Penguins. Everyone loves ’em, right? Well, did you know you can see penguins in the wild right here in Western Australia?! Here’s everything you need to know about a Penguin Island day trip from Perth.
What better way is there to celebrate your birthday than by seeing an array of local wildlife on a small island? At least, that’s what I believed when it came to choosing an activity for my own birthday. I can tell you know, it’s a GREAT way to spend your special day!
About Penguin Island
Penguin Island is part of the Shoalwater Island Marine Reserve in Western Australia. The reserve is a 16,200 acre protected marine park made up of several small limestone islands, including the largest – Penguin Island.
Penguin Island is home to around 1,200 little penguins (sometimes called fairy penguins, the same found on Phillip Island in Victoria!) – the world’s smallest penguin at only 30cm tall. There is also a colony of 500 pelicans which can be seen from a 1.5km boardwalk around the island.
The Penguin Discovery Centre on Penguin Island has rescued 10 penguins that are orphaned, injured, or otherwise unable to survive in the wild. It’s these penguins that can be observed for feedings in their enclosure.
Where is Penguin Island?
Penguin Island and the Shoalwater Islands Marine Reserve are 53km on the coast south of Perth in Western Australia, close to the town of Rockingham (660m away).
How do I get there?
Whether you choose to drive or catch the train to Penguin Island, when you reach the mainland’s edge you’ll need to cross the water to get to the island itself.
Catch a 5 minute ferry ride across the water from Mersey Point. You can book tickets at the office next to Pengo’s Cafe. This is the safest and easiest way to reach the island.
Ferry departures are every hour from 9am to 3pm, and return from 10.10am to 4pm. There may be additional ferry trips during busy periods.
You may also consider a private boat or kayaking over to Penguin Island.
It’s not recommended to swim across to Penguin Island due to strong currents that can become dangerous.
Driving to Penguin Island is the easiest way to get there from Perth.
The drive to Penguin Island from Perth takes 45 minutes to 1 hour in total. You’ll drive south on Kwinana Freeway/State Route 2 until you turn off for Rockingham.
There is a large car park outside the jetty and ticket office. It’s advised not to park on the road or across the street as you may be parking illegally and incur fines.
Alternatively, catch the Mandurah line from Perth station and hop off at Rockingham.
Catch bus 551, 552 or 553 from stands 9 or 10 outside the train station and get off on Penguin & Watts Road. Walk down the beach until you reach Pengo’s cafe and the ticket office. You should be able to see the jetty too.
Not Recommended – Walking:
It may sound silly to mention walking to an island, but there is actually a tidal sandbar that connects the mainland to Penguin Island at low tide. It’s not uncommon for people to walk across the sandbar to reach Penguin Island. However, it is discouraged to do so due to the safety risks and strong currents. As weather conditions can change quickly and has resulted in drownings, it’s not recommended to walk to Penguin Island.
When can I visit Penguin Island?
The island is open to visitors from September to June. The island is closed during the winter months. Between June – September you can take a wildlife cruise with a glass-bottomed boat for $39 per adult. This won’t take you to the island, but you can see the highlights of the marine park during a 60 minute ride.
As it’s generally a summertime activity to visit Penguin Island, try to visit when the weather is sunny! It certainly wouldn’t be much fun in the rain, and the island may close during bad weather.
You can visit Penguin Island from 9am – 4pm daily. The Discovery Centre is open from 10am – 3.30pm with penguin feedings at 10.30am, 12.30pm, and 2.30pm.
The ticket office and Pengo’s Cafe is open from 8.30am – 4.30pm.
How much does a Penguin Island Day Trip cost?
This depends! There are a few tour options to choose from.
The full boat tour Dolphin Cruise costs $85 per adult (concessions are $75 and child tickets are $60). This includes a 90 minute boat ride around the marine reserve, ferry to and from Penguin Island, and viewing of the penguin feeding.
This is the cruise we chose so keep reading to see what we got up to!
This 45 minute tour takes you around the marine park on a glass-bottomed boat and ferries you to and from Penguin Island and includes entry to the Discovery Centre.
The cruise will take you to Seal Island to see the sea lions, and live commentary will point out all the natural highlights and birdlife along the way.
Tickets cost $42 for adults, $38 concessions and $33 for children.
Other Activities & On The Island
Once on the island you won’t have any additional costs as there is no shop or cafe.
There is a small cafe and gift shop next to the jetty on the mainland. Expect prices of around $5 for a coffee or cold drink, and $15-$20 for full meals at Pengo’s Cafe.
If you’d rather not spend as much, you can book a simple return ferry ticket for $18 per adult. Note, this WON’T give access to the discovery centre! Book the ferry and Discovery Centre ticket for $27 per adult.
Honestly, I wouldn’t consider this a cheap ferry. A 5 min ride for $18 is quite expensive! If you can afford to, it’s well worth investing a little more to enjoy a scenic boat trip as well.
Overall, we spent less than $20 on our food from a nearby supermarket for our picnic. On top of the $190 we spent on the tour, our day trip to Penguin Island totalled around $210 (not including petrol).
Top Tips for a Penguin Island Day Trip
- There is no food sold on the island, so bring your own! There are picnic benches outside the Discovery Centre and food can be brought over from Pengo’s Cafe on the mainland.
- Take your litter. Rubbish cannot be left on the island and could damage the local wildlife. There are no bins on the island as this might become a food source for destructive animals. Drop it off at a bin on the mainland and protect the island!
- Be sun smart. The beach at Penguin Island has very little shade so take breaks from the sun, bring sunglasses and a hat, and wear sunscreen.
- Stick to designated boardwalks. The island is home to many wonderful creatures, so respect their habitat by not intruding on their nests or burrows. The easiest way to do that is to stay on the marked paths and boardwalks.
- Respect the wildlife. The protection of these little penguins is taken very seriously! Dogs are not allowed on the island as they are predators, and people are only allowed on the island between key daylight hours. This ensures we do not disturb the activities of the penguins as they spend time fishing at sea during the day.
Penguin Island Day Trip Itinerary
9am – depart Perth
We woke up fairly early because… It was my birthday! A birthday breakfast to set us up for the day and we left the city at 9am to give us plenty of time to get down to Rockingham.
The drive was calm and traffic was minimal despite it being a bright sunny Saturday.
Along the way we stopped at a supermarket to pick up some picnic supplies, knowing that Penguin Island does not have facilities to buy food.
10am – Arrive at Shoalwater Islands Marine Reserve
Once we arrived at Shoalwater Islands Marine Park we found a car park space and went to check out the gift shop and cafe.
We checked in at the ticket desk where we signed a liability waiver for the upcoming boat trip. We were given wristbands to identify to the ferry staff that we were on the dolphin cruise.
With time to spare, we wandered down to the beach for our first look at Penguin Island! There’s a small dog beach right next to the jetty too. We enjoyed the sunshine but were glad to have a jumper with us as the winds were already picking up!
10.45am – Dolphin Cruise Boat Trip
As we arrived early we were first in line to hop on the ferry. Birthday win! When everyone finally arrived (around 20 of us in total) we climbed aboard. The speedboat for the tour has the capabilities to really whizz around the waters. You might find your skipper is feeling excitable and will give you a few spins – he did for us!
For anyone that suffers from seasickness it’s recommended to sit up at the back where the motion won’t be so severe. With me feeling the impending doom of time on my birthday we chose to sit up front. Not only did we want to enjoy the ride, we also wanted a good view! You needn’t worry about which side of the boat to sit on as the skipper will make turns to ensure everyone gets a good view. However, you might want to consider the direction of the sun. Although the boat has a roof and front window panel, the strong sunshine OR lack thereof might bother your photos!
The skipper gave a quick safety guide including hand gestures in the event you feel unwell. The seats come with a low seatbelt which keeps you fastened in, so there was no need for life jackets. Our guide also took position up front to add commentary of our trip.
NOTE: the dolphin cruise may have additional departure times at 8.45am, 12.45pm, and 3pm during peak summer holidays.
Once we were off the skipper began with a few show-stopping manoeuvres to get the adrenaline going! He was on the lookout for the dolphins the whole time.
We stopped near the shores of Seal Island – a small flat piece of land that is home to a colony of… Sea lions!! Yes, the island is incorrectly named. Nonetheless, these lazy fellas (they’re all male!) will happily flop about the beach sleeping all day.
Also on the island is a colony of pelicans who kind of look like the sea lions’ bodyguards. Not that they need it given their size!
Another pause on the cruise is at Bird Island. Unlike Seal Island, there are no doubts about what you’ll find here. We kept a beady eye out for various types of sea birds including ospreys, cormorants, terns and more.
Throughout the cruise, the guide and skipper are great at pointing out various local wildlife or anything of interest. Nature is unpredictable and you can never be sure of what you’ll find!
One of the last stops on the cruise is to Aladdin’s Cave where you can see fossilised remnants of ancient tuart forests. The rocky coves are given their name thanks to the shimmering light that bounces around the inside in particular light. If you look closely, it’s reminiscent of treasure!
Search for Dolphins
Now, I bet you’re wondering: “So why’s it called the dolphin cruise?”
WELL. LET ME TELL YOU.
There are supposed to be wild dolphins in this marine park. Not just a few, I mean like entire pods doing their incredible thing.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see any that day. Gutted.
We searched and searched and everyone held their breath hoping for a dorsal fin sticking out of the water, but no. It wasn’t meant to be. Our skipper was especially annoyed as he’d not had a single missed sighting ALL YEAR!
It’s not all bad luck, though. As the offer a dolphin guarantee, if you don’t see dolphins on your cruise you can return within the year for a free second attempt.
12.30pm – View The Penguin Feeding
Just as we arrived at Penguin Island after our cruise, we headed straight for the Discovery Centre to watch the penguin feeding.
A member of staff will feed the penguins kept in captivity here and explain a little more about the species. You’ll also learn some cute facts about the penguins themselves and all their mischievous shenanigans!
The viewing platform is raised so everyone should be able to get a look at the penguins. Be aware that it does get very busy though! If you want a good spot it’s worth waiting until the next feeding when you can get a better spot.
Alternatively, the centre is open between feedings where you can go and take a look at the penguins having a swim, a waddle, and living their best penguin-y life.
1pm – Island Walk
Having satisfied our penguin fix and not feeling too deflated from missing the dolphins, we explored the island.
There is a boardwalk taking you from the eastern side of the island over to the west side. You’ll see the landscape drastically change thanks to the wind conditions. The walk is dotted with information signs pointing out facts related to the animals and island.
It’s not a long walk, but it’s a brilliant way to see the whole island quickly.
1.30pm – Picnic & Beach Time
Once you’ve found a spot you like, it’s time for lunch! We brought simple snacks that we could take the litter back with us.
There are picnic benches outside the discovery centre facing the eastern beach. As this is generally the calmer side of the island, we made the most of the wonderful weather with a paddle in the sea.
If you have more time, you could also hire kayaks and explore the island that way.
3pm – Return to Perth
We caught the 3.10pm ferry back to the mainland having felt content with what we saw on our day trip to Penguin Island. We even had enough time to enjoy the rest of my birthday in the city with a romantic dinner, cake, and gin!
You could stay a little longer and catch the last ferry back at 4pm, however, we found a couple of hours plenty of time to enjoy Penguin Island.
Overall, Penguin Island is the perfect place for a family-friendly day trip. It’s relaxed and natural atmosphere is a welcome break away from Perth without driving too far. I’d definitely recommend including Penguin Island on your visit to Perth!
Think you’ll add Penguin Island to your Perth itinerary? Let me know if you get to see the dolphins on your visit!
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