For the second day running, we had booked to go on a day tour with Bunyip. After enjoying the previous day at Mornington, we were eagerly anticipating our trip to Phillip Island.
The bus picked us up at the hostel once more at 11am, driven by our new driver and tour guide Steve. Once again, we were the first to be picked up.
After doing the rounds picking people up around the city, the bus headed back to the office at which point everyone had to jump off and hand their paperwork in again! Then we were on our way, the trip taking around about an hour.
First stop was the Moonlit Sanctuary which was actually located on the Mornington Peninsula, just down the road from Strawberry Ridge Farm where we ended our day yesterday. Our visit to the sanctuary started with lunch! A range of sandwiches and fruit were laid out in the small hut-like reception area of the sanctuary. It was tasty fayre!
After lunch, it was off for a guided tour of the sanctuary. We had previously been a little unsure about our driver as he seemed a little short-tempered and 'funny' with other guests. However, we warmed to him as the day went on, mainly because of his knowledge and passion for the Australian wildlife. He was our tour guide for every attraction we visited, and had in-depth knowledge about all the animals.
We saw several animals up close, including Rach's beloved Koalas and also some Dingos! We also got a brief glimpse of a Tasmanian Devil before it cowered back in to its giant log out of view of visitors. Unfortunately, the Wombats were also hiding.
The tour included a short walk through some bushland in which we saw our first Kangaroo of the trip, and were able to hand-feed some Wallabies which was a really cool experience. They were small and really gentle as they took the seed and corn from the palm of your hand and leisurely crunched away before taking some more, and slobbering a little!
After concluding our visit of the Sanctuary, it was time to head to Phillip Island itself, and to an entirely different experience.
The venue was a working Heritage Farm which had a range of activities on offer. We arrived in early afternoon and were given tea, coffee and biscuits before being given a free reign to do what we wished. We were just in time for a live sheep shearing, so we watched that before exploring the rest of the farm.
An old-fashioned blacksmiths, a National Trust listed historic cottage residence and a few other buildings were free to explore - photos will be on shortly. There was also the opportunity to learn how to throw a Boomerang properly, although it was a little too windy for it to actually return. Another old-fashioned skill you could have a go at was 'cracking the whip' - this gave out a really loud bang which echoed around the premises. It also looked lethal, so we gave it a wide berth.
Our next destination was the Koala Conservation Centre. A state-of-the-art reception area and shop led through to a Gum Tree forest of some size which housed around twenty Koalas. The Koalas were pretty free range though, each having a huge area of forest to explore with no roofing or fences, as such.
Once we headed outside to begin the tour, our guide Steve gave us a quick five minute talk about Koalas and their habitat. In testament to just how good he was, our group grew from 22 to around double that number with many regular visitors tagging along - they continued to keep with the group for most of the tour, much to the bemusement of Steve!
Our first Koala sighting was pointed out to us by Steve who clearly knew what he was looking for. High up in the tree we stood under obliviously, a Koala slept barely visible. You couldn't see too much of it, so we hoped that wouldn't be as close as we got to one.
As our tour continued, we entered other areas of the park which took you up raised boardwalks in to the tree canopies so you were at the level of the Koalas. We were lucky enough to spot one feeding on a tree very close by with a young Joey in its pouch, giving us some brilliant photos.
The next encounter was altogether much closer, and one we wouldn't forget in a hurry! The next Koala was up in the tree but, after we had passed it, it began climbing down and got on to the boardwalk itself. Everyone was told to remain still and quiet by the ranger who was closest so that the Koala could walk around and pick a tree to go back up. He explained that the Koala saw the boardwalk as part of its tree, so we were actually in his area rather than he being in ours.
We had just turned the corner of the boardwalk so initially had some distance between us and the marsupial, but much to our surprise and Rach's delight, it began to walk around on the handrail, turned the corner and came and sat right by us - literally an arm's length away. After sitting for a few minutes, it had had enough and slowly climbed back up in to the nearest tree.
We finished our tour of the centre by having a photo with a giant cuddly toy of a Koala and then headed to the bus.
Our driver Steve then informed us that our next stop would be at the greatest Australian invention ever…a drive-in bottle shop (off license) to get some drinks to go with our Pizza banquet that was included in the tour. You drive in to the place and someone comes to your window where they take your order and money then return with your beer!
After picking up some 'cold ones' we went to the local Pizzeria and enjoyed some different slices of pizza. While eating the pizza, we were joined at the table by a couple from Luxembourg with whom we enjoyed chatting to about New Zealand, Europe and the infamous 'hooked left turn' in Melbourne! We think we scared them a little about the roads in Melbourne and they were due to pick up a car from the city centre the next day - oops.
After dinner, we were taken to a local beach which offered some of the best surfing in the state (when weather allowed) and were allowed some time to walk alongside the water as the sun began to set.
Our penultimate destination after the beach was Nobbies Head - a rocky cliff and headland that had a look-out to a colony of seals. Unfortunately, it was now past 6pm and so the tourist centre had closed and the wind had really got up. We had some time to wonder a trail on top of the cliff which provided some amazing views, but was also surrounding by a huge breeding colony of Seagulls! The baby ones were actually really cute! We could see no seals though, and the lower boardwalk over the rocks where we were told we may catch a glimpse of some Penguins was closed.
We then left Nobbies Head and travelled the short distance to the Penguin Island attraction where the Penguin Parade would take place.
The roads around this end of the island were all shut after 6.30pm except for access to the Penguin centre, and this was to protect the Penguins which, once ashore, sometimes walk great distance to burrow in the sand. There are several abandoned houses and properties around this area, all part of a forced buy-back that the local government put in place to protect the Penguins. Nobody was allowed to live within a mile or so of the highly endangered little birds.
After pulling up in the car park, Steve gave us a quick talk about Penguins, also mentioning the Penguin Patrol (we think) programme that is currently showing in the UK which Steve and his bus have appeared on!
In the Penguin centre, we had around 45 minutes before the Penguins were due to come ashore, according to the time they had begun coming on to shore the previous night. There was also more than 1200 penguins counted the night before!
We had a quick look around the souvenir shop which stocked everything penguin-related, and then grabbed a hot chocolate to take outside with us. Now that the sun was rapidly disappearing, it had gone quite cold outside, with the strong wind whipping up off the sea and in to the grandstand-type structure that housed the 'audience' on the beach. It was quite a surreal place.
After waiting what seemed like an hour or more, the dimly floodlit beach began to show movement. A small group of tiny Penguins appeared at the water's edge, surveying the area to see if it was safe to run in to the long grasses. Eventually, they plucked up enough courage to make a run for it, or a waddle for it!
After the first group had come ashore, many people dashed off on to the boardwalk behind the beach to watch them dash up and find their burrows. We waited around for another 15 minutes or so to witness some more groups appear around the beach and waddle in to the sandy grass.
We then walked the boardwalk ourselves. It was elevated off the floor so that you could observe the Penguins close-up. We found a little one that nobody else had spotted that was beneath us on the boardwalk.
The penguins covered a huge distance, and even after leaving we had to wait behind another bus as some Penguins crossed the road by the exit! Unfortunately, due to their sensitivity to all the flashes and the continued misuse of cameras by using flash, all photography of the penguins is banned - so no pics we're afraid!
After getting back to the warmth of the bus, we made the trip back to Melbourne which took around 90 minutes - and we were the last off again! It did though give us the opportunity to see some other regions of the city we hadn't managed to get to, including St Kilda which looked lovely.