We went to the Penguin Parade on a Sunday evening during the Melbourne Cup long weekend. We rang up and were told we could book online (which we did) and that the ideal time to turn up was 7pm. We pulled up into carpark just before 7pm and found a spot quickly but it was filling up fast as they are currently doing a lot of building work and creating a new visitors centre. It was quick to get in and we made our way straight to the viewing area. By 7.30pm it is almost full. It was a high tide so it was quite hard to see the little penguins came in and we had more luck when we went to the board walks and saw many groups of penguins walking to their burrows.
Be aware if you go to the penguin parade you cannot take photos or videos of the penguins on a phone or camera regardless of whether you are using flash or not. Everyone was told this multiple times in different languages and yet as soon as the penguins came out people ignored the rangers requests. It was very disappointing to see people put their own wants above the safety of these beautiful creatures. So please if you are visiting don't take photos!
Other advice - wrap up warm. Even though the day had been warm the temperature dropped once the sun went down. Bring a warm coat, scarf, hat and gloves.
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