Friday, 1 January 2016

Kayaking to Penguin Island, Western Australia


I am writing this while I'm still in my mega-excited, over-the-moon, ecstatic phase, so I apologise if this post becomes a bit chattery!

Today (Wednesday 30th of Dec, as I write the first draft) we decided to head about an hour South of Perth to a place called Rockingham. We aimed to kayak out to Penguin Island, where Australian Sea Lions play around the kayaks, and there is a possibility, but no guarantee, of seeing dolphins!

*From right to left: Penguin Island, Shag Rock and Seal Island*

There are guided tours organised, which can be good for beginners, however these come at a hefty $179 per person. So we decided we'd hire some kayaks. After googling a few hire places near by, we went to check them out. Option number 1 was no longer in the place it said it was. Out of business, or moved and not updated the website, I have no idea. Option 2 only ran the guided tours - they hadn't hired out kayaks for three years. GOOGLE FAIL. We decided a last attempt by asking the local surf shop, and at last we had some success! The kind shop assistant directed us into a very residential, cul-de-sac-type area, and there it was. A normal house, with a small sign outside, renting kayaks, buoyancy aids included. Total was roughly $180 for 4 individuals in two double kayaks - 4x cheaper than the guided tour, and the only difference was we didn't get a packed lunch! The wonderful lady, Hayley, who rented us the kayaks (see details at the end of this post if you're interested in hiring from her) even drove the kayaks to the shore for us.

Off we went, with the plan to visit Seal Island first, paddle around it (people are not allowed to set foot on Seal Island) before heading to Penguin Island for some snorkelling and a rest, before heading back to the mainland. The first jaunt was pretty calm, and within 10 minutes, we encountered our first piece of wildlife: a dolphin.

*Unfortunately the GoPro seems to have a video missing, so I have nothing to show you - no idea what happened, being it was on video mode and set to take photo's every 30 seconds. The photos are there but the video is not?! Very strange :( I will try to recover any lost files though and hopefully have a video for you all soon!*

I cannot put into words the overwhelming emotions I felt when I saw this beautiful, majestic creature swimming in front of us. Dolphins have been one of my favourite animals since basically birth, and this was the first time I'd seen one swimming in the wild. I burst into floods of tears and didn't stop crying for a good 5 to 10 minutes (apologies if you can hear the sobs in the GoPro video...). From that moment, this was already one of the best days of my life.

*If you've got good eyesight, you may be able to make out the sea lion in front of the kayak, in the lighter area of water*

We headed towards Seal Island, which is covered with beautiful Australian Sea Lions who we had heard adore the kayaks. As we got closer to what we thought was a massive rock, we realised it was in fact a humongous male sea lion and I will not lie, a little dear ran through me! We backed off slightly and sat watching the sea lion sunbathing on their own little island, unaltered by man. Then a friendly furry face popped up next to the kayaks! No word of lie, they really do love the kayaks! A nosey little fella pottered around our two kayaks for quite a while, before heading back to the beach. Incredible!

We paddled around the edge of Seal Island, with the aim of paddling right around. But the reefs and surf looked a little risky, so we headed back. Which was perfectly fine, as the water was crystal clear, with beautiful reefs all around. The water is fairly shallow around this area, so don't be put off if you're too worried about depths. The shallowness was actually more of an issue, as you need to be wary to avoid reefs and the sandbank between Penguin Island and the Mainland. On our trip back around to the beach of Seal Island, we also saw some beautiful birds of prey, which we are thinking are Osprey, but I have yet to verify this! As we paddled around, the same sea lion that was playing before saw us returning, and came out from the beach to play yet again! :)

Then the waters turned a little. No longer calm, the wind picked up and the waves got higher. it was an extremely tough paddle towards Penguin Island. This is made extra-hard when you're paddling with your other half who is not the most comfortable with waves and open water! But we powered through, and it seriously paid off, as when we got ourselves closer to Penguin Island, the waves subsided a little to show us a whole pod of dolphins swimming only a couple of meters from the kayaks! AHHH, MY DREAMS HAVE COME TRUE!!!

Thankfully, Penguin Island gave us a much needed rest from some tough paddling! We stayed long enough for some snorkelling and sunbathing. We didn't manage to see any penguins however. Must have been hiding unfortunately. After half an hour we headed back on our journey home. Again, full of waves, but this was nothing after the waves we'd encountered earlier! Almost getting stuck on the sandbank was a bigger issue but thankfully was avoided, and we let the afternoon strong breeze take us back into shore, with the waves at our backs, almost surfing our way back to the beach, with windsurfers weaving in and out of our kayaks.

It was honestly one of the best days of my life! So much wildlife: dolphins, sea lions, pelicans, and many, many other sea birds! Highly recommended to EVERYONE!

Anyone around the Perth area, visitors or local, who is interested: It's only an hour-ish South of Perth city, easily accessible via the freeway. Since we've been kayaking for years, we hired out kayaks from Hayley, and the easiest way to reach her is via phone: 0474089272 or if you're driving around, head down Rae Road, and you'll see her driveway full of kayaks and a small sign advertising hiring. It's good quality gear, including buoyancy aids, and she'll give you her opinion on the winds, tides etc too. Will even drop them off at the beach for you, and pick you up! You can take part in the guided tours, offered by several companies, however these will set you back a fair bit of money, and in my own opinion, if you're confident in kayaking already and have a good head on your for judging waves and watching out for reefs, I very highly recommend hiring them as per above.

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