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.
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.
Staying in Melbourne not only for the penguins? Together with a Melbourne local, we've just written an insider guide for this mesmerizing city: The Definitive Guide to Melbourne - With 15 Amazing Things to Do (this link takes you to our new article. Bookmark it if you like)
One thing, before we get to the penguins: We get asked every day: What are other must-do activities in and around Melbourne besides the St. Kilda Penguins? Actually, there are 3 tours we hand-picked for friends of us and you might love as well:
Can't see the tours selection? Our absolute favorite tour is the Yarra Valley Hot Air Balloon Flight (operated by the award winning operator Global Ballooning Australia) For more tours you might like, click the following link: Hand-Picked Melbourne Tours. Now: Let's get to the penguins and everything you should know before you visit:
Time of Day (Penguin Schedule)
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'). However, keep in mind that it gets crowded around sunset as everyone wants to see these little guys. Best is to get there before sunset for a good spot, as it becomes really busy with visitors. We also have two great additional tips:
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 the 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.
Boulders Penguin Colony is a stunning year-round destination, not only during the feeding/breeding season. Nowhere else in the world you get closer to African Penguins in the wild. However, it's often crowded.
Photo by Kym Ellis on Unsplash
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
The busy months are November until March/April. However, it can be crowded in the shoulder and off-season as well, especially on the weekends. To beat the crowds and increase the chance of a parking lot, be there very early in the morning as soon as they open. Another idea is to go late: About 1 hour before they close. You'll see more penguins compared to mornings.
The breeding season is from February until August: It peaks from March to May. It's fascinating because all the penguins are at the beach feeding the small ones. The babies get fed for about two months in the late afternoon. Therefore you have to decide between fewer crowds but also fewer penguins in the morning and more crowds but also more penguins in the afternoon. Or go late before they close (see above Tourist crowds). In general, you'll spot more penguins in the breeding season than at other times.
Boulder Beach in the afternoon
- Winter: April - September 08:00 - 17:00
- Summer: December - January 07:00 - 19:30
- February - March 08:00 - 18:30
- October - November 08:00 - 18:30
- January: Juveniles are moulting, adults feeding up for the breeding season.
- February - August: Breeding season with most penguins at the beach.
- September - October: Penguins at sea, feeding up for moulting. Fewer penguins at the beach.
- November - December: Moulting season.
Best weather with least rain is from October until March. The chance of increasing rainfall starts in May and lasts until September. Simons Town Weather Averages
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 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.
- 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
More visitors in summer; December to February. Fewer visitors in winter and spring but fewer penguins to spot.
Tips and Accommodation in Bicheno
You will love to stay here at least two nights to increase your chance to spot them. Our favorite hike nearby is the Apsley River Gorge Trail which is not much crowded. 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 perfectly situated. However, don't get to close, no camera flashlight or torch, only red light for obvious reasons! 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 here for a night close to St. Kilda and watch their huge penguin colony at day and night.
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.
Southern Summer: Penguin season is from October to March. There are no boat trips available during other seasons.