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Penguin Island and the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park

Rockingham, Perth, Western Australia

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The Facts

  • Quick Info: The Shoalwater Islands Marine Park consists of a large area of water and offshore islands, the most well-known being Penguin Island. In terms of walking, the park is limited to paths and beach walks on Penguin Island and along the foreshore of the mainland. You can walk in the sand or use the concrete paths which service most of the coastline (except for the Shoalwater Bay shoreline of Point Peron). The Shoalwater Islands Marine Park is popular with activities such as kite surfing, fishing, kayaking, stand up paddle-boarding, snorkelling, scuba diving and windsurfing. I formally lived in Shoalwater and never took part in such activities (I'm not that adventurous really), but I did enjoy walking along the coastline and going for a dip in the cool waters of Shoalwater Bay on hot summer days.
  • Getting There: There are car park facilities and bus stops along the coastline of the marine park. In terms of accessing Penguin Island, there is a car park at the Mersey Point Visitor Centre (Google Map Directions) where the ferry takes you to the island.
    To catch public transport to Mersey Point Visitors Centre, use the bus stop near the Safety Bay Post Office (Google Map Directions), which is the terminus for three separate bus services from Rockingham Train Station (Google Map Directions), and is only a short walk away from the ferry.
    It is possible to walk along the sandbar from the mainland to Penguin Island, but I would not recommend this, people have died trying this crossing. Just pay for the ferry unless you really know what you are doing and are a very strong swimmer. If you have a kayak or paddleboard, you could always float there as well.
  • Opening Hours: The paths and beaches along the mainland foreshore of the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park are open 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year (except Tern Island Nature Reserve which can be closed during the summer and spring when birds are nesting).
    Penguin Island is open every day (except December 25th) from September 15 to the Western Australia Day Public Holiday (early June). Please note that the service to Penguin Island is weather dependent, so check the Penguin Island website homepage. Penguin Island is not open all year round due to the penguin nesting season (they need a break from tourists).
    For more information on the ferry schedule and visitor centre opening times please visit Rockingham Wild Encounters.
  • Price: It costs nothing to walk the paths and beaches along the mainland foreshore of the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park.
    Penguin Island itself costs nothing if you walk across the sandbar (not suggested) or kayak across. I suggest you take the ferry. At the time of writing the basic return ferry journey to Penguin Island costs AU$14 for a child, AU$16 for a concession and AU$18 for an adult (for up to date info click here). If you would like to actually see penguins on Penguin Island (it is unlikely that you will see wild penguins when you walk around the island) you can also visit the Discovery Centre on the island, which homes a number of rescue penguins with feedings three times a day. The Discovery Centre comes at an additional small cost (click here for more information), but I personally think it is worth it.
    There are plenty of other activities that Rockingham Wild Encounters offer at the Mersey Point Visitor Centre, from swimming with dolphins to sea kayak tours. My mum and I tried the Dolphin Cruise and really enjoyed it, we saw an Australian Sealion and plenty of dolphins. Just remember to bring a warm jacket, even if it is warm on the mainland, as it gets rather windy and chilly. The same can be said about Penguin Island as well, it can get rather chilly and windy.
  • Facilities: Along the mainland foreshore of the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park there is water, toilets, BBQ and picnic tables, and several locations to purchase provisions. On Penguin Island there are composting toilets, water taps, picnic tables but no BBQ’s or stores to purchase provisions.

The Story

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Information

The Shoalwater Islands Marine Park covers approximately 6658 hectares and stretches from Becher Point at Port Kennedy in the south to just north of Cape Peron. Within the marine park are several islands including Seal Island, Shag Island and Bird Island. The only island that can be explored by the public is Penguin Island, which can be accessed by a ferry from the Mersey Point Visitor Centre.

The Shoalwater Islands Marine Park is home to a wide variety of marine life including little penguins, Australian Sealions and the commonly spotted bottlenose dolphin. The jagged limestone islands and outcrops are an important seabird breeding site for little penguins, pelicans, seagulls, silver gulls and Caspian Terns.

The relatively calm and clear waters of the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park make it ideal for several recreational activities such as swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving, fishing, pleasure boating, kayaking and paddle-boarding.

While I am no guru on water sports and the ecological significance of the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park (see some of the links to resources below for a better explanation), I did live in the area for several years and enjoyed walking along the shoreline of the marine park and occasionally Penguin Island.

As metrotrekker.com is all about walking, I will give a description of what you will find on a walk from the from north to south along the coast of the Shoalwater Island Marine Park and Penguin Island.

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Point Peron

The most northern section of the marine park includes the Shoalwater Bay shoreline of Point Peron (Point Peron by the locals, but official I think it is called Cape Peron). Point Peron is a great place to explore. Points of interest include rocky limestone cliffs, World War II ruins and a lookout that reaches over the cliffs for great views. In the spring wildflowers are abundant and keep an eye out for dolphins feeding close to shore. Point Peron is also a fantastic place to watch the sun go down.

The shoals and rock pools around Point Peron are popular snorkelling spots. Although I’m not a snorkeller myself, I was honoured when one of my coastline photographs at Point Peron was included in the Newsletter of the Malacological Society of Australasia. The article on Page 5 is about sea slugs in the area.

Shoalwater

Shoalwater Bay provides great views of Penguin Island, Seal Island and Shag Rock. For the most spectacular views sunset is a great time to walk. Be on the lookout for an array of seabirds and dolphins. Even if the wildlife doesn't make an appearance the stunning views of jagged limestone islands surrounded by light blue shallow waters make this one of the best walks in the Rockingham region.

The northern section of the walk along Point Peron is a beach walk and unpaved. Also, watch out for the tide along this northern beach section, you won't get washed away but the path can become quite narrow. The walk is fully paved south from the corner of Boundary Road and Arcadia Drive.

The section of beach from the corner of Boundary Road and Arcadia Drive is a great place for a swim, the water is calm, and the amount of seaweed is generally less than other sections along the shoreline of the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park.

Penguin Island

At the southern end of Shoalwater bay is Mersey Point and a submerged sandbar which links to Penguin Island. Due to the penguin nesting season, Penguin Island is not always open to the public, but when it is, it is well worth a walk.

As already suggested, it is best to take the ferry to Penguin Island from the Mersey Point Visitors Centre. The ride is only a few minutes long.

After a short walk along the Penguin Island Jetty to the Discovery Centre, you can either go left or right to complete the loop walk around the island. Today, we will take a right to the north and pass by the picnic area to a boardwalk through the vegetation. The boardwalk also provides access to the beach on the north-east of the island.

One of my favourite sections of the boardwalk is to a lookout at the north of the island. The view over the other islands and Shoalwater Bay is spectacular.

The area is also popular for nesting birds.

At this point, I think it is a good time to remind you that Penguin Island is a very active nesting spot and that such bird behaviour influences where you can walk on the island. The last time I visited Penguin Island birds were nesting near the northern lookout, and because the birds were aggressive to visitors the lookout was closed off. Please remember that such incidents occur, and they may affect your visit.

The boardwalk ends at the north of Penguin Island and the trail becomes a beach walk along the western shoreline of the island. One of the most striking features of the western beach must be the weathered limestone cliffs.

The white sands of the beach end halfway down the island and rocky formations dominate.

The path heads back into the vegetation via a boardwalk.

On this southern section of the loop is a boardwalk and staircase which leads to a high lookout.

Funnily enough, I have visited Penguin Island at least 5 times, and every time I have never been able to access this lookout due to nesting Pelicans. I guess I just come at the wrong time of year. Those pelicans sure do like to nest in a premium location.

The boardwalk continues to the east before reaching a small beach.

The loop walk around Penguin Island is only about 1.5km long and could be easily completed in under an hour. I suggest taking your time and enjoying the scenery. Bring your swimmers, a towel and some food and you could easily spend a few hours enjoying the island.

The Pond

The Pond, as the name suggests, is a body of water, but it's not your usual garden variety pond. The Pond is a protected body of water formed from a sandspit (a deposit of sand formed at a shoreline) that heads into the waters of Warnbro Sound at Safety Bay. Due to its location, The Pond is very popular with kite surfers. When the breeze is up, you will find a mass of colourful kites in the air and acrobatic kiteboarders at the water's surface.

The sandspit itself is called Tern Island Nature Reserve, and much like Penguin Island is a significant habitat for nesting birds. I enjoy walking around the shoreline of the spit, but please do not enter the vegetation of this important wildlife habitat. Also, Tern Island Nature Reserve can be closed during the summer and spring when birds are nesting.

Warnbro Sound

Warnbro Sound is a beautiful blue and calm expanse of water from Mersey Point in the north to Becher Point at Port Kennedy in the South. The coastline is serviced by wide concrete paths from Mersey Point to the Point Kennedy Boat Ramp carpark. Along the way, there are spectacular coastal views, parks with amenities and plenty of opportunities for a swim (there is even a nude beach near the Port Kennedy Golf Club if you are keen).

A highlight of the path is the section which deviates of away from the road (at the corner of Warnbro Beach Road and Shelton Road) and heads into the dunes. Climb the staircases to the highest dunes to get the best views. There are also plenty of opportunities for a walk along the beach.

The Video

Recommended Read

Points of Interest

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Nearby Walks

Resources

Shoalwater Islands Marine Park: A Western Australia Government brochure on the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park.

Shoalwater Island Marine Park : Western Australia Government website on the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park.

Penguin Island : Official website of Penguin Island by Rockingham Wild Encounters.

Western Australia Fisheries: Website by the WA Fisheries Department.

Welcome

Hello, I'm Marc and welcome to metrotrekker.

Be it seeing the city sights, exploring parklands and gardens, urban walks or day-hikes in the city outskirts, the metrotrekker website details walking routes and hiking trails accessible by foot and public transport in metropolitan areas.

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Pleasant Trails,
Metrotrekker Marc

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