I sat on a rock on beach nestled near the rainforest. The rain was dripping down my nose and onto a towel protecting my camera. We hiked down from the road through thick rainforest and across streams. It was near the end of the penguin nesting season, so my guide Dr. Gerry McSweeney did not guarantee we would see a penguin. I was the only guest on the guided hike and yet because of Gerry’s great enthusiasm to share these rare birds he did not hesitate to take me on my own. We waited patiently for our reward.
The Fiordland Crested Penguin nest in the rainforest and go to and fro all day to feed themselves and their chicks. At last we saw a shy fellow peek out of the foliage on a steep trail down to the beach. The trail looked like a slip and slide and it was hard to believe the ungainly penguin could navigate it. He/she saw us as I moved closer to get a better view I spooked her and he retreated. After more patient waiting we were rewarded with two penguins. All together we saw 15 penguins throughout the morning, plus starfish and sea urchins, a gorgeous coastline and a rare orchid in the forest.
They emerged from the forest moved down the bank and onto the rocky beach. They are ungainly on land and yet completely charming when hopping from rock to beach. They slipped into the water and displayed their true grace.
I have enjoyed many adventures to view penguins in New Zealand, and this was the best yet. There are three types of penguins living in New Zealand. The little blue penguin can be found almost along every coastline on North and South Islands. The yellow-eyed penguin can only found along the southernmost coastline of South Island. And the rarest of the three, the Fiordland Crested penguin, lives along the west coast of South Island.
Penguin viewing is seasonal–beginning in December the penguins begin to go to sea for long months of swimming and eating. They return again in July and August to raise their chicks in a creche. I was able to arrange a guided penguin viewing on November 29 at the Wilderness Lodge at Lake Moeraki.
To get there I flew into Queenstown and rented a car, then drove 3.5 hard miles to 30 miles north of Haast on the coast. I arrived just in time for a wonderful dinner at the Lodge. Staying at the Lodge includes dinner and breakfast. The guided penguin experience is an additional NZ$160.00 and totally worth it! The Lodge provides adventurers boots and raincoats, and hot tea and biscuits.