking the surf beach.

See More:

  • Bruny Island day trip itinerary: What to do, eat and drink in 6 hours | escape.com.au
  • Forget Hobart, see the best of Northern Tassie in 10 days

This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com

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Ozzie

Hi! I’m Ozzie!

Before joining Australia Exploring, I was a writer at Tripadvisor.

I'm looking for the best posts for you about travel adventures in Australia and around the world. This website has the purpose to inspire you to travel… travel more and better. I hope it can help you explore the world a little bit better.

I graduated from the University of Sydney. I live in California with my wife and two children.

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