In my pre-trip planning I experienced some frustrations in trying to line up penguin experiences. The Otago Peninsula in
Dunedin is one of the few places in New Zealand guide books where penguin experiences are specifically called out, so I was a bit mystified that it was such a challenge to arrange. I was not able to arrange a yellow-eyed penguin tour so I signed up for Blue Penguins Pukekura at the Royal Albatross Centre.
The drive on the Otago Peninsula Low Road was an adventure. Even though I had a firm grip on the wheel part of me had to smile at the “at your own risk” road. Not a great place to be in a storm unless you have a life jacket in the car. Also, stay sober! Driving all the way to the end to the Royal Albatross Centre is worth it. The Centre is interesting and I recommend arriving an hour before sunset so you can watch the albatross arrive to their roosting area for the night. (There is also a cafe to grab a bite to eat or hot drink).
This particular evening the blue penguin viewing started at 6:30 p.m. Thumbs up for the jackets provided as an extra barrier against the cold and for the Maori welcome. The stairs are also well lit to the platform at the bottom of a gentle beach along the harbor. Unfortunately, this is not a wheelchair accessible experience.
The sandy beach was easily visible from the viewing platform and we only had to wait a short while before the first raft of penguins arrived. Because of the gentle approach, the penguins could assemble in the bay and arrived on shore together. About 100 yards off shore we could see their dark shape and the thrashing water signal their approach. Nothing however prepared me for their burst on to shore and sprint to the grassy area about 15 yards beyond the surf. It was so charming and funny. They are adorable. Again flash photography is prohibited.
Everyone was in a super good mood by the time we started the steep climb up the hill. We handed our jackets over and began the “fun” drive back the coast road. It was actually not as worrisome as I expected.
The next day I serendipitously discovered the office of the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust on Lower Stuart Street. They are celebrating their 25th anniversary of restoring habitat, funding research, and promoting penguin appreciation and education. I have seen other communities celebrate an individual (Rio Vista humpback whale Humphrey, Dingle dolphin, and of course the Loch Ness monster!), yet I found it sweet how Dunedin and the Otago region embraced their special stewardship of the yellow-eyed penguin.