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).
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!