Having a penguin encounter is one of the best activities you can do while visiting Tasmania! The ‘Friends of Burnie Penguins’ guided tour offers a rare opportunity to observe a colony of Fairy Penguins in their natural habitat, while at the same time getting to learn some really cool facts from the expert volunteers. And it’s free! Friends of Burnie Penguins is a volunteer group dedicated to the conservation of the local penguin population. Every night during the penguin season they conduct free interpretative tours for curious visitors and penguin enthusiasts. The season is from September to March and the tours depart at around 8pm from the Little Penguin Observation Centre, located on the western end of West Beach.
I go a bit crazy for penguins and find these little creatures absolutely fascinating. ‘Little Penguins’, also referred to as Blue Penguins or Fairy Penguins, are found along the southern Australian coastline (and also New Zealand). During breeding season penguins work some serious hours. They will leave their burrows at sunrise, spend all day out at sea foraging for food, return to their burrows after dusk, and then only sleep for about 4 minutes at a time. The Mum and Dad penguins take turns minding the eggs/chicks while the other goes out to sea fishing.
Towards the end of the breeding season, penguins prepare for the next six months out at sea by moulting. This is a process whereby all feathers are shed and replaced with new ones. This means that moulting penguins can’t go out to sea for food for about 2 weeks as their feathers aren’t waterproof. It takes a real physical toll on these little guys, but at the end of it they emerge with fresh shinny feathers and ready to tackle the great blue seas!
We happened to be visiting Tasmania towards the end of the season, so got to see some very fluffy looking penguins in the process of shedding their feathers.
In total we spent about 2 hours watching the penguins come to shore and awkwardly find their way to the burrows across the coastal rocks.
There were also lots of penguins to be observed around the boardwalk/viewing platform, which means you can see them from quite a close distance. But remember, while it may be tempting to reach over the barrier to touch the penguins, they are wild animals in their natural habitat, so it is very important to respect their environment and not disrupt them.
As the remaining penguins started heading home to bed, so too did we. We would like to wholeheartedly thank the Friends of Burnie Penguins for making this experience accessible to all, particularly a couple of nature loving veg travellers.
Some Helpful Tips:
- Take a camera, but be mindful that flash photography is not permitted. There is not much light in the area, so if you’re serious about getting a good picture, you may want to pack a tripod as well and hope that a penguin stays still long enough to capture on a slow shutter.
- You can take a torch, so long as it has red cellophane covering the lens (apparently the penguins don’t mind red light, but can’t tolerate standard light).
- Don’t make too much noise or movement as this can scare some of the little guys away.
- Wear warm clothing, it can get cold and breezy on the boardwalk.
- Donate to the Friends of Burnie Penguins to help them continue their work! The volunteers do an amazing job and give up so much of their time to conserve the penguin population and let others share in the experience.