About Penguin Island
Penguin Island is a unique nature reserve that is home to Western Australia’s largest colony of little penguins- the smallest species of penguin in the world.
Located 45 minutes south of Perth & a 5 minute ferry ride across the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park, Penguin Island is blessed with beautiful beaches & surrounded by dazzling, crystal clear waters.
Both locals and visitors from all over the world catch the ferry or take a cruise here to get up close to the wildlife, explore nature trails, swim, surf, snorkel or to enjoy a family picnic and the safe, sheltered beaches.
The star attractions of Penguin Island are the wildlife.
Approximately 1000 pairs of little penguins nest on the island over winter. During the rest of the year, they spend most of their day feeding in the waters of the marine park and don’t return to the island until after dark. These fascinating birds are very shy and can be difficult to see in the wild but you can get up close and learn all about them with the rangers at The Discovery Centre. There are three feeding sessions a day at 10.30am, 12.30pm and 2.30pm.
Rockingham Wild Encounters is proud to be the only cruise company licensed to visit Penguin Island and operate within the wildlife sanctuary zone of the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park. Our ferry, cruise & activities options are designed to showcase the marine park and take in the local wildlife including wild dolphins, rare Australian sea lions, pelicans, ospreys, kings skinks and over 50 species of sea birds many of which rely on the islands for nesting. It is our privilege to share this beautiful part of the coast & it’s wildlife and we hope you enjoy your visit.
Open Days & Times
Penguin Island is open daily September 15th- early June (Western Australia Day Public Holiday). Closed December 25th for Christmas.
Penguin Island is closed from the day after the Western Australia Day Public Holiday in early June- September 14 for the winter nesting season. During this time the only cruise we have available is our Three Islands Wildlife Cruise.
Tickets & Gift Shop
Open daily 8.30am- 4.30pm
Reservations (+618 9591 1333 or firstname.lastname@example.org )
Daily: 8.30am- 5pm
Depart hourly*: 9am, 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm & 3pm.
Return hourly*: 10.10am, 11.10am, 12.10pm, 1.10pm, 2.10pm, 3.10pm & 4pm.
*extra ferries are scheduled every 20 minutes or half hour during peak season as required
Penguin Island Discovery Centre
Open Daily 10am- 3.30pm.
Penguin Feedings: 10.30am, 12.30pm & 2.30pm.
Open Daily 8am- 4.30pm
How to Get Here
Rockingham Wild Encounters is located on the corner of Arcadia Drive & Penguin Rd, Shoalwater. Allow 45 minutes to 1 hour to drive from Perth. There is free car parking onsite and ferry tickets are available on the day from Rockingham Wild Encounters Gift Shop. Please ensure that you do not park on the road verge or the vacant block across the road from our car park. They are clearly signed with No Standing signs and rangers will issue parking infringements for anyone parked illegally. There is overflow parking available at the Safety Bay Bowling Club located a short walk away at 130 Gloucester Crescent, Safety Bay. The ferry departs from the Mersey Point Jetty located a short 1 minute walk behind the gift shop. Pengos café is located next door to the gift shop.
Click here for public transport information
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Planning Your Visit & FAQ’s
Purchasing your tickets on the day & reservations
Ferry & Glass bottom boat tickets must be purchased on the day from our gift shop. Reservations are advised for groups of 10+, please visit our Groups page for more information. Allow at least 15 minutes on week days & 30 minutes on weekends & holidays to buy your tickets prior to your desired departure time. Glass bottom boat cruises depart from Penguin Island so allow time to catch the ferry first.
Bookings are recomended for the Dolphin, Penguin & Sea Lions Adventure Cruise, 3 Islands Wildlife Cruise, Sea Kayak Tour and Kite Boarding Lessons
Weekends, school holidays and other busy times
During peak times we schedule extra ferry and glass bottom boat departures to meet demand & to ensure visitors are not kept waiting long.
Catching the ferry
Once you’ve bought your ticket from our shop make your way to the jetty located approx 1 minute’s walk behind our shop. Show your ticket to the skipper as you board and then keep it in a safe place as you will need to show this to gain entry to the Discovery Centre & whenever you board our boats.
How much time should I allow for a visit?
If you just want to see the Penguin Feeding at the Discovery Centre then you can do this and be back at the mainland in just over an hour, however we recommend you allow a minimum of 2 hours so you can at least explore a little bit. Many visitors choose to spend half or the full day here relaxing on the beach, swimming or just soaking up the relaxed island atmosphere.
Is It Safe to Walk Across The Sandbar?
The management of the sandbar between Mersey Point & Penguin Island is the responsibility of the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW). Their advice is that it is never safe to attempt to cross the sandbar and the only safe means of accessing Penguin Island is by the ferry or private vessel.
Sadly, there is a history of people drowning while attempting to cross the sandbar, most recently in Dec 2010 when 2 tourists were swept off the sand bar and many others had to be rescued due to the combination of a high tide and a stronger than expected sea breeze.
Over the years there has been other near drownings, particularly with tourists who have poor swimming skills and are unfamiliar with local conditions that can turn very hazardous very quickly.
Visitors often enquire with our crew about the sandbar as they may see people crossing or may have read visitor reviews on social media such as Trip Advisor suggesting that crossing the sandbar is a cheap or fun way to visit Penguin Island.
In the interest of visitor safety and for potential liability reasons, our crew will politely reinforce DPaW’s message that the only safe means of accessing Penguin Island is by ferry or private vessel. This response is sometime perceived incorrectly as being deliberately unhelpful or an attempt to sell them a ferry ticket- our primary interest is ensuring that everyone has a safe and enjoyable day so please don’t take offense.
The dangers of crossing the sandbar dates back to pre-European settlement and the dangers of attempting to cross the sandbar were well known to local indigenous people. Local aboriginal elder Theresa Walley installed a mosaic at Mersey Point in 2002 as a warning to visitors. It details the journey of the Wagyl and how it created the currents around Penguin Island. The mosaic is located on the grassed area behind our gift shop and most people walk past it on their way to catch the ferry without realizing what it is. The story goes as follows:
Yagga (female) Wagyl left Bougal Rock one morning travelling down through Beverly to York with her brood where she created fresh water springs, there she left her brood with plenty of fresh water and food. As she wandered down the valley, she created a large hole and filled it with the waters that gushed out of the belly of mother earth. There came another Wagyl, a male, they fell in love and set out to father ocean far away to the west. On the way they created water holes, a river and laid eggs as they travelled. After a bitter argument, the Wagyls went their separate ways. The male Wagyl went north creating fresh water lakes and swamps and Yagga Wagyl travelled west heading out to sea. As she got near Dwart the dingo howled to warn Yagga Wagyl about Yondock the crocodile. Yagga Wagyl was so angry she swam out to sea and a great battle began. Yagga Wagyl won and Yondock lost his battle. After the battle Yagga Wagyl swam to Penguin Island to rest. As she came close the little penguins on the beach got such a fright they swam out to sea and hid in father ocean and only returned at night to feed and lay their eggs. Yagga Wagyl swam around and around the island, creating a hidden river. A trap for anyone who dared to walk across the sandbar to the island. The seal (Dwert) tries to warn you of the Wagyl but many don’t talk his language. So listen to him. Yagga Wagyl sets the trap when the tides return to father ocean. She lets you walk easily across the sandbar but when you try to return beware as the Wagyl lies beneath waiting for those who get caught when tides come rushing back to mother earth.
Penguin feeding at the Discovery Centre (10.30am, 12.30pm & 2.30pm)
The Discovery Centre is a viewing and interpretive facility for visitors to learn all about Penguin Islands most famous residents - the Little Penguin. The penguin feedings are presented by a Department of Parks and Wildlife ranger and usually last around 20 minutes, after which the rangers are available to answer any visitor questions.
Currently there are 10 resident little penguins. At 24 years of age, Lou is the oldest of the group. The youngest is yet to be named and is only a few months old. Sedge, Nemo, Noorook, Splash, Gerry, Tino, Sassy and Skip make up the rest of the group. These 10 penguins have been badly injured, orphaned as chicks or born in captivity and it is unlikely that they would survive in the wild. They must be enjoying their lives in the care of the rangers as most are outliving their life expectancies.
The Discovery Centre was built by the Department of Environment and Conservation in 1987. It has a dual purpose as an educational facility that can house up to 200 visitors as well as a sanctuary to care for injured wild penguins or those deemed unfit for release. It has been designed to reflect the penguins natural sandy, coastal scrub environment and includes a saltwater pond with viewing panels to watch the little penguins swim.
What else is there to do?
For the water lovers Penguin Island is blessed with white sandy beaches, dazzling crystal clear waters and colourful limestone reefs. It’s ideal for swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving, & fishing. You’re welcome to bring your gear across on the ferry with you or check out our good quality low cost range of snorkelling equipment available from our gift shop from $15. The sheltered waters and chain of limestone reefs also presents the best sea kayaking and stand up paddle boarding opportunities in Perth.
For nature & wildlife lovers, explore the network of timber boardwalks & coastal lookouts which boasts some of the best coastal scenery in Perth and has been voted one of ‘WA’s Top Nature Trails’. The island is a haven for sea birds many of which choose to nest right next to the boardwalks presenting fantastic viewing opportunities to see new born chicks (especially in September & October). Other wildlife highlights on Penguin Island include viewing the pelican rookeries (all year), spotting humpback whales cruising down the west side of the island from the southern lookout (September to December), the return of the Bridal Terns which migrate to Borneo every year (late October/ early November), spotting the friendly King Skinks (all year) and beach combing and exploring the rock pools on the west side of the island (all year).
For families, Penguin Island has always been a favourite day trip destination. Apart from the ever popular penguin feeding, the safe, shallow beaches on the front of the island are an ideal natural playground for young children to swim, snorkel & fish. Outside the Discovery Centre there is also a touch table full of shells, bones and other fascinating ‘things from the sea’ to keep the kids amused. Don’t forget to pack a picnic lunch to enjoy under the trees overlooking the spectacular marine park.
Catching the return ferry
Getting home is easy, no prior booking is required. Return ferries depart hourly from Penguin Island at 10.10am, 11.10am, 12.10pm, 1.10pm, 2.10pm, 3.10pm & 4pm sharp, just walk down to the jetty a few minutes before hand and show your ticket to the skipper prior to boarding. On busy days we just keep running the ferry until everyone is off the island. Please note Penguin Island closes to the public at 4pm so it’s important that you are waiting on the jetty by this time.
What to Bring
Penguin Island is primarily a conservation park for the wildlife so facilities have deliberately been kept to a minimum (there are no shops or cafes so you need to plan before you go). We recommend you bring your own food and drinks- there is an excellent picnic area that is very popular with visitors and you’re welcome to bring eskies and picnic baskets onboard the ferry. Please note there are no BBQ facilities and open flame or gas BBQ’s are prohibited on the island. You are also welcome to bring surfboards, fishing gear, snorkelling and dive gear onboard the ferry.
Facilities on the Island
Discovery Centre (First Aid Post)
Shaded, grassed picnic area
Fresh water drinking fountain
Public toilets & change rooms
Nature trail (timber boardwalks & look outs)
Sheltered swimming beaches
What to Wear
Dress appropriately for the weather. Comfortable footwear is recommended, most visitors wear thongs or sandals. Please be ‘sun smart’- hats and sunscreen is a must. Long sleeve or UV resistant shirts are a good idea especially for our international visitors. Make sure you bring your swimmers and towels. We recommend you bring a warm jacket as well (especially on the Dolphin, Penguin & Sea Lion Adventure Cruise ) as even in summer the afternoon sea breeze can get cold.
Parents with prams and people with disabilities
Prams, strollers & standard wheelchairs are welcome on our ferry & glass bottom boat. Our gangways make boarding these vessels easy and the network of timber boardwalks on the island provide good access to most points of interest. For passengers on the Dolphin, Penguin & Sea Lion Adventure Cruise, space is limited so prams, strollers & wheelchairs are stored on the ferry and then transferred to Penguin Island while you enjoy the cruise.
Gloves are recommended for visitors who wish to push the wheels of their wheelchairs.
Spotting penguins in the wild
Although the island is home to the largest colony of little penguins in WA, they can be difficult to spot in the wild as most of the year, daylight hours are spent at sea chasing fish. They do return to the island regularly approx 1 hour after sunset to rest and socialize. Most will then leave again before sunrise. Being a flightless sea bird they are most vulnerable to predators when they are on land which is why they leave, return and stay on the island mostly under the cover of darkness. On any given day some penguins will choose to stay on the island, however, they will tend to hide out in their burrows or other secluded places where they are protected from predators.
Although visitors should not expect to see little penguins waddling around in the open, on most days if you look carefully enough, you should be able to spot a couple of penguins in the wild. Some good places to look are underneath the boardwalks, especially where the staircases lead down to the beaches. They quite often hide under here during the day while unsuspecting tourists happily walk over the top of them none the wiser that there are penguins just underneath their feet! Also look carefully at the back of the limestone caves on the north eastern side of the island and around the more secluded rocky outcrops on either end of the western side of the island. As you walk around the island you will notice some green nesting boxes which have been installed by the rangers as additional nesting sites for the penguins. Please don’t touch these boxes but do have a look in the doorways as you may spot the penguins in there particularly as the breeding season approaches in May. Also listen carefully as you explore the island- often you may hear a penguin before you see one. They have an amazing range of vocalizations that have been described as like dogs barking or donkeys braying….. so if you hear strange animal noises coming from the vegetation, have a closer look as there is probably a little penguin not too far away!
At some times of the year, more of the penguins will stay on the island for extended times. For example, during the summer moulting period, the little penguins stay ashore for 6- 8 weeks while they shed their old feathers and grow a complete new set. Please note that this is an extremely stressful time for the penguins and visitors will often come into contact with them. To ensure that we minimize any visitor stress on the penguins we ask visitors to comply with the following guidelines:
Give the penguins at least 3- 5 metres of space
Keep quiet & relaxed. Avoid loud noises which may startle the penguins
If taking photographs please turn your flash off as it can damage the penguin’s eyes.
In extreme hot weather, little penguins may come out of hiding and stand in the shallows to cool down. This is a sign of heat stress and should be reported to a ranger or to the Discovery Centre so the penguin can be monitored. Please do not ‘assist’ the penguin into deeper water. During moulting they are not waterproof and can’t swim very well. Your kindness may unintentionally cause more stress to the penguin.
The easiest way to get close up look at the penguins is at one of the daily penguin feedings at the Discovery Centre hosted by Department of Environment & Conservation Rangers at 10.30am, 12.30pm & 2.30pm.
• Not touching or feeding the wildlife
No Touch or Take Flora and Fauna Policy
We ask people to respect the ‘No Touch or Take Flora or Fauna Policy’ while visiting Penguin Island and the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park by:
• Staying on the timber boardwalks and beaches when making your way around Penguin Island
• Leaving any shells, stones, bones, eggs or feathers where you find them (all parts of native fauna or flora, dead or alive, are protected under
WA Wildlife legislation).
• Conducting any fishing as per the WA Department of Fisheries regulations.
Great coffee & cakes, gourmet burgers, awesome fish & chips & fresh salads are available from Pengo's Café next door to Rockingham Wild Encounters gift shop. It’s the ideal place for a quick bite to eat for breakfast, lunch, before or after your visit to Penguin Island. Enjoy a meal under the shade sails of our alfresco area or have a picnic on the grass next to the children’s playground.
There is also a full range of freshly made rolls, wraps, salads as well as drinks and snacks to take away for a picnic on Penguin Island.
Pengo's is open daily:
8am- 4.30pm September 15 - Western Australia Public Holiday (the first weekend in June)
8am – 4pm Winter season
Inspired by the crystal blue waters and white sandy beaches of Shoalwater Bay, our ocean themed gift store stocks a range of home wares, gifts, souvenirs, clothes, children’s toys, jewellery and more.
Sept 1st to early June (WA public holiday)- 8.30am- 5pm
Early June (WA public holiday)- August 31st- 9am- 3pm
Penguin Island and the waters of Shoalwater Bay have always been regarded as a special place to visit by the people of Perth and have attracted some interesting characters over the years.
Penguin Island was probably first used by the Aboriginal people who have believed to have been in the area up to 12,000 years ago. A local aboriginal legend tells the story of Singing Rock located just to the north of Penguin Island. Apparently a local girl who ran off with her lover against tribal law was chased and caught. Her lover was speared to death while her punishment was to be imprisoned inside the rock. Legend has it that you can still hear the girl singing out to her lover today!
The first person to have lived on the Island was an eccentric New Zealander by the name of Seaforth McKenzie. He was described as a 'bearded man with gallant manners and a twinkling eye' and first squatted on the island in 1914. In 1918 McKenzie was granted an annual lease by the WA government and he set about establishing a holiday resort on the island. Several of the limestone caves on the eastern side of the island were hollowed out and crudely furnished for use as accommodation, a library and a small store where visitors could manage their own account as long as you left a fair amount of money or something of equal value. McKenzie also excavated a 'grand ballroom' known as the palace where he was crowned the 'King of Penguin Island' at a grand ceremony. He was a lover of literature and visitors were invited to his 'library cave' for lamp lit poetry readings. By all accounts visitors greatly admired and respected Seaforth McKenzie despite his eccentricities. McKenzie left the island in 1926 and returned home to his wife Sarah and six children in New Zealand after an absence of 45 years! Apparently he left home to go to work one day and failed to return- his explanation being that he had only just regained his memory of his family! Today the shifting sands of the island have changed much of McKenzie’s caves, but there are still some nails in the cave walls, his old well and some gnarled fig trees to remind us of the 'King of Penguin Island'
Over the years several private enterprises have leased parts of the island for budget style holiday shacks and carnival style entertainment. The lease for the island was bought out by the Department of Conservation and Land management in 1987 and is still currently managed by the Department as a Conservation Park. The shacks have been removed and in their place are the Penguin Experience Discovery Centre, the Western Mining Research and Management Centre and improved recreation facilities. The dedication of DEC and the staff who manage the islands will ensure that the spectacular natural beauty and wildlife of Penguin Island and the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park will be preserved for generations to come.