Kangaroo Island Penguin Centre (formerly known as Kangaroo Island Marine Centre) is located at Kingscote Wharf on the north east of Kangaroo Island. The Centre has a small Aquarium with several saltwater tanks displaying some of the local Kangaroo Island marine life from rock pools, reefs and the open ocean. The main attraction is a guided tour of the aquariums and the nearby Little Penguin colony.
Little Penguins (also known as Fairy Penguins) come ashore to their burrows near the Kingscote wharf and foreshore. The best time to see them is during the breeding season from March to December. During January, the numbers reduce as the chicks leave the burrows, and the adults move out to sea to feed before the next breeding season. In February there are not many penguins to be seen, although you may see a few birds moulting. Penguin tours are not available from Feb 1 to Feb 21, as most of the birds are feeding at sea.
The evening tours start with guided tour of the fish tanks with fish feeding and educational talks on the animals in each tank. The Aquarium tanks contain seahorses, giant cuttlefish, reef fish, rock lobsters and other invertebrates and the King George Whiting, a popular table fish in South Australia.
On clear nights, the guide will give you a brief talk on the night sky, pointing out some of the southern constellations. The stars are bright and clear Kangaroo Island, away from city lights and the polluted air.
The main event is the trip to the Little Penguin colony on the foreshore. Experienced guides take visitors in small groups on a walk to the colony to see the penguins. The guides carry red torches that allow you to see the penguins without disturbing the penguins with bright blights (The penguins eyes are not sensitive to the red light). You cannot use white torches or camera flashes, but the red lights provide enough light for most digital cameras. If you want to get the best possible photos, learn how to use the low light settings on your camera beforehand (and learn how to switch your camera flash off!).
You can get quite close to the birds, and they are not disturbed by you talking, as long as you don’t frighten them with excessive movement and loud noises. Move slowly and you can approach to within 2m of the birds. Sometimes the penguins will approach even closer if you stay still.
In summer, tours begin at 8:30pm and 9:30pm, and in winter at 7:30pm and 8:30pm. The Penguin Centre opens thirty minutes before the start of the first tour.
Pelican Feeding at Kingscote Wharf
Another attraction on the Kingscote Wharf is the daily pelican feeding at 5pm. The feeding takes place at the waters edge on the northern side of the wharf behind the Kangaroo Island Penguin Centre. You can watch “Pelican Man” John Ayliffe throwing handfuls of fish from a bucket to a flock of pelicans, and listen to his informative talk on the pelicans. The birds are wild and not dependent on the hand feeding – this is just a small treat in addition to their normal feeding in the sea. You will see the pelicans swimming, flying, landing and taking off again. For photographers, there are great opportunities for close up action shots and group shots of the penguins. There is not a charge for the pelican feeding but donations are welcome.