There are about 18 different Penguin species. Some of them can be observed in a moderate climate others in the cold. They spend most of their time in the sea for feeding and come ashore for breeding.
To spot a higher number of Fairy Penguins or Little Blue Penguins the main breeding season in November and December is the best time of the year. September, October, and January around 100 and less arrive after sunset at the shore. Usually, you spot a higher number of penguins at high tide, because the little blue have to walk less distance to their nests. It's pretty tricky where they get out of the water and walk over the huge boulders. You can watch them in the evening without a tour but please don't disturb them, don't block their way, don't use a torch just a red light, and don't pet them! If they get disturbed they may disappear in Bicheno.
You are wondering that we took pictures close to the little blues? We are using a zoom lens from Panasonic 600 mm. We sat on the rocks and observed the penguins without moving or disturbing!
You may see blue penguins throughout the year in Bicheno and Tasmania but a few only in winter. During summer, you spot plenty of them. However, wildlife is not predictable. Especially in winter, it can happen that none of them come ashore.
Seasonal Penguin Activities
- Building their nest from April/May to August
- Laying eggs from August to December
- Chick raising from August until January
- Moulting from February to April/May
We’d like to inform you that forests that are increasingly at threat of logging in the northeast of Tassie, including the Blue Tier Giants, from April 2020 are taken out of reserve status. We will lose old grown forests in Tasmania. The Blue Derby Wild, The Friends of the Blue Tier, and the residents are fighting for their forests, but it looks like we all lose this hidden treasure trove. If you like to support the Blue Tier Giants share and comment on our article.
It's busier with a lot more visitors in summer from December to February, but not extremely crowded. Tip: Book your hotel ahead of time (read more below). There are fewer visitors in winter and spring but also fewer penguins to spot.
Accommodation Tips (With Penguins in the Garden)
You will love to stay here at least two nights to increase your chance to spot them. IMPORTANT: Book well in advance if you visit in the high season. Otherwise, you'll risk fully booked accommodations! However, even in the low season, you'll save money if you book in advance! Stay in one of the very view private properties where the little blue nest in the gardens. One of these vacation homes is the Cod Rock Point (via booking.com with price guarantee.), perfectly situated. However, don't get to close, no camera flashlight or torch, only red light for obvious reasons! Another excellent spot to watch the penguins and to sleep is the Diamond Island Resort. The resort has its own private beach where you can watch the fairy penguins arriving in the evening. Beach access for guests only!
Hiking Tip: Our favourite hike nearby is the Apsley River Gorge Trail which is usually not busy.
Another highlight in Bicheno is the Bicheno Blowhole at high tide:
Are you getting to Tasmania from Melbourne or Sydney? If it's Melbourne stay there for a night close to St. Kilda and watch their huge penguin colony at day and night. For Bicheno, you'll find more deals below (Tip: Click 'See all deals' and then bookmark the results):
The penguins at St Kilda pier are present year-round. Most of them come from the sea after sunset. It's an awesome experience to watch them waddle in throughout the evening after their hunt for fish at sea. It is cute how they walk and jump to their burrows between the rocks and making noise. To spot as many as possible, you need to visit at the right time of day and during the right season. Top Tip: Stay one night at a nearby hotel or you'll risk missing the best St Kilda penguin experience! Why? Check our explanation in the hotel tips section below. If you'd like to know who we are, check out our About Us page.
Other amazing things to see in Melbourne? Together with a Melbourne local, we've just written an insider guide for this mesmerizing city: A Definitive Guide to Melbourne - With Season Tips +15 Amazing Things to Do (this link takes you to our brand new article. Bookmark it if you like).
If you haven't bought it already, please get the best Australia guide available via Amazon: Fodor's Essential Australia Travel Guide
Time of Day | When to See the Penguins
Every day after sunset the penguins come ashore from the sea to their nests at St Kilda Pier. You can spot them waddling to their rock homes after sundown. 9-12 hours later they get back to the sea before sunrise. The pier is open 24 hours. In order to spot them, just be there any time after sunset. Check sunset (and sunrise times) here: Sunrise/Sunset Melbourne (select the month and then press 'Go'). The best time after sundown in terms of sightings is usually about 30 minutes after sunset. However, keep in mind that it gets very crowded around sunset as everyone wants to see these little guys. Your best bet is to get to St. Kilda pier some time before sunset for a good spot, as it becomes really busy with visitors. We also have two great additional tips:
- Visit Twice: If your schedule allows, visit St Kilda twice: Once in the late afternoon and again at or after sunset. Especially in the summer, it's very likely to spot some penguins already in the late afternoon. Visiting before sundown has a huge advantage, that you can view and photograph them during daylight. However, it's highly recommended to watch the big groups waddling in after sunset as well.
- Visit at Night / Before Sunrise: If you want to experience a really quiet visit, we suggest two times: Around 11 p.m. or in the very early morning two hours before sunrise. Particularly before sunrise you won't see other groups of visitors and can check out the penguins in solitude. After 11 p.m. it's usually quiet as well, except for Friday or Saturday nights. The downside when visiting in the night is the darkness. That means you'd need a very good (expensive) low light camera and a fast lens for taking photos (using flash is not allowed, it hurts and scares the penguins!)
Penguins at St Kilda can be spotted throughout the year. However, there are significantly fewer penguins in the late spring and winter months of May, June and July. As soon as the weather gets colder in May/June they are off on their winter jaunt. Most of the penguins are out at sea then for a few weeks, feeding up with fish, getting ready for breeding later. However, those with eggs and chicks are staying at St Kilda of course. Depending on various factors the colony at St Kilda starts again each year in August/September. Usually, you can spot plenty of penguins between October and March/April. Depending on the month they are building nests, laying eggs, raising chicks or moulting (see below). During moulting period, usually in January/February, you'll also spot slightly fewer penguins. If you are interested in seeing the little ones: The peak number of chicks is in November and December.
Penguin Behaviour (Monthly Overview)
- Moulting | at St Kilda (2-3 weeks between January and March / Penguin Visibility: Medium): Old feathers fall out and new ones grow. This usually happens between January and March/April. It takes about 2-3 weeks while penguins are sitting on a rock not going to the sea. If penguins get white feathers they will die soon the reason is the stressful moulting.
- Feeding Up | at Sea (a couple of weeks between May and July / Penguin Visibility: Low). Roughly from May/June until July most penguins are out at sea for weeks to feed up before they start to breed later. They eat as much fish as possible, choosing whatever is available. It's believed that anchovies and pilchards are St Kilda penguins' favourite food. In case you wonder where they sleep during this time: Penguins can nap while they're in the water.
- Egg Laying & Breeding | at St Kilda (usually between July and November / Penguin Visibility: High from September/October to December). A few Penguins start building their nests in the rocks of St Kilda from June onwards and laying eggs in July, but most in August and September until November. If they lay their eggs too late, the chicks may not survive. When the penguins start moulting later they can't feed their chicks any longer.
- Chick Raising | at St Kilda (usually between August and January/February / Penguin Visibility: High from September/October to December). After 33-37 days of breeding the chicks are raised from around August until March, although February and March are quite rare. The parent's main duty is hunting for fish and returning to their nest each day to feed the chicks. At 7-11 weeks the chicks are ready to go to the sea. They leave the colony mostly from October to January. They are out in the sea minimum for a year often several years before heading back if they survived.
The Betty's Bay Penguin Colony is a marvelous year-round destination, not only during the feeding/breeding season.
Best time to spot them is in the early morning or late in the afternoon when they return from fishing. Opening Hours: 7.30 a.m. until 5 p.m. last entry at 4.30 p.m.
Best weather conditions with very few precipitation from October until March. Most rainfall from from May until September.
The Pohatu Marine Reserve is an incredible place to watch these cute little penguins up close with all needed protection. They come ashore in the evening before and after sunset to feed their chicks. Usually, there isn't any little penguin in the bay from mid-February to the end of April. It's mother nature and not hundred percent predictable. The details shall give you just an idea if it's worth to try or not.
- The first penguins arrive here end of April or May and more in June.
- Breeding season from late August until the end of December and moulting penguins until mid-February.
- End of February the little blue penguins have already left Flea Bay.
The summer from December to March has pleasant temps around 20 °C and up to 30 °C. January and February are the warmest while February and September are the driest months. The wettest months are during winter from June to August. However, be prepared for four seasons in one day.
The Boulders Penguin Colony is a stunning year-round destination, not only during the breeding/feeding season. It is one of the best spots in the world to get close to penguins in the wild. Although, it is called Boulders Beach, most African Penguins nest at Foxy Beach. The beaches are often busy; however, during the best time of the day, it is usually quieter. Continue reading for an exceptional visit to Cape Town.
Nearby Tip: Visit the breathtaking Table Mountain at Cape Town. We just updated our Table Mountain Guide (the link takes you to our article) with great tips you should know, as well as tour suggestions.
The best time to visit Boulders Beach full of penguins is during the peak of the breeding season from February to May; in the late afternoon roughly from 4 pm onwards when the penguins come back to their nests. If you want to dodge the crowds, April and May are less busy, except Holy Week. In the late afternoon, crowds thin out as well.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
The busy months are November until March; worst in December and January. However, it can be crowded in the shoulder and off-season as well, especially on the weekends and in the daytime. To beat the crowds and increase the chance of a parking lot, be there very early in the morning as soon as they open but, there are fewer penguins around. An alternative and our favourite time is late afternoon: roughly 2-3 hours before they close, depending on the season. You'll see many more penguins compared to the morning. We spent here already several afternoons until closure in March 2020. During the last hour, we were always almost alone. What a wonderful experience to watch hundreds of penguins arriving from their daily foraging.
In general, you'll spot more penguins in the breeding season than at other times. The breeding season starts roughly in February and lasts until August: It peaks from March to May. It's fascinating when the penguins return from hunting. We watched this spectacle a couple of times. First, you see them in the far distance, jumping and swimming. When they reach the beach, waddle up to the nests, and feed the chicks that's an unforgettable experience. The babies get fed for about two months in the late afternoon. In March and April, you see already chicks, some in juvenile plumage, penguins breeding with one or two eggs, and mating ones as well. They are so graceful when swimming in the water. Seeing them gawky waddle on land is always funny.
Opening Hours and Map
The closure time depends on the available daylight. The shop, the visitor center, Boulders Beach, and Foxy Beach get closed at the mentioned time below.
- Summer: December - January 07:00 - 19:30
- February - March 08:00 - 18:30
- October - November 08:00 - 18:30
- Winter: April - September 08:00 - 17:00
January: Juveniles are moulting, adults feeding up for the breeding season.
February - August: Mating and breeding season with most penguins at the beach; peak March to May
September - October: Penguins foraging at sea for the moulting season. Fewer penguins are at the beach.
November - December: Moulting season, means losing their waterproof plumage -getting new feathers. It lasts for roughly three weeks. At this time, penguins don't have the capability to stay warm in the cold sea. The stay either at the beach or hide in the bush.
Most pleasant weather from October-March. Day temps are always above 20°C. Rain showers can occur but on a couple of days only. During winter it’s much quieter but also colder. There is often a light breeze or even strong wind. Be prepared and bring a windbreaker.
Decreasing rainfall from September onwards. Day temps are on average around 20°C and nights around 13°C. It’s often partly cloudy and occasionally overcast.
January and February are the driest months of the year. Day temps are on average around 24°C and can climb up to 30°C. Night temps are on average around 15°C. Usually, it’s often sunny and partly cloudy. Due to the light breeze, it doesn’t get too hot. Also, the southeaster, often called "Cape Doctor" by the locals, can blow for days on end during summer. On our first visit, I got a cold due to the strong wind. The water temperature is around 18°C cold.
March is still dry, increasing rainfall from April onwards. It is still pleasant on average above 20°C. Nights are cool around 13°C. It’s often sunny and partly cloudy. Mist can occur in the morning.
During winter, it is a mixture of sunny, partly cloudy, and overcast days. More precipitation in winter around 90 mm each month. Usually, June is the wettest month of the year. Day temps are on average around 18°C and 10°C during the night.
Our 5 Top Tips for an Exceptional Visit
- There are two parking lots; one at Seaforth Square and one at Bellevue Road: Seaforth Square is bigger and open 24 hours while Bellevue Road is smaller and closes earlier. Ask the car-park attendant when the gate gets closed! To dodge the crowds come either in the morning or late afternoon what we recommend. Expect to pay a tip when leaving the car park.
- The best spot to watch a high number of penguins is Foxy Beach, where boardwalks lead to. There is the main boardwalk and a smaller one. To get to the smaller one, turn immediately right after the entry. It’s a little quieter, but the view is best from the main boardwalk.
- The entrance fee for foreign visitors is high ZAR 160 per adult and 80 per child, but it’s also used for the conservation of the penguins. In my opinion, it’s utterly worth it. Price: ZAR 160 is less than 10€/10$/16AUD/8GBP
- Boulders Beach itself is a 7-8 minutes walk from the main entrance. During the peak season, you can enter the beach with your ticket only. It’s a sheltered bay and beach and ideal for swimming. Here are only a few penguins. If it gets too crowded the ranger close the beach for additional visitors. More space on the beach during low tide. Tide Times Boulders Beach
- Usually, you can also see penguins at Water's Edge Beach and Seaforth as well but in smaller numbers. The beaches are within walking distance. From Bellevue parking, you get to another spot called Burgers' Walk to watch penguins. This path leads along the neighborhood houses. You don’t have to pay a fee for these spots, but none is as fantastic as Foxy Beach.
Please, respect the requested 3 meters distance to the penguins. If they get disturbed they may disappear. None of your social media posts is worth doing so! As you can see in the picture below; this is a bad example of taking pictures from these endangered birds. Our pictures were taken with Olympus OMD 10 II
Every evening guided tours are offered at Low Head. You spot a higher number of Penguins during the main breeding season from November to February: At this time of the year, you may see 100-200 penguins at high tide and on the new moon. The little blue penguins have to walk smaller distances to their nests at high tide. From March to October considerably less than 100 penguins come ashore.
More visitors during summer from December to February. The people get separated in smaller groups on the tours. Fewer tourists in winter and spring but fewer penguins to spot.