Living and working in the small town of Strahan, Tasmania did have some perks. One big one was that Strahan happened to be the gateway to the south west wilderness- as in Tourism is BIG here in Strahan. Some activities I wanted to do before I left included the trip to Bonnet Island to search for the tiny Little Penguins that inhabit the remote island. Lucky for me, I was working for the company that runs the tour, Pure Tasmania, so it was easy to organize a trip last minute.
I had not been on any trips out on the Harbour since I started working in Strahan so I was excited about this night trip, where we’d take a small fast boat across Hells Gates to look for the Little Penguins. Right away I knew this would be a great trip as in general they don’t take more than 10 people at a time but I got lucky and my group was small, only 4 of us.
Our guide was a young chap I’d seen around when I worked so we chatted about what we’d be seeing and the route. Sunsets in Tasmania are magical and the weather was perfect- Mother nature decided to put on a show and show me her best colors. The sunset reflected onto the water and as the captain piloted us out Strahan, we just enjoyed the show.
When we arrived to Bonnet Island, we get a brief history about the lighthouse and the family who once lived here. They endured the harshest of climates in this remote part of the world, and their job was important to bring all the ships in safely as they navigated Hells Gates- a rocky patch that many a ship lost its cargo to, seen above.
We also got a brief introduction to the Little Penguin. They are found along the coastlines of Australia and New Zealand, and are the smallest species of penguin. In Australia they are also referred to as Fairy Penguins. We each received lanterns that had a special light, easy to observe them without hurting their eyes. That was very courteous of them as I was torn between disturbing them and leaving them alone, so I had some comfort that at least we would not hurt their little eyes. Also, they are used to a small amount of visitors coming to the island, numbers that are strictly regulated to protect the 200 or so pairs that mate and breed there.
Spotting the penguins is a bit of a challenge but thanks to our guide we were able to see several chicks that were in the middle of molting- this is when the little chicks shed their baby feathers and grow new ones that will enable them to stay warm in the freezing waters of Tasmania. Most of the chicks were making noises as it was the time when Mama and Papa return with food from the sea, so they cried out hungrily for their parents during our visit. Our guide, having worked many trips to the Island knew exactly where the nests were so we walked around with our special flashlights to say hello to the Little Penguins.
As the night went on their cries grew louder and more desperate and I began to wish for the parents’ return so the penguins could feed. We saw a mama penguin climbing up on the rocks and how they manage that is absolutely incredible. Making their way up to the path they scamper along to their nest. We even saw a nest underneath the wooden staircase, a little face peeking out at us wondering where his dinner was. Our own snack awaited us back in the boat- a veggie plate, fruits & nuts and local cheeses and wine to enjoy before we returned to Strahan.
Besides seeing the penguins, we were also able to do some stargazing- our captain stopped the boat halfway back to Strahan and turned off the engine. We sat in silence and admired the night sky light up with a million stars that glittered like diamonds. No need for photos, this is one of those times when you just take in the moment.
If you’d like to experience the Little Penguin colony for yourself, I highly recommend it. Pure Tasmania runs the tour and booking can be made via this website.
Don’t forget when you visit Australia, there is so much to see in Tasmania as well. Leave some time on your itinerary to discover this beautiful, rugged island that has a personality all its own.