Sunday, 17 February 2019

Penguin Island Boardwalk Trail (Penguin Island Conservation Park)

One of Trails WA's Top Trails, the Penguin Island Boardwalk Trail explores its namesake island. Starting at the ferry jetty, the trail heads across boardwalks to a lookout point at its highest point before reaching the western beaches and a popular snorkel point. Heading back across the island, the boardwalk leads to a series of caves and the Penguin Discovery Centre. A very short but enjoyable walk worth doing if in the area

Distance: 1.5 km (return)
Gradient: Some minor descents and ascents, particularly to the two lookouts
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained, mostly on wooden boardwalks surfaces with some beach walking
Quality of Signage: Clear trailheads at various locations along the trail
Experience Required: No Previous Bushwalking Experience Required
Time: 60-90 minutes return
Steps: Many steps to the lookouts
Best Time to Visit: All Year
Entry Fee: No, however there is a fee if using the ferry service
Getting There: Ferries depart from the jetty at the end of Penguin Rd. Alternatively, the island can be reached by private craft. A sandbar across to the island is considered dangerous and has led to a number of deaths as such, the official advice is not to use the sandbar although it is not outright banned

With most of our Summer attention on snorkeling rather than hiking, a snorkeling trip to the western side of Penguin Island was the perfect opportunity to combine a multi-modal exploration of the the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park and to finally do the Penguin Island Boardwalk Trail. One of Trails WA's Top Trails, it had been something Alissa and I had been wanting to check out for a number of years but had never had any reason to be in the area.

Joined by our friend Mark Pybus (of Life of Py fame), Mark and I initially planned to paddle across the channel to the island. Having only two kayaks, Alissa decided to walk across the sandbar given that the tide was out and the conditions were calm. After paddling to accompany Alissa, Mark and I decided the conditions were calm enough that it would probably be easier to just walk it, so we hopped out of the kayaks and used them as excessively over-qualified pack rafts.

I would be remiss to point out that the sandbar crossing can be a bit of a risky move if you are not a strong swimmer, and people have died here in the past.

Our assessment at the time was that the crossing was safe enough on the day of our visit, but conditions can change drastically and the official advice is to not make the crossing on foot and to instead use the ferry.

Arriving at the beach just south of the ferry jetty, Mark, Alissa and I followed the beach to start the Penguin Island Boardwalk Trail. Following the beach, the trail leads towards the dunes and begins its climb up and over the surprisingly high inland of Penguin Island.

Penguin Island is so named due to being home to a colony of Fairy Penguins. These adorable little penguins spend most of their daylight hours hunting for fish in the surrounding waters of Penguin Island and as such are more commonly see at dusk or dawn. On the day of our visit, we kept our eyes open but sadly did not see any penguins on the island.

We did instead spot this purple crab scuttling along the beach just below the stairs.

Rising up the stairs, the three of us followed the boardwalk across the island to the western side.

From the mainland, the highest point of the island is a surprisingly tall and conspicuous. Along the boardwalk, a side trail rises up toward a lookout at the highest point.

From this high point, it became clear that the southernmost point of the island had been gazetted as a bird sanctuary with no entry permitted. Given how many habitats we humans have reduced for animals it is always heartening to see areas like this put aside for the purpose of animals ahead of humans.

A coin operated set of binoculars are available at the lookout point for visitors to use, presumably to check out if there are any penguins in the sanctuary zone.

Looking north, the lookout provides outstanding views of Penguin Island and the surrounding waters of Shoalwater Islands Marine Park. Just beyond Penguin Island, Seal Island can be seen. Home to a rare colony of Australian Sea Lions, the island is another popular area for visitors to the marine park to explore by kayak - though landing on the island is prohibited.

Back down from the lookout, Mark, Alissa and I continue on our way to our snorkeling destination.

The trail leaves the boardwalk and heads along the western coast. The waves here were pretty rough and we were wondering about the suitability of the conditions for snorkeling.

Continuing to the end of the beach, we left the trail itself and passed through an area of interesting limestone formations to a more sheltered cove I had seen from Google Maps satellite images.

Walking over the limestone rocks, we were relieved to find conditions were much more conducive to snorkeling.

The interesting limestone formations in this area were definitely worth checking out, and while penguins remained elusive in this area, the small limestone caves and overhangs were filled with pigeons.

The snorkeling in the area was good but not amazing. There were a few fish and quite a lot of sea urchins, but the overall quality was a lot lower than the much better snorkeling on Rottnest Island, and of course it would be entirely unfair to even compare this area to Ningaloo Reef. Nevertheless, it was fun swimming through the limestone reef and seaweed and was a nice and easy snorkel.

After 40 minutes of snorkeling, Mark, Alissa and I made our way back out onto the trail.

As a mirror reflection of the previous stretch of boardwalk, the trail rises up a series of stairs and makes its way across the vegetated interior of the island.

Another side trip leads to a lower lookout point that again features coin operated binoculars to look across to Seal Island.

Looking north at the reefs beyond, it made me wonder if we had maybe stopped a bit short and should have continued a bit further north as the area seemed to be filled with a lot of limestone reefs. Something for us to think about exploring on another visit.

From the lookout side trail, the boardwalk leads back to the jetty and the Penguin Discovery Centre while offering walkers the option to continue on more boardwalk to the jetty or to take the beach.

With little houses along the stairs, Mark and I decided to continue down towards the beach in the hopes of seeing a penguin, while Alissa took the boardwalk instead.

The beach is worth exploring as heading northwards reveals a series of limestone caves along the coast. These caved are cordoned off and appear to be home to the island's resident penguins. Alas, there were none at the time of our visit. Mark and I agreed we should definitely come back at dusk or dawn some other time to see if we could get a photo of these little aquatic birds.

Back from the caves, the trail runs along the beach and towards a picnic area near the Penguin Discovery Centre

Looking back across the bay, we could see we weren't the only people kayaking here today, with what looked like a tour coming in at the beach.

The Penguin Discovery Centre offers regular presentations and penguin feedings. Unfortunately all the shows were full for at least 45 minutes at the time of our arrival and we agreed it was better to save it for another time. We did however hear penguins on the other side giving out an excited 'Wahk!' sound as they were about to be fed.

Just beyond the Penguin Discovery Centre, the boardwalk continues to the right back towards where we started the walk.

We decided however to make it a full circuit and headed along the boardwalk to the jetty. We found however there was no easy stairs leading to the beach were our kayaks were and we ended up having to climb down to the beach and walk under the jetty.

From there it was an easy walk back across to the mainland, with a bit of swimming thrown in for good measure.

Having had Penguin Island on our bucket list for some time, it was great to finally tick this area off as it made a nice half day of kayaking, walking and snorkeling. The trail itself is pleasant enough and is of a high quality standard, however it does seem like a bit of an oversell to call it a Top Trail given its meagre 1.5 kilometre length when there are better coastal walks that didn't make the cut (like Bald Head in Albany). Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile trail to explore if you do happen to head across to Penguin Island for a snorkel or for some bird watching, which itself is worth the visit. 


Post a comment