Every night, Summerland Bay on Victoria's Phillip Island hears the patter of up to 1200 sets of webbed feet, as its colony of little penguins come home to nest, rest and revive after days or even weeks at sea.
And every night, the commute by the world's smallest penguins is watched by more than 3000 people, who visit the island's long-standing penguin centre to welcome them home.
Now, both penguins and people have a new meeting point with the opening of the $58 million Penguin Parade visitor centre.
Designed by Hobart architecture firm Terroir, the star-shaped building features angled timber-clad ceilings and plenty of space to roam in one of Australia's most visited tourist attractions. The centre is set between dunes, wetlands and the headlands of the island's Summerland Peninsula, linking the three landscapes "like a brooch", say the architects.
Inside, discover new displays on the little penguins' habitat, a movie theatre and an education wing, as well as a cafe and restaurant, which is open for dinner before and after the avian adventures. There's also a gift shop selling Australian-made and responsibly sourced Indigenous products, as well as its best-selling plush penguin toys, dressed in jumpers knitted by volunteers, with proceeds going into the park's wildlife rehabilitation centre.
Removing the old visitor centre and parking areas will return six hectares of land to the park, which is earmarked for a new neighbourhood for 1400 penguins. When they move in, over the next 12 months, you'll be able to see their burrows from the restaurant.
The total Phillip Island colony numbers about 32,000 breeding penguins – the largest in Australia – and their welfare is paramount. So the centre features 666 solar panels on the roof, water harvesting, use of low-carbon building materials including beams of sustainably sourced Victorian Ash, and the food outlets have also given all single-use plastics the flick.
The next step is upgrading the viewing stands and boardwalks that are suspended above the penguins' burrows.
The penguin centre is already a winner at the recent 2019 International Architecture Awards, and is free to visit from 10am for lunch, coffee and a browse through the displays. Tickets to the sunset viewing cost from $26.60 adults, $13.20 children 4-15 years). See penguins.org.au