The words 'adorable' and 'manly' don't often go together, but when adorable describes the fairy penguins who seasonally reside at Manly beach, the combination is quite apt. Fairy penguins are the smallest breed of penguin in the world, not weighing more than one kilogram, and they live in Australia and NZ, (lucky for us) as far north as Manly.
At one point, a couple hundred fairy penguins lived there at Manly, but numbers have dwindled to around 60 pairs because of dogs and even foxes. Because of the protection it provides, a couple of penguins nest under the Manly wharf and can be seen coming in from the ocean and waddling up the beach at sundown. We caught a glimpse of one such little penguin last weekend when we rode the ferry to Manly. He and his friends were a bit shy and hovered close to the boardwalk, but we did watch one of the braver birds stretch his wings and make the cutest noises.
The volunteer rangers who've stationed themselves on the beach to protect the penguins don't allow people to take photos with flash, but we still got a couple of good shots and a video clip. Of course one idiot did take a flash photo then walked away and the rangers thought it was us when we'd been following the rules the whole time.
The experience was a huge thrill for me. I told Mickey I felt like we had stumbled upon giraffes grazing outside a shopping mall. I guess that didn't make sense, but I meant that I had never seen a wild animal that special in such an urban spot. When you move to Australia, you're prepared for kangaroos, but fairy penguins? What a bonus!