After nipping into the Otago Region briefly to get from the West Coast into Fiordland, we’d planned to go back into it on our way back up north. Our next stop – the Otago Peninsula – is known for great scenery, interesting history, and (perhaps most of all) wildlife variety.
It’s here you can see seals, dolphins, albatross and even penguins. So, when we arrived during the early evening, it was the perfect time to for us to visit the Royal Albatross Centre (which also boasts the perfect spot to watch blue penguins waddle back to their nests at dusk).
The Centre is a great resource, with a free museum area that you can wander around and learn all about Albatross. It’s also one of the only places in the world where the Northern Royal Albatross come inland to breed and you can go on a tour to see the nests. Unfortunately, this privilege is rather expensive, so we settled for watching the Albatross gliding and swooping through the air right above us.
We felt that the penguin watching the Centre offers on its private access beach was rather pricey too, so we found a sneaky place to perch ourselves on the neighbouring cliffs and waited…and waited…and waited.
After nearly an hour, the sun had set and it was getting so dark we were about to give up on the penguins and head back to our van when suddenly Dale spotted a tiny penguin floating about in the surf below.
We sat and watched as it started to make its way up the beach, then stopped, turned back and waddled as quickly as it could to the safety of the waves.
Soon, we spotted others and all of them seemed not to want to approach the beach – even though it was clear they wanted to go home!
Eventually it was too dark for us to see the little penguins, so we called it a day and headed to our camp for the night.
The next day we were up early to try and reach New Zealand’s famous Moeraki Boulders in time for low tide – the best time to see them. It didn’t leave us a lot of time to see Dunedin – dubbed the Edinburgh of the south – but we saw some of it!
We managed to reach Moeraki at the perfect time to see the boulders in all their glory. These massive and perfectly formed spheres of rock are mysteriously found on the beach like a giant’s discarded marbles.
Apparently these rocks were formed over millions of years in a process similar to how oysters make pearls. When formed, they were buried in the soft mud rock which became the cliffs along Moeraki’s bay. Gradually the mud rock has worn away over time – releasing some of the boulders onto the beach.
Hitting the road again, our next stop was Oamaru – where we found a fantastic playground that we just had to have a go in!
As well as its Victorian-style precinct, Oamaru is known for its penguin-spotting opportunities. There’s a reserve where you can pay to enter a Blue Penguin colony, but for the skinflints of the world (us included) there’s also a free Department of Conservation hide where you can observe rare Yellow-Eyed penguins as they return home from their day hunting at sea.
Unlike the Blue Penguins, which (as we learned the hard way) seem to come to shore after the sun has set, Yellow-Eyed penguins can return to their nests as early as 3pm – so we decided to hang around and watch.
Before the beach closed for the penguin parade, we were able to have a look around and found that it was littered with beautiful Pāua shells. These are shells only found in New Zealand and the inside of them is covered with a spectacular iridescent blue.
After exploring on the beach, we retreated back up to the cliff-top hide to get a good seat for the penguin show. This time there was enough light to see the penguins clearly, and because no one was near the beach they were happy to waddle right over the sand to get to their nests – so we got a really good look at them. We didn’t know how many there might be, and it became quite addictive to sit and watch for them. We ended up staying for a few hours just to see as many as we could (five in the end).
Pleased with the experience of seeing one of the rarest types of penguins in its natural habitat, we hit the road again to reach our next camp before nightfall.