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Close encounters with the penguins at Low Head

Some of the best holiday experiences are the ones discovered by chatting with other travellers.  We find that with BJ using a wheelchair, with bats on the wheel guards, we stand out in the crowd.  People often remember us from another day’s touring and are quite chatty and friendly.
We ran into two families a couple of times in our first week of touring Tasmania.  Both had done the Penguin Tour at Low Head and suggested it was a “must do”.  We love animal experiences but we didn’t know how we would fit it into the itinerary.  Kids have a way of pleading and showing such enthusiasm that it is hard to refuse.  If I tell the truth, I was busting to do it too.
We thought it was a good idea to check wheelchair access even though it was mentioned on the brochure.  Everyone’s idea of access is different so it is always wise to enquire.  Shirley, the tour operator, advised access was possible and asked us to confirm by 5.30pm if we would like to do the 6.30pm tour, so she could put on an extra guide to accommodate the fact we had a wheelchair.  I loved her attitude – it was casual, flexible and we were amazed everything could be arranged at such short notice. It was like a wheelchair was no bother at all.   We commented, “only in Tasmania”.
Our day’s plans worked out ensuring we had enough time to make the drive to Low Head for the tour.  We confirmed with Shirley, as required and looked forward to the evening.
Arriving ahead of schedule we headed into George Town (the town before Low Head) to see if we could find somewhere to have an early dinner.  The Pier Hotel, the local pub, was the perfect spot.  It was by the water, had ramp access and a large accessible bathroom.  The pub menu was family friendly with pizza, burgers and other casual food.
The sun started setting and the light was beautiful.  After dinner we headed to the path along the waterfront and strolled along while admiring the yachts moored and the perfection of the evening.  It was so still and quiet.  It would be hard to find a spot in Sydney that would be as peaceful at 6pm.  While AJ was scouring the sand for treasures of precious pebbles we heard a loud exhale of breath come from the water and spied some ripples.  We continued to watch the water and we were thrilled to see a seal doing its laps.  Like a sports person in training the seal seemed to have a drive and determination and was not the least bit distracted by our squeals of delight.  It was hard to tear ourselves away from the scene but the penguins weren’t going to delay their beach walk for us.
By the time we arrived at the penguin tour it was dark.  We prepared ourselves for the chill of the evening with jackets and gloves.  Even on the coldest night I am sure once we spotted the penguins we wouldn’t feel the cold.
We were split into two groups.  Hubby and AJ joined the main group to go down on to the beach and BJ and I stayed up on an accessible platform with our guide Shirley.  Shirley gave us a talk about the penguins, their breeding routine and dazzled me with the amount of information and the speed with which she could share it.  I was madly trying to absorb it all but feared I may not. The guides had special amber torches that were safe for the penguins eyes.  They were still very efficient at illuminating the beach and water.
We heard the barking of the penguins before they emerged from the surf.  I was so filled with anticipation that when the first one emerged from the water I squealed.  I said to AJ later “I was so excited when I saw the first penguin I squealed”
 She said, in THAT tone, “I know Mum I heard you”
Shirley our tour guide, is a determined lady and she was on a mission to ensure BJ had a close encounter with the penguins.  Her knowledge of their routine meant that she knew exactly where to place BJ in his chair to have the penguins walk right on by.  The penguins were a little wary, not of the wheelchair, but when BJ made sudden movements.  I don’t blame them as they are only 30cm in height so I am sure he must have seemed a giant in his chair.
Hubby and AJ joined us and BJ was very happy to have his sister with him.  He was much calmer with her by his side.  They sat together and had the penguins go right past their legs.  We saw the penguins head to their burrows in the Box Thorn bush where their partners were waiting and calling to them.  The guides were so fantastic in spending time to ensure it was the best possible experience.
Although we were probably there an hour, it was like all good things, we just didn’t want it to end.
After an encounter like that everyone in our family tends to be on a real high.  We all got back to the car and were babbling on about what we had seen and that was when AJ declared “that was the most awesome experience we have EVER done”.  She couldn’t wait to tell me what had happened down on the beach and how she had to move her leg because one of the penguins came so close.
As we were pulling away from the parking area we rang home so she could share the news with her grandparents back in Sydney.  We were alarmed when Hubby braked suddenly but when we looked we could see why.  Crossing the road in front of us were two penguins.  It was almost like they understood that we hadn’t had enough and gave us one last look.
If you would like to do this experience contact       Low Head Penguin Tours, Shirley 0418 361 860,


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