If you’re looking for things to do in Port Phillip, and specifically activities in St. Kilda, set aside an evening (or early morning) for one of the most unique and popular outings in the area. You’ve probably heard that St. Kilda Pier houses it’s very own penguin colony, but did you know that you can go visit them all year round, free of charge? We’ve put together a penguin viewing guide so you can make the most of your trip to St. Kilda and have the best chance of getting a sighting. Put this on your list of top things to do in St. Kilda and read on for the insider tips.
When can I see Penguins in St. Kilda?
While the Penguins come and go to their colony most nights, year round, there are definitely optimal viewing times to be aware of.
Time of day: In general, you can view the penguins coming back to the pier just after sunset, and they leave to go back to sea just before sunrise. The best viewing is the sunset shift because you’ll still have the last light of the day. You can definitely get up early and come two hours before sunrise, but the moon is particularly bright, you might have a hard time seeing anything. Since you can’t use flash photography, you’re probably better off going to St. Kilda for sunset instead. It’s gets crowded right around sundown so come a few hours earlier and get a good spot! You might even get luckily and catch sight of some of the penguins heading home early in the late afternoon. Bring a scarf and some dinner so you don’t get tempted to give up your spot when the sun goes down.
Check sunrise and sunset times before you go!
Time of year: The penguins are always coming and going, but there are a few seasons where you’ll find them less often, and in fewer numbers.
Late spring and early winter: This is the time of year where you will see the least amount of penguins. During winter, the penguins head out to see for weeks at a time. This is before breeding time so they are eating as much fish as they possibly can to prepare themselves! You may think they need to come back to their nests to sleep, but penguins can actually nap right in the water and wake up to continue feeding.
August and September: This is when they penguins start showing up in greater numbers. They’ve finished their feeding period and it’s time to head back to their colony to start breeding.
Between October and April: This is the busiest time of year for penguins to travel to their nests, and it’s also the busiest time of year for penguin viewing.
November and December: If you’re wondering when is the best time to go to St. Kilda to see baby penguin chicks, these are the magic months!
Where exactly can I view the Penguins?
You’ve probably been told to go see Penguins when looking for things to do in St. Kilda, but you may not know exactly where to see them. The actual location of the penguin colony is at the St. Kilda Pier, down the far end past the kiosk, called the St. Kilda breakwater. The Pier is open 24 hours a day, so you can plan to get there as early as you’d like. Due to some unfortunate behaviour from viewers in the past, you’ll notice there is now a fence between the viewing area and where the penguins come back to their nests. The fence is there to keep the penguins safe and it doesn’t impede visitors from politely seeing the cute little guys.
To get there by tram: To get there from the CBD, hop on the 96 and get off at Fitzroy St./Jacka Bvd. stop, or ride down on the 12 and get off at Fitzroy St./Park St. stop. From either stop, it’s about a ten minute walk to the pier. If you’re coming from elsewhere, plan your route on Public Transport Victoria.
Facts about the St. Kilda Penguins
These little guys grown up to 40 cm tall and only weigh about one kilogram! They live roughly six or seven years, but by only 8 weeks old they have usually left the nest for good. Once penguins are old enough to fish, they can dive to as deep as 30 metres to get food. As parents, they spend 33 to 37 days incubating their eggs, and they share the incubation period between them. The St. Kilda pier colony has roughly 1,400 penguins at a given time.
The penguins usually breed between July and November and spend the months leading up to breeding doing as much feeding as possible. Moulting usually occurs for two or three weeks, sometime between January and March, where all the penguins shed their old feathers and grow new ones.
How to protect the Penguins
If you’ve decided to go see penguins as your evening activity in St. Kilda, make sure you do so with care. These little guys are used to viewers, but only at a safe distance. Make sure you refrain from using flash on your camera, even if the light is low. Don’t touch or feed the penguins, and stay at least three metres back so they don’t get scared. Don’t bring dogs, play loud music, or leave any litter behind.
You may see some volunteers in vests helping out and answering questions. These are likely earthcare volunteers who are around to keep the peace and make sure the penguins are kept safe. Head over here, or here for some more information.