Well, the kids are finally old enough to stay up for the tour, and after researching it on the internet, I'd talked it up to them and everyone else who knew we were going to SA...
Unfortunately, the staffer who took my call (bookings for the evening tours are essential) didn't mention that penguin sightings are currently very low or non-existent, and I got the impression when we turned up for our tour that she should have. The groups the previous night hadn't seen any penguins, and in the week leading up to our tour, sightings had ranged from one to two. Total.
Having fed the kids early, travelled for over an hour to get there and dragged my parents along, I bit the bullet and paid the money.
The tour guide was great and told us lots of interesting things about penguins and the history of the island. He was clearly knowledgeable and told terrific stories. We managed to see the top of the head of a penguin hiding behind a rock, which I think officially counts: one.
The guide told us that the best time to see penguins is during the breeding season, from July to December. I can sort of understand why the internet site leaves this vital piece of information out or no-one would visit for the rest of the year, but on behalf of the 30 people on our tour, some who were visiting from overseas, it was frankly disappointing. We all turned up and paid our money and basically saw nothing. And, given that this is apparently 'situation normal' for six months of the year, we must have been far from alone.
I'm trying to chalk this one up to money for a good cause, and if we're back in the area during the breeding season I'll try again. Still, I can't help re-reading the information on the internet site and feeling that it's far from honest. It's also probably unfair on the night staff, who are left trying to manage the expectations of people who arrive thinking the tour is actually about seeing penguins.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC