Why We Travel: Penguins!

Melbourne was our favorite city in Australia. It doesn’t get as much hype as Sydney, Australia’s largest city, but we loved this artsy, diverse and walkable city. Melbourne has many draws and a big one for us was the beach suburb of St. Kilda. We aren’t really beach people, so there must be something really special about a beach to make us trek out there. St. Kilda has several things going for it – including being a home for penguins! Let’s walk through the day so you can see what makes this hour-long trip on the tram worth it:

St. Kilda beach. Beautiful and (on the day we were there) empty!

St. Kilda beach. Beautiful and (on the day we were there) empty!

The beach is big and beautiful. When we got there in the afternoon the beach was deserted. It was a bit chilly, yes, but it was deserted mostly because it was super windy! We were being whipped by sand, which is even less pleasant than you are imagining. We just a quick walk along the water’s edge then we got the heck away from there!

Luna Park

Luna Park

Melbourne has it’s very own Luna Park! After doing some research, the Luna Parks around the world are not actually related and the name was simply borrowed. This Luna Park originally opened in 1912! Like the Luna Park in Coney Island, it has a wooden roller coaster.

Making funny faces (Dan didn't get the memo) in the crazy mirrors.

Making funny faces (Dan didn’t get the memo) in the crazy mirrors.

We wandered the park for a while, made some silly faces and had some fun. No rides for us as many were actually closed for the afternoon because of the strong winds!

After our Luna Park fun, it was time to head to dinner. Lucky for us vegans, there is at least one excellent option in St. Kilda for dinner: Lentil as Anything. Lentil as Anything is a vegetarian (mostly vegan) not-for-profit restaurant with an awesome concept. It is pay what you wish. The St. Kilda location has been surviving on this concept ever since it opened in 2001. Beautiful! And the food:

Savory vegan pancakes.

Savory vegan pancakes.

Pumpkin curry on the left, dal on the right.

Pumpkin curry on the left, dal on the right.

Beautiful, healthy, homely, and tasty. I love the Lentil as Anything concept and was really happy to support them and enjoy their tasty food. There was a wait, as I assume there almost always is, but it wasn’t too long and we made some friends while waiting!

After dinner it was time for the main event! The reason we traveled an hour by tram from Melbourne’s central business district: Penguins! Little (or Fairy) Penguins, to be precise.

Luna Park and the Palais Theatre at sunset.

Luna Park and the Palais Theatre at sunset.

The penguins don’t come back to dry land until it is getting dark to avoid predators, so we started walking out to the St. Kilda breakwater, where the colony lives, at sunset.

Sunset off of the St. Kilda breakwater.

Sunset off of the St. Kilda breakwater.

Then it was penguin time!

Little (Fairy) Penguin #1.

Little (Fairy) Penguin #1.

At St. Kilda, they smartly built a little walkway for humans that takes you right next to the penguins without allowing you to walk on their breakwater home. This way the penguins are safe to inhabit their home but the humans can get within 4 feet of them! It was amazing how close we were.

Little (Fairy) Penguin #2.

Little (Fairy) Penguin #2.

These cuties are the world’s smallest penguins, only growing to 13 inches high and 3 lbs! They have excellent vision, hence the strict orders to not use flash photography. So, sorry for the slightly dark photos. We were just protecting their eyes!

Little (Fairy) Penguin #3.

Little (Fairy) Penguin #3.

At the St. Kilda breakwater, there is a trained volunteer working there every night, available to answer any questions you have about these adorable penguins. We would have stuck around longer and pestered her with a million questions (and stared at the penguins for hours, obviously), but it was still insanely windy and the waves were crashing over the breakwater and drenching us!

So, if you are ever in Melbourne, we highly recommend taking a little side trip to St. Kilda for a day of beach fun, awesome vegan food, a beautiful sunset, and penguins! Just choose a nicer day than we did!

Why We Travel: Featuring Baby Turtles!

Sometimes it’s hard to even pull yourself away from your desk for lunch. However, when you do have the opportunity to travel, you can truly be blown away by what you see. There was one destination we visited that had more unique and diverse wildlife than any other; The Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Australia Lady Elliot Island Coral Cay

Lady Elliot Island on the Great Barrier Reef

Lady Elliot Island is situated on the southernmost end of the Great Barrier Reef. It is a small island known as a coral cay built slowly over thousands of years as coral breaks off and collects in shallow water. It is remote and the only human inhabitants come from the small “eco-resort” that hosts about 150 guests at a time. Humans are greatly outnumbered on and around the island by birds, tropical fish, manta rays and endangered turtles.

For this post we will focus on the celebrities of the island: endangered sea turtles. We were fortunate to be on the island during hatching season. Hatchlings usually come out at night. Even during hatching season you still need to be in the right place at the right time before the baby sea turtles race to the water. It was only our second day on the island when we heard shouting coming from the beach. We rushed over and arrived in time to see this little green sea turtle making a break for the ocean.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUHiOkMgrV0

It’s a rare sight to see a baby sea turtle during broad daylight as they usually wait for the cooler temperatures after the sun sets so they can navigate to the water under cover of darkness to protect themselves from predators. Fortunately, this turtle had no trouble making for the open water with the protection of his 40 or so human guides.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y53dg0oafQ8

When a turtle hatches, it heads for the brightest light, which without electricity would be the moon and the stars reflecting off of the ocean. One reason sea turtles are so threatened is the presence of artificial light. While Lady Elliot Island has relatively few inhabitants at any one time, there is still ample light to distract the turtles. Over the next few nights we saw even more hatchlings come up out of the sand and move immediately toward the brightly lit bar area. It took a team of flashlight-equipped employees and vacationing volunteers (us!) to help navigate the turtles one by one back toward the ocean.

Sea Turtle swimming in ocean

Sea turtle swimming in coral lagoon

The sad reality is that these animals are endangered and there are very few places where you can still see them in their natural environment. They say only one in a thousand sea turtles make it back to its birthplace to nest thirty years after hatching.

We were fortunate to see so many of these elegant creatures. In fact, we got to experience the entire life cycle of the sea turtles. We saw turtles nesting, hatching and swimming free in the lagoon next to the island. Once in a lifetime experiences like this are why we travel. We did everything we could to help guide those turtles to the ocean with the hope that future generations will enjoy the same opportunity we did.