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Penguins and Snowy River Bush Festival

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I was recently telling a friend about a trip to Australia my husband and I are planning. We know we want to attend "The Man From Snowy River Bush Festival," held in Corryong each year on the first weekend in April. Has anyone been to the festival? My friend told me you can't go to Australia without seeing the penguins. Is seeing the penguins as worthwhile as she seems to think?

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    Here's an excerpt from my recent trip report:

    We had one full day off in Melbourne and decided to use it to see the penguins on Phillip Island. All the tours I researched included places I didn’t care about: i.e., a winery (I don’t drink); a chocolate factory (I don’t eat chocolate); a farm that seemed exactly another one I’d visited. But, as much as I’d have liked the time to explore Phillip Island on my own, it wasn’t worth the hassle of renting a car for the day, and driving back in the dark—after the penguin parade.

    We chose “Go West” Tours – a smaller group that went in a large van/mini-bus ($130 per person). Our driver/tour guide was hilarious—and the tour was set to music. So, for instance, as we approached the chocolate factory, songs such as “The Candy Man,” and “The Good Ship Lollipop” played over the sound system. It was a nice, fun touch.

    The winery stop would have been enjoyable – if I ate and drank the things that were served! I’d envisioned a tour of vineyards and the wine-making facilities. But this was just about visiting a café and gift shop. So I sat there and watched everyone else taste the wines, artisan breads, jams; and cheeses. The connoisseurs were not impressed with the wines.

    Next stop: the chocolate factory. Pleasant – but not great. There was an admission charge (included in the tour) which could only be justified if you planned to scarf up lots of free samples. There were chocolate sculptures of penguins; Dame Edna; Michelangelo’s “David,” and lots of samples. The items available in the shop were VERY expensive. So far, the tour was not exactly stellar.

    On Phillip Island, our guide added a bonus—a stop at a famous race car track. Who cared about looking at a race track? But then we spotted the kangaroos – a huge herd of them!!! Apparently, they often congregate next to the race track. Who knew kangaroos were NASCAR fans? Hehehe.

    Then, on to the koala sanctuary. Now, things were looking up (literally!). This isn’t a zoo—and there are no cages. It’s an enormous enclosed nature preserve where the koalas live in trees, and the tourists walk through on a platform gawking at them. Our first viewing was a mother and baby – quite close. They were kind enough to pose for some fantastic photos, much to the delight of the tourists.

    These koalas were quite a bit larger than the ones we’d seen in N. Queensland. Adorable! We eventually tore ourselves away and continued along the boardwalk where we saw quite a few other koalas—but they were much farther away—higher up in the trees. It was a pretty area, and I would have enjoyed a longer stay—but the tour packed in quite a bit, and we had a schedule to keep.

    We had a very short dinner stop in Cowes, where there were a variety of restaurants. The beach across from the restaurant was beautiful, and I would have loved 30 minutes to wander, but I only had time for a few quick photos—then back on the bus.

    The “Nobbies” was our next stop. En route, we spotted quite a few wallabies. The Nobbies is an area of Phillip Island that is absolutely stunning. The coast was wild and rugged, and studded with rock formations, and the views from the cliffs were gorgeous. It was reminiscent of some of the prettiest Irish or Scottish coasts. We had sufficient time to walk the path along the cliff and take lots of photos. The sea birds were awesome; the water was the most intense blue; and it was a non-stop Kodak moment.

    Now, it was time for the main attraction: The Penguins! A friend had mentioned that paying extra for a “premium” seat in the bleachers was a waste of money. WRONG!!! Thank heavens we sprung for the extra $15 per person, saying, “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime-experience …” It was – and the better viewing area made a huge difference.

    Our guide served coffee, tea, and cookies as he explained that the penguins’ main predators are large birds, such as eagles and hawks. He told us that the penguins would gather into groups to look larger, before emerging from the water and taking the risky, unprotected journey across the beach. From our “premium viewing stand” we watched as the penguins poked their heads above the water, waiting until dusk provided safety. Several times, they’d begin to come onto the beach, then rush back to the safety of the water if a bird flew overhead.

    When they felt it was dark enough to venture across the beach safely, the first penguins came out of the water and waddled right past our viewing stand, en route to their burrows in the hills just past the beach. They stopped and preened, apparently unfazed by the presence of humans. Special lights allowed us to see the penguins—without disturbing them. I soon realized that I could get a much better view if I left the stands and crouched down to their eye level beside the path they walked to get to their burrows. They were SO cute—and OMG, close enough to touch (which is forbidden – and there are rangers watching).

    It was the height of penguin mating season, and the pengies are not shy I hadn’t heard sounds like that since I lived in West Hollywood! Before we left, I’d been within a few feet of at least 1,000 wild penguins. Not being permitted to take any photos was akin to a hideous, new form of torture for me. But they’re very strict about “No Photography” whatsoever. They don’t want an accidental (or intentional) flash to spook the penguins. Apparently, we had an exceptionally good turnout, and the experience will forever be a cherished memory, and a highlight of my Australian trip.

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    Wow-That sounds amazing!

    Thanks so much for taking the time to relate your story. I'm happy to know all the things you enjoyed as well as the not so hot aspects of your tour. This kind of honesty allows people to make more informed choices in their travel options.

    I'll check out the rest of your trip report to see where else you went. Thanks again for sharing!

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    Wow--a "mob" of kangaroos! Who knew???

    FYI, I have LOTS of trip reports because I'm lucky enough to return every year to work in Australia and NZ. Other peoples' reports have been very helpful--and I hope mine will help, as well.

    You'll see that I had an amazing time the previous year, visiting the Grampians and the Great Ocean Road. Also loved our time in Queensland.

    I read about "The Man From Snowy River Bush Festival" and it sounds like quite an experience! Hope you have a wonderful trip.

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