Penguin Island Walk Trail
Start - Penguin Island Jetty
Length - 2.1km (Loop)
Rating - Green
Terrain - Beach, Boardwalk
Vertical Climb - 23m
Time - 1-2 hours
Signed - No, link up the boardwalks to follow
Date Hiked - 17th February 2019
Best Time - Spring to Autumn
Directions - Penguin Island is about 600m off the coast from Shoalwater and can be reached by ferry or by kayaking over. There is a sandbar that is walkable in low tide but there are risks involved (see warnings later on). Park at the car park on Arcadia Drive and the ferry departs from the jetty located on the beach.
The Hike - I've said it on here before and I'll keep saying it, summer in Perth is far from the ideal time to be out in the bush hiking. Even though 2018 had been my busiest year with many great adventures, it's still nice to get out and about every now and then to stretch the legs. A few activities that are better suited to the summer sun are snorkelling and kayaking, something that I'd been enjoying a lot with podcast partner Donovan and the other half of The Long Way's Better, Alissa. With a mid-week trip to Rottnest Island for some snorkelling, I had another island adventure planned, this time on Penguin Island.
We wanted to visit Penguin Island after a snorkelling trip to Point Peron a couple of weeks earlier and it was decided that we were going to kayak over with Alissa taking the ferry. Arriving at the Shoalwater car park, we unloaded the kayaks and packed up all of our dry sacks for the mornings adventure. Alissa had decided that she would walk across the sandbar instead of taking the ferry while Donovan and I paddled. I must note here that walking on the sandbar is dangerous and should only be undertaken at low tide with calm conditions and by strong swimmers. People have died crossing by foot so do not underestimate the journey or conditions. About 50m into our paddling Donovan and I realised that it would probably just be easier to walk the kayaks across so we paddled over to Alissa and jumped out. After a good leg workout we reached the island and set about dragging the kayaks up the beach to higher ground where we could unload our gear and continue on.
The plan was to take in the 2km loop with a stop at the snorkelling area we had read about on the west side of the island. With our snorkelling gear, dry sacks and cameras in hand we headed off around the southern beach and up towards the staircase leading to the first boardwalk section. With many pelicans circling the skies I was surprised to see a brave crab on the beach and gave the ground near it a little poke to make sure it was still alive (it was). We climbed up the stairs and set foot on the boardwalk where we would be directed up more stairs to the highest point on the island. The lookout up here gave you 360 degree views all around the island and down towards the southern tip of the island that has rightly been designated a bird sanctuary off limits to humans. With plenty of exploring to do and keen to get in the water for a snorkel we headed back down the boardwalk and onto the western beach.
The somewhat blustery conditions here meant the ocean was very choppy and we were all hoping that the snorkelling spot wasn't meant to be here as it would not have been a very pleasant experience. We made our way up the beach and to the limestone headlands just past the staircase leading back to the boardwalk. Donovan was sure that the photos of the snorkelling beach were here so we picked our way through the jagged limestone until we were on the more sheltered part of the island. The gnarly formations and caves here were very interesting to behold so we kept stopping for photos before setting our gear down on some rocks ready to enter the water. Interestingly, I had been expecting the sea cliffs on this side of the island to be full of native birds but it appears that pigeons have made this their habitat of choice. Looking at the water from the beach we figured the best snorkelling was close to the shore and heading north so with our gear on we headed on out. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake as the shallowness of the water made for some tight squeezes through and over the reef.
We shifted back out towards deeper water and found the good bits of the reef although visibility was not fantastic. Spotting some small schools of fish and a couple of colonies of purple sea urchins, there were some cool finds in and around the reef. For better photos check out Donovan's Penguin Island post as he has the proper housing for his camera, while I was using an old GoPro Hero 4. With a good swim under our belts and not much else to explore we headed back towards the beach and set about drying off and packing away all our gear. A crowd had gathered on the beach, both from kayaks and walking around so this is obviously the popular snorkelling spot on the island. Picking our way through the rocks again we found ourselves at the stairs leading up to the final boardwalk section and back towards the Discovery Centre.
There is another lookout to the left and of course we decided the check it out, seeing the area we had just snorkelled and off into towards the protected northern side of the island. Walking back down the boardwalk provided a really cool photo (the one I used as the cover shot) with Donovan and Alissa strolling on the path that leads your eyes down and towards the sheltered bay with the jetty in the distance and the mainland further on. As we reached the bay Donovan and I decided to check out the beach and the limestone caves where there might be a chance of sighting a penguin. You can walk along the beach but thankfully they have closed off public access to the caves so you don't intrude on the penguins habitat. Unfortunately it was not the right time of day to see them (late afternoon is best) with the closest thing to wildlife being the skink we saw sunning itself on the limestone.
We made our way back to Alissa, who had waited at the boardwalk and we continued on to the Discovery Centre. This small building and sheltered picnic area is designed for families coming over for the day. It also provides a base for researchers on the island and an opportunity to see penguins feeding during their regular feeding times (for a fee). We had just missed out on the latest feeding and didn't want to stick around for the next one so had to leave the island without seeing one of the famous little penguins. Having decided that a return visit was in order we weren't too fussed and so completed the last little bit of the boardwalk before heading back to the kayaks. Another adventure on the sandbar was made more refreshing by turning it into a swim and before we knew it we were back at the car ready to head home.
Final Thoughts - Although I have a vague recollection of visiting Penguin Island as a kid, I'm going to count this as my first visit to the island. Why it's taken me 33 years to visit is beyond me as this place is a fantastic half day trip during the summer and full of things I enjoy like walking, snorkelling and exploring.
The fun of walking across the sandbar with nothing but a dry sack, your snorkelling gear and your camera to an island just offshore makes you feel like a kid again. It gave off a lot of Enid Blyton "Famous Five" vibes, even though we didn't thwart smugglers or find any lost treasure.
While the snorkelling wasn't the best you can experience in Perth (Rottnest clearly wins that round), it was well worth putting on the fins and having a swim around.
As I said before, this is a place I'll be returning to and if you are looking for a great half day adventure in summer then look no further than Penguin Island.
Get out there and experience it!
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