The Otago Peninsula, together with its 20km long harbour, stretches along the southern edge of the Otago harbour. Taiaroa Head, at the end of the peninsula, only 32 kms from Dunedin city centre and within sight of the cityscape, is home to the only mainland breeding colony of albatross in the world. The observatory at the Royal Albatross Centre provides the opportunity to view parents returning from sea to feed their chicks. The peninsular is also home to an abundance of other magnificent world famous marine wildlife including Seals, The New Zealand Sea Lion (formerly known as the Hooker's Sea Lion), one of the rarest seal species in the world, the occasional Sea Elephant and the Stewart Island Shags in their natural habitat.
Otago Peninsula is also home to one of the world’s rarest penguin’s, the Yellow Eyed penguin or Hoih (its Maori name which means noise shouter) and the Little Blue Penguins or Korora (the world’s smallest penguin).
Last weekend our family of five visited The Penguin Place.
This conservation project is entirely financed through guided tours. It was established in 1985 by Howard McGrouther when there were only 8 breeding pairs of Yellow Eyed Penguins. The funding they receive provides habitat restoration, predator control, a research programme and on-site rehabilitation for penguins that are sick, starving or wounded. The project has done an amazing job of constructing a unique set of tunnels, hides and tracks so that people can view these fascinating creatures up close as they go about their daily life, without disturbing them.
The tours take place in the late afternoon / dusk. After a day at sea, the penguins congregate in groups known as "rafts" not far offshore where they often can be heard vocalising - usually short, loud squawks. At dusk they come ashore and make their way to their nests where they feed their chicks or roost. It was amazing to learn that after swimming from dawn, sometimes up to 30km out to sea, once they return to the beach some nest up to 2km’s from the shore – a long distance for those little legs!
The kids (aged, 5, 3 and 1) absolutely loved the adventure. We walked close by all the nesting boxes of the Little Blue Penguins who were in there with their chicks, and got to see four Yellow Eyes Penguins coming in from their days fishing.
From the hides we also saw more penguins taking a little break on their walk back up to their nests. The added excitement that much of the 2km tour being through tunnels, made the kids forget to complain about their tired legs!
Other highlights for the kids was the short, bumpy bus ride out to the reserve and the Seals taking a nap right beside us.
The staff were extremely knowledgable and so friendly, never showing any signs of impatience with our three year old boy who is going through the “why, why, why” stage! They took the time to answer both the kids questions at the level that was right for them.
We can highly recommend a visit to this wonderful place when you’re in Dunedin!
As an added bonus, Dunedin is also home to some stunning sunrise and sunsets. We were treated to something quite special on our drive back into Dunedin...
More about Yellow Eyes Penguins
The Yellow Eyed penguin gets its name from its distinct yellow head band and yellow iris.
They are only found on the Eastern and Southern coasts of New Zealand’s South Island.They are 65 - 70cm tall, the third tallest penguin and weigh between 5 and 6 kg.
They can reach the age of 20 - 25 years (oldest known penguin was 32 years) but average life expectancy is closer to 12 - 15 years.
They only live in New Zealand and they are one of the rarest penguins in the world with a total population of about 4000-5000 individuals. About one-quarter of these live on the east coast of the South Island and Stewart Island. Most of them live on Campbell and Auckland Islands, about 600 km to the south.
The Yellow-eyed Penguin is different from other penguins in many aspects of its biology and it is the only penguin species that does not become tame.
They originally nested in the coastal forest, but their distribution is now restricted to forest remnants and coastal shrubs after extensive logging during the last 150 years.
More about Little Blue Penguins
Little (Blue) Penguins are the smallest of the world's penguins with a body length of about 30 cm. They tend to feed within five kilometers of the coast and within five metres of the surface though they have been recorded at over 70 metres.
Little Penguins come ashore after dark and can be very noisy as they make their way to their burrow. During the day they can also be seen resting in their nest burrows.
Adult birds come ashore between May and June to prepare nests. They may waddle up to 1.5 km from the sea, and climb 300 meters to find the perfect nest site. Traditional nests are in underground burrows, under vegetation, in crevices, between rocks or in caves. Since people came onto the coastal scene, little penguins have also taken to nesting under houses and boat sheds, in stormwater pipes, and stacks of timber.
Adults also come ashore to shed their feathers and grow a new waterproof coat. This moult period lasts about two weeks and can happen any time between November and March. The penguins are especially vulnerable at this time as they cannot swim.
Little penguins were common in New Zealand, but most are now on offshore islands where there is less disturbance. Their population and range of has been declining in areas not protected from predators. Where predator control is in place, populations have been stable or increasing.
Dogs are likely the greatest threat to little penguin. Cats, ferrets and stoats will also kill them. These threats have increased with more coastal development bringing more dogs and the clearance of traditional nesting sites. Little penguins are also killed crossing coastal roads, being hit by boats, or caught in set nets.