Penguin Island: Paradise for Pengos or Tyrannical Seagull Hell?

“Penguin Island? …Like, an entire island of penguins?”

“Duh. That’s why it’s called Penguin Island.”

I glared at my friend. How could I have lived in Perth for two years and not known about an entire island filled with penguins? Not just ANY penguin – the world’s smallest penguin. The species is literally “little penguin.”  Or, more affectionately called in Australia, “fairy penguin.”

There is a teeny tiny island filled with teeny tiny penguins?!

After the initial giddiness wore off, Moritz and our friends Adam and Raphael drove to Rockingham to see this magical land of little penguins. Western Australia has shown me cute animals in spades. Kangaroos, kangaroo mice, quokkas (aka the “World’s Happiest Animal“), emus… what’s a tiny penguin added to the long list of incredible creatures here.

Penguin Island is a bird sanctuary not just for penguins but all local species of birds. No food or trash is allowed on the island and it’s a mecca for biologists, birders, and people who love to see roosting birds in their natural habitat.

Like all great odysseys to mysterious places, this one involved a journey. To get to Penguin Island, we walked through waist-deep water on a sandbar for fifteen minutes. I slung my snorkel and fins over my shoulder, excited to finally make it to penguin haven. We splashed, laughed, and found a disturbingly large snail along the way that I chalked to being a good omen of things to come.

Walking the Sandbar to Penguin Island, Western Australia

Walking the Sandbar to Penguin Island, Western Australia

Underwater Sea Snail found off of the Coast of Penguin Island

Amazingly huge sea snail found on our sandbar walk to Penguin Island

Walking the sandbar to Penguin Island, knee deep water Walking the Sandbar to Penguin Island, Rockingham

We smelled the island before we stepped onto it.

A dark shadow cast over the island, created by flocks of seagulls swarming up above. The wooden walkway was covered in white sludge from the 24/7 carpet bombing put on by said seagulls. They squawked and cawed.

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds were tranquilized parakeets in comparison.

Seagulls flying around Penguin Island
I scanned the island for the promised penguins. There were none in sight.

“…Where’s… where’s the penguins?” I interrogated my friend.

“They like to hide during the day.”

In a moment of epiphany, I saw the island for what it really was. A prison for penguins who’d missed the turn for ice-capped Antarctica and landed in sun-scorched Australia instead. Upon their accidental arrival, the seagulls enforced a dictatorship where gulls would rule as the dominant species. I’d seen this place before in a documentary where seagulls pecked the eyes out of predatory snakes. David Attenborough’s voice rang in my ears, “The tiny penguin hides under a walkway where he’s less likely to have his wings plucked off…” 

We found a single penguin shivering under a wooden walkway – possibly shaking from fear of being dismembered by the seagulls swarming overhead. Surely there’d be others huddled in a pack somewhere. Maybe this one was excommunicated, held hostage, or about to make a dash back to the motherland.

Penguin hiding under walkway at Penguin Island

It’s okay, little one. You’re safe there.

Look for penguins under walkways at Penguin Island

We bid the little fella farewell and continued on our journey to find more penguins.

I wasn’t naïve. I’d seen Happy Feet, Madagascar, and who could ever forget the heartstrings-tugging journey of March of the Penguins. Penguins stick together in huge packs. That’s just how they roll. Any minute we’d stumble upon a herd – pack – flock, or whatever they call clusters of fairy penguins.

It was nesting season for the seagulls. The real-estate on the island was so crowded that they built egg filled nests everywhere. Some speckled eggs leaned against the wooden walkway. The gulls shot into the sky every time we came near, launching a full-frontal cawing attack. Because of the sheer volume of seagulls, it was as if the entire island did a stadium wave that followed us everywhere we went. I’ll admit that the chicks were cute, but this sentiment subsided once I realized that they’d too eventually grow into an unpleasant adult.

Just like the rest of us.

Penguin Island, home to 1200 wild penguins off of the coast of Western Australia Speckled Seagull Egg Seagull chicks on Penguin Island

Small wooden burrows with holes as doorways clustered into small colonies around the island for penguins to hide. Because the boxes had numbers on them, I imagined carrier pigeons taking letters back and forth between penguins too afraid to come outside due to PTSD.

Burrows for Penguins off of Penguin Island

Penguins Traumatized by Seagulls Disorder.

Finally, we went off of the pathway onto the sand – a respite from the angry birds.

“Could it be?”

We ran over to a grey ball of fluff resting on the shore. Slowly creeping towards it, we were afraid to startle the penguin chick. It was only when we were an arms distance away that we realized that the penguin chick had left this inferno of an island and flew – er – swam to bird heaven.

“Don’t touch it!” I yelled at our friend Adam. He crouched down and started petting the fluffy corpse.

“But it’s so soft.”

We walked along north side of the side of the island’s cliff and played a few more tragic rounds of the “is it dead or just sleeping” game.

Pelicans lounging at Penguin Island

“That seagull?”

“Dead.”

“That pelican?”

The group stopped and assessed.

“Dead… no, wait, just injured and on the brink of death.”

At the north point of the island, we put on our masks and fins to explore the reef. Seaweed, sharp rocks, and schools of small brown fish accompanied us underwater.

North side of Penguin Island The best place to snorkel around Penguin Island

School of fish seen at Penguin IslandSnorkeling at Penguin Island WAThe North side of Penguin IslandChantae Was Here meditating while snorkeling off of Penguin Island

When we got back to shore, I saw a small penguin crouched under a rock and felt my heart soften. Away from the overprotective seagulls, I enjoyed the solitude of being alone with the flightless creature. I recognized the look of being far away from where you’re supposed to be.

Back on the walkway, we strolled through the eye of the storming seagulls, past a colony of pelicans. With beaks the length of a sword, I appreciated that the path didn’t go anywhere near the pelican colony. If seagulls were willing to peck out snake eyes for their young, imagine what pelicans would do!

Pelican colony at Penguin Island

We never found the rest of the 1,200 penguins because apparently, they’re nocturnal. I’m not sure if I really believe that. I’d like to think that the penguins found somewhere safe to hide and are currently plotting a penguin revolution. Maybe the dead one was a traitor, and the two shaking ones we saw were spies. When I return someday, the penguins will have conquered the island and the seagulls will be the ones shaking under walkways and cowering in little boxes.

Yeah. Let’s go with that.

Pelicans roosting at Penguin Island WA Pelicans roosting at Penguin Island

I feel compelled to point out that every other person in the group loved Penguin Island and would visit again. I think this is because everyone besides me knows how to manage their expectations and keep an open mind. Moritz loves seagulls, and his family really enjoyed the island as well. The people who work on the island are passionate about conservation and rehabilitate any injured birds that they find.

So, while I joke that the penguins would be better off risking shark infested waters to go back to Antarctica, I don’t really mean it. Penguin Island truly is  a safe haven for all species of birds looking for an undisturbed place to live.

Perhaps if Australia named the island, “Angry Seagull and Occasional Penguin Island” or even “Bird Poop Island,” my expectations wouldn’t have been so shattered.

Penguin Island Pinterest

Good to Know

Transportation: There are two ways to get to the island.
First, there’s a complete tour (with penguin feedings!) that The Department of Wildlife hosts. This includes a ferry ride to/from the island and a guide. Cost is $15-23/adult.
Second, you can walk across the sandbar that connects to Penguin Island like our group did. This is not recommended by WA government, especially for people unfamiliar with the ocean or are weak swimmers. Weather and ocean conditions can change instantly and a few people have drowned walking to the island in the past. If in doubt, take the ferry option.
To see the penguins, check under the walkways or rocky overhangs because they tend to stay protected in the shade while the sun is out.
Food: Pengo’s Café is a cute shop by the ferry entrance where you can buy snacks and coffee. No trash or food is allowed on Penguin Island itself.
Other essential info: The snorkeling is great on the north side of the island.

Receive Updates!
Never miss a post by subscribing via email. Follow for stories and inspiration about travel, extreme sports, yoga, and adventure.
I hate spam. Your email address will never be shared with anyone else.

You may also like...

53 Responses

  1. Justine says:

    Poor little guys 🙁 I hope they stage a penguin revolution too!!

  2. adam says:

    lol perfectly documented !

  3. Rebecca says:

    I love your writing so much Chantae! You’re really one of a kind 😀
    I planned on going there one Sunday but ended up too hungover to face the ferry ride. Glad to have read this before I try again…will lower expectations and be very pleasantly surprised I’m sure!

    • Chantae says:

      Hahaha 🙂 It really is a NICE place… if you love birds. You should do the penguin feeding and send over some pictures since I missed out 😛 I’m sure you’ll have a great time!

  4. Brent says:

    Very interesting place. I had not heard of it before this post. Great writing.

  5. Red Nomad OZ says:

    Hahaha, anyone who swims in that guano gumbo you call ‘the sea’ around the island deserves a medal!!! But maybe the lure of a few buckets of chips over on the mainland would rid the island of seagulls so the penguins could reign once more 😀

    • Chantae says:

      Hahaha I’ll take that medal gladly! Such a brilliant idea with the chips, though I think seagulls are really some kind of virus. They multiply and expand to fill whatever space they can! BUT you’ve inspired another idea… maybe I can lure the penguins over and start a safe haven in my condo!

  6. Sheri says:

    I really love your writing, style and while reading I was thinking to myself, omg, I feel like she is having a conversation with me, “wait what? there is an island filled with little penguins??? I LOVE Penguins and I want to there!!!!! ” Love the post, the pictures, and that picture with the Roo is too cute!

  7. Divya says:

    Chantae,
    I love this post of yours! When I began reading, I too had images of flocks of penguins in my head. I think if I were there in your place, I would have felt slightly disappointed.

    I hope to visit Penguin Island soon.

  8. Tina says:

    Hey chantae,

    I just found your post and couldn’t believe it.
    First of all, the way you write is lovely and your pictures stunning. What camera did you guys use?
    My partner and I just went to penguin island via a stand up paddle. Unfortunately we couldn’t find any wild penguins that they but we will try another time. Are you guys still in Perth ? What is your next plan? Cheers Tina 😉

    • Chantae says:

      I use a Canon EOS 100D and a gopro for this post! I love the canon because it’s seriously tiny for a DSLR.
      SUPing to Penguin Island is a brilliant idea!!! Such good exercise. The little penguins are impossible to find, haha. I’m still in Perth. Live here but visiting California in May – what’s your plan? Are you staying a while?

  9. Sanket D. says:

    oh dear! I was so excited when I read Penguin Island, but so saddening to hear the happy little creatures being terrorized by sea gulls. I hope they manage to somehow ward off their dangerous tyrant regime, and establish their own stronghold on the island 🙁
    Sanket D. recently posted…Digital Nomad Lessons: What I Learned from One Year on The RoadMy Profile

  10. Liana says:

    Wow! Perth is the next city I’m going to visit, so it’s so nice to know a bit more about it! Penguins!! AMAZING! x

  11. Shounak says:

    When I read your blog , I also had high expectations, but its more sea gulls that rule here. But walking on water to reach an island sounds quite an adventure !

  12. Maggie says:

    Awesome Writing :). Also LOVE the picture of you reading a magazine with the kangaroo. Totally jealous.

  13. Siniciliya says:

    I would love to see penguins, they are so cute!
    Your life in Australia sounds very exciting, you look so happy in your photos.
    Siniciliya recently posted…Aqua LunaMy Profile

  14. Poor penguins! If it helps any, I would have been disappointed, too. Maybe the rest of the penguins already made a break for it and headed to Antarctica, leaving the cowards behind? Could be another possible explanation. Does anyone go at night to see if there are any penguins left?
    Genesis Davies recently posted…Textiles in Guatemala: Visiting the Textile Market of PanajachelMy Profile

    • Chantae says:

      Hahahah I love your theory. I hope that it’s true, but it does make me feel a little bad for the cowards 😛 I think the island is off-limits at night, but I’m sure some people have gone!

  15. Jen Morrow says:

    I would have walked the sandbar over, too. At least it looks like everybody had a good time, despite the sea gulls.

  16. Suanlee says:

    “Penguin Island, prison for penguins who’d missed the turn for ice-capped Antarctica and landed in sun-scorched Australia instead. ” Hahaha amazing! I think they should definitely use that in their tourism pitches! Great article and really interesting write up, you have such a unique voice in your posts that make them so enjoyable!

  17. Bernard Tan says:

    I love the pic where the kangaroo and you are both reading the papers. This is funny, it reminds me of my Cambodian friend asking me to go to rabbit island, and I asked him if there were many rabbits there or the place is shaped as a rabbit.

  18. This was so interesting and gosh I feel so sorry for those penguins. The snorkelling looks great and I will definitely add it to my itinerary.

  19. Well you certainly got to see a lot of wildlife in Perth, didn’t you!!! That photo with the kangaroo is just absolutely beautiful! I like that you include a “Good to Know” section. Your posts include both colorful narratives AND useful information, which is something many travel bloggers have a hard time balancing. You’re doing great! Keep up the good work!
    Tourist to Local recently posted…My First Camping Trip in 10 YearsMy Profile

    • Chantae says:

      Thanks a ton! I appreciate the thoughtful comment and am glad to know you found the end section helpful 🙂 And yes, Perth is FILLED with wildlife!

  20. Michelle says:

    Very entertaining and funny post! Who would have thought penguins were nocturnal?? It’s a good thing you’ve published this in case anyone decides to give it a Google in the future BEFORE going to the island.

  21. Epepa says:

    I have seen Penguins only at ZOO and I think they weren’t happy there too. Beautiful underwater pictures you took! I’m really impressed by them.
    Epepa recently posted…Barri Gotic, the most charming quarter in BarcelonaMy Profile

  22. I laughed so hard while reading this! Your post is brilliant, loved the sense of humor and the inserted dialogue. I’m with you, I would have been so sad to not find all the penguins. To be honest though, an animated movie about a penguin revolution on this oppressive seagull island would be epic 😀
    Alina Popescu recently posted…Trip Planning: Dogs and Last Minute Travel, Not a Great IdeaMy Profile

  23. Sarah says:

    I adored this post– your absolute genuine honesty and chatty writing style was really great. I can’t wait to explore your blog further!! Also, “Perhaps if Australia named the island, “Angry Seagull and Occasional Penguin Island” cracked me up big time 😀

  24. Ann says:

    I loved the post – literally hilarious! This place seems so cool. Will definitely hit it up next time I’m in Perth (: Perhaps a night visit though?

  25. I think this is still paradise for me. I would love to see lots of Penguins since I think we don’t have here in the Philippines. Love to visit it soon 🙂
    Cai Dominguez-Travelosyo recently posted…Comment on Solo Travel Guide to Surigao Del Sur: River, Falls and the Sea! by TravelosyoMy Profile

  26. Sarah says:

    Nice work! I am now inlove with Perth even more.

  1. April 5, 2016

    […] here, my experience of the third category not living up to its name happened exactly once, at Penguin Island. So of course, the namesake of Shark Bay concerned […]

  2. October 2, 2016

    […] tour or take a chartered yacht to Rottnest Island for surfing, scuba diving, and sightseeing. (Think twice about visiting Penguin Island!) Three hours south of Perth is Margaret River, where you can spend half of the day on a gourmet food […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge