I saw my first Yellow-eyed penguin from the hide at Bushy Point, but I was at least a hundred meters above the beach and even with binoculars it was hard to appreciate their unique size and markings. Several times I tried going on a Penguin Place tour and couldn’t fit it in with the Little Blue Penguin experience at the Royal Albatross Centre. I was determined to make it work this time!
Located on a private sheep farm on the Dunedin peninsula, Penguin Place is dedicated to the conservation and welfare of Yellow-eyed penguins/hoiho. Their efforts to restablish habitat and educate the public also benefits Little Blue penguins. I went in the winter months (April-September) so they only offer one tour a day at 3:45 p.m. In the summer months (October-March) there are 90 minute tours running from 10:15 a.m. to 6:16 p.m.
One advantage of going in the winter is the tour group is more likely to be small. There were just a half dozen of us as we bumped in the bus, through the sheep ranch, and toward the trails that lead to the network of hides.
We had plenty of time to ask our questions as we waited in the hide and looked out at the beach waiting for a Yellow-eyed penguin to return. A large sea lion was hanging out on the beach probably sending “stay away” vibes to penguins. We were not disappointed though. There were two Yellow-eyed penguins who stayed on land all day. One was just a few feet from the hide and another was some distance below the hide but away from the beach and visible to us. We also saw several single and pairs of Little Blue Penguins in their wooden hutches along the trail.
All of the money from the penguin tourism goes back into rehabilitating penguins in the hospital and conserving the breeding grounds. In spite of the extensive efforts by people and the NZ Department of Conservation, the numbers are shrinking. When I first took an interest in hoiho there were 400-600 breeding pairs on the NZ mainland, and now there are just 266 breeding pairs. There is also a sex imbalance with three males for every female. It is hard to state with certainty what is causing the decline but it is likely warming oceans and changing food supply. Participating in this guided tour is a small way to do your part for the species. And we need to all make changes to address the climate crisis.
It has been several years since I watched the little blue penguins arrive home just after sunset to the Little Blue Penguin Colony in Oamaru, New Zealand. In my two previous experiences I delighted in seeing the penguins up close. On my second visit I paid extra to be in the VIP seats (recently added), and on this visit I decided to go with the basic rate. This was the first time I felt a little let down, and then I went into the parking lot and a little blue penguin charmed me completely and unexpectedly.
I planned my trip to time with the Little Blue Penguins breeding season. They spend four to five months at sea eating, returning to their breeding colony for mating and rearing young. The penguins are beginning to return, and yet I braced for smaller numbers because last year many Little Blue Penguins starved due to the ocean food conditions.
Only 16 penguins came ashore in the first raft. About as many had spent the day on shore and waddled down past the viewing platforms to get a drink of water. The crowd waiting for an hour past sunset and then the cold made waiting longer intolerable. The numbers were low and the announcer sounded so bored. Plus they’ve added announcements in Mandarin–perfectly understandable given the makeup of the guests–but adds to the general sense of boredom.
If you do pay extra for the VIP seats, you get a better shore view and you get to see the nests as you walk back to the visitor centre from a boardwalk, but you have to stay in the cold longer.
The next day I scooted to the Otago Peninsula for more birding. The Royal Albatross Centre has penguin viewing in the evening and a colony of Little Blue Penguins.
I found this interesting book by Ken Stepnell (see above) and this lovely knitted Little Blue Penguin.
Back in Oamaru, a very accessible place to see penguins, I left worrying about the population numbers and without being able to see the penguins very closely or for very long. And then I walked into the parking lot and saw a couple of penguins, with this one penguin hanging out longest and allowing me to film him (sans flash) doing his penguin thing. Delightful! (Listen at the end for the penguin calls!)
I was enjoying coffee with Ole and Karen and telling them of my travel plans. Karen shared a tv clip on Dot’s Castle and they both thought the food at the Riverstone Kitchen was really good. I decided to make it my destination for lunch. It took a lot longer to drive there than anticipated (and I don’t think I took any wrong turns). I arrived an hour before the dining room was closing, and I needed to eat and get underway to not miss the little blue penguins return to Oamaru.
I did a quick turn through Dot’s “best Bloody shop for miles.” It was an interesting collection of home design items, but all breakable, largish items that are like dead weight when you travel. She also offers an interesting plant selection–again not great for overseas travelers. After my week driving through South Island, I could understand the draw. The mostly small towns that dot the countryside don’t offer a lot of shopping options. Here in one stop you will likely find something you want or need or at least have fun trying.
I was pretty hungry by the time I sat down to order, and I’d been self-catering for a couple of days, so I was ready for a proper meal. I ordered the brussel sprout salad and fish and chips. I also discovered Hopt elderberry flavored soda. It was all so delish and satisfying. The Riverstone Kitchen was started in 2006 by Bevan and Monique Smith and focuses on local flavors and produce. Their dad (Neil) and mum (Dot) manage the dairy business that allows Dot to build the family castle from locally quarried stone.
I also enjoyed gazing out at the kitchen garden and castle in the distance. Children played and people walked dogs on a long stretch of lawn with hedgerows. I recommend making a stop at Riverstone part of your road trip on South Island’s Highway 1.
Meet Monty and Poppy at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. These baby African penguins are not yet on exhibit. You can see the other penguins on the regular penguin cam.
The New England Aquarium in Boston, MA also has some little blue penguin chicks–from New Zealand! You can read more about it here.
Take a moment today to appreciate penguins as most species are threatened by food or habitat loss. Thanks climate change. And ride your bike or walk instead of driving your gas guzzler to give the planet a break.
in Boston. I was walking to get knitting supplies at Newbury Yarn and found myself just 11 minutes from the aquarium. They close at 5:30 but I’d promised to be at an event in the Back Bay by 6:00 p.m. It might seem silly to some to pay $27.95 for about an hour of walking around. But I saw they had rockhopper penguins! And this is the home of the Pacific Octopus that Sy Montgomery befriended in her book Soul of An Octopus!
I was not disappointed. They have three types of penguins living separately on the first floor: African penguins, Rockhopper penguins, and Little Blue Penguins. It was fascinating to see the Little Blue penguins molting. I also saw a woman with my dream volunteer job: cleaning penguin poo off the rocks in their enclosure.
Call me crazy but it would be a kind of zen thing to do and allow me to get to know them better as individuals.
The aquarium is built on multiple levels all spiraling around the deep sea aquarium tank in the middle. It was crowded the day I was there. I finally had to ask someone working at the tidal pool where the octopus resides. All the way near the last possible tanks in the Vancouver bay exhibit. This octopus had camouflaged in all white with coarse bumps and then slide into the far left corner. I overheard little boy who had clearly been searching for him, exclaim his frustration at not seeing him at the other side of the tank. I tapped him on the shoulder and pointed out the octopus to him. He was probably 5 years old and he began to share octopus facts.
His dad confirmed how smart they are. I showed him a circle about the size of a quarter with my hand and said, “Can you believe that big fellow could squeeze through a hole that size?” His eyes got big. It was lovely to stand gazing at the octopus with someone as enthusiastic as I am.
I found a book for my grandson called Octopuses One to Ten by Ellen Jackson in the gift shop. “Octopuses in disguise have four ways to fool your eyes.” They can squirt a cloud of ink, or change their skin color or texture to blend in, or detach an arm if a predator grabs it, or disappear into his or her den until danger passes. This is why they have survived in our world so long. (Plus mankind is still not able to navigate underwater easily.)
The gift shop was not well stocked when I was there. However, I appreciated the more limited space devoted to commerce. Monterey Bay Aquarium could learn from them, they seem to favor the Disneyland approach. They also have dozens of activities to participate in for adults and children. For slightly more admission you can also watch films at the iMax theater next door.
The New England Aquarium is an easy walk from the T station at Government Center. I took the green line to the Back Bay and was at Tevis’ home within 30 minutes for just $2.75.
I have been intrigued with the wool shop Skeinz in Napier since 2011. When I was living in St Heliers and the Rena shipwreck happened the shop put a call out for penguin sweaters to help with the recovery. They were completely swamped by the response and the veterinarians only needed a few (their use is actually no longer in vogue). So Skeinz was clever and bought some stuffed little blue penguins and yellow-eyed penguins and sold the sweaters to raise money for penguin recovery and conservation.
The shop is in an industrial part of town because it is co-located with their wool mill and is essentially a factory outlet. Too far to walk and impractical to take a taxi so I rented a 3 speed cruiser and headed to the beach bike path. It was counter-intuitive to go via the Port, but the bike rental guy suggested that there would be less traffic and more scenic.
All good until I got to the transition from the Quays to the light industrial part of Napier called Onekawa. Suddenly I was navigating through roundabouts with logging trucks! I found a new gear fueled by terror! I got lost a couple of times and finally put away my paper map for Ms. Google. My 20 minute bike ride took twice as long, but it was worth it.
I had packed 2 patterns for a sweater and blanket for a friend’s baby due in December. (I learned the hard way to not depend on being able to find a pattern in a knitting language you can read. And then how much yarn to buy?) Karen helped me find the NZ equivalents of the right weight yarn. I really enjoyed looking at and feeling all the beautiful different wool yarns. Karen figured out how to ring it up so I didn’t have to pay GST and Skeinz ships overseas for free for orders over $100 NZ. I appreciated her assistance especially as there was a steady stream of customers.
I decided to cycle back to the City Centre in the most direct route. It was another blood pumping pedaling experience. When I stepped off my bike I felt very satisfied with my yarn haul and as if I’d wrestled ewe to ground, sheared and spun wool all while being chased by wolf! I went back to my hotel, showered and treated myself to a delicious dinner at Bistronomy.
The National Aquarium of New Zealand is not very large and only takes about an hour to see the displays, yet it includes a charming Penguin Cove where over a dozen injured little blue penguins live out their days in ease and repose. I watched Dora, the hand-raised penguin who really likes people and swims and chatters at the front of the pool, while another penguin sunned herself on the deck, and a third penguin swam for the joy of swimming. You can view through a window underwater and from above.
When the keepers came out at 1:30 to feed the penguins, almost all of the penguins came out to grab a fish or two. The penguins feed three times a day in view of the public (9:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. daily). One keeper shares information about the penguins while the other feeds them by hand. They warn about the threats to penguins like the pollution and fishing line that caught Gonzo and removed his fin and lower beak. The rescued penguins live longer at the aquarium than they would in the wild; one elderly penguin is 21 years compared to 12 years average in the wild. The keeper said she’ll be served her lunch “at home” likes Meals on Wheels.
The towns of Napier and Hastings were almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1931. Napier was rebuilt in the Art Deco style and continues to celebrate this architectural heritage in festivals and tours. Many cruise ships stop here for a day and one convenient penguin outing is to the Marine Parade and National Aquarium of New Zealand. For over a kilometer along the shoreline there are gardens and walkways that lead from the Hawkes Bay Museum to the Aquarium.
Entry to the National Aquarium is $20NZ for one adult. A family of four can visit for $54NZ. There is special pricing for students and seniors. The aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The café and gift shop are currently closed for remodeling.
It is a 20-minute walk from the tourist information centre to the aquarium. The paths are flat and easy to navigate if you are in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller. Just across the street from the I-Centre is a bike rental place. For $20NZ you can rent a cruiser with a helmet and lock for 2 hours. Most of Napier is completely flat so you can pedal to the aquarium, see the penguins and continue exploring.
One of my earliest penguin experiences was with the Pohatu Penguin Plunge in Akaroa. Several years ago I got up at the crack of dawn in Christchurch and drove out to Akaroa to go seakayaking and observe the penguins in Flea Bay on the Banks Peninsula. It was a wonderful experience, except for getting very, very seasick (but I’m easily prone).
I recently returned to the Banks Peninsula and was able to convince UK Sarah to go with me on the evening penguin safari at the Pohatu Marine Reserve. We reported to the Pohatu Penguin Plunge office in Akaroa and met the 3 other participants and our guide Ben. We climbed aboard the van and began the drive up the side of the old volcanic crater and down the other side to Flea Bay. We stopped along the way for some great views. Ben explained with his French accent the history of Akaroa from volcanic formation, to French settlers landing 4 days after Waitangi Treaty was signed, to the current efforts to conserve the penguin habitat at Flea Bay.
We stopped at the farmhouse to collect binoculars and to put on some camouflage raingear. We also fed bummer lambs a bottle and gave some pellets to the ewes. There is a bathroom here (and the last stop for the next several hours).
We headed the short distance toward Flea Bay—so named because early explorers noted that the penguins here were covered in fleas. Ben took his notebook along to make observations along the way. He reminded us the importance of watching the penguins from hides and not touching them or using flash photography.
It is tricky to time the penguin viewing—the start and finish of tours changes as spring turns to summer—because the penguins have adapted to the introduction of mammal predators by postponing their return to land until nightfall. When we began our walk only a few little blue penguins had returned, and as it got darker, we could see more and more penguins but less and less of them. And the ground is rough (you are walking along a hillside on a sheep and penguin trek not a proper path).
Almost right away we came to an artificial penguin nest provided by the Pohatu Penguin Plunge. If left to their own devices, the penguins would dig out nest in the dirt, but this requires a lot of energy and the colony is struggling to maintain its numbers. Providing the artificial boxes is a common practice approved by the Department of Conservation.
It is easy to tell the occupied boxes by the tell-tale poop outside the door. Each nest is numbered and the lids on these boxes are removable so Ben and others can check on them and track the number of chicks and help to educate us, the interested public. Ben showed us two different nests—one with a male and some chicks and one with a female and some chicks. The chicks were still small and difficult to see. Ben cannot touch the penguins so unless they shift it is difficult to know for certain. He replaced the lids and then added a rock to keep curious sheep out of the nests.
The little blue penguins in this colony are growing in numbers but only gradually. They experienced a 5% dip after the biggest Christchurch earthquake due probably due to stress. Their survival is threatened mainly by overfishing of their food supply and by stoats and other alien mammals harassing chicks and eggs. In the van, Ben explained the Department of Conservation approved poison program and then on our walk showed us a stoat trap. He recently started baiting the trap with mouse juice (pee from pet mice) and is finding more stoats than before. The most vulnerable period for the penguins is during the month or so when they molt and gain a new coat of feathers.
We walked to a set of hides where we could see the little blue penguins without disturbing them. I asked Ben how the chicks finally move out after weeks of being fed by their parents. He explained that the parents finally just stop going back to the nest and the young adults spend several days getting hungrier and hungrier until finally they clamber to the sea and begin fishing for themselves.
We walked to the furthest hide and received our reward: a lone yellow-eyed penguin. He was very handsome preening himself before going home. We watched him for some time. And while we watched we also saw a New Zealand fur seal go into the water from the nearby rocks. The seal swam just off shore and the returning little blue penguins avoided him as they returned from feeding all day.
In this area the white flippered penguins and the little blue penguins coexist and breed with one another. They are not considered separate subspecies. Only along these shores on the Banks Peninsula and Motunau Island will you find the white flippered penguin. I was pleased that with the help of binoculars I could soon tell the difference with the penguins we watched come ashore.
We returned slowly to the farmhouse and returned our gear. It was a lovely experience and the five of us from Scotland, Malaysia, England, USA and France were united in our admiration for the penguins.
The evening penguin safari costs $75NZ per adult and lasts 3 hours. Transportation is provided from Akaroa. No food or drink is provided by the tour company. Reservations are recommended. Uneven terrain may be a challenge for some, ask about accommodation if this is a concern. The Department of Conservation provides guidance for conserving the marine reserve but no funding. The Pohatu Penguin Plunge activities help to pay for the conservation of the habitat in Flea Bay. Best time for viewing is September through February.
Today (and by this I mean the full 24 hour period known as January 20 in Australia and the United States) is Penguin Awareness Day. The timing of my trip was planned to coincide with the Tour Down Under in Adelaide. My stop in Melbourne was motivated in large part by the Penguin Parade experience on Phillip Island.
I was fortunate that my friend Sandy had some time off from work and enthusiastically purchased tickets ($24 AU for just penguins; $47.20 AU per adult for package that includes the Koala Experience and other activities on the island). Her sister Colleen and husband Pete own the San Remo Hotel and Bar, referred to as the pub. Her gracious sister provided us dinner at the pub and let us sleep over at her house. This was hugely helpful because the penguins do not waddle home until dusk and in summer (January) this is around 9:15 p.m. A delicious dinner in San Remo is also convenient if you are traveling on your own.
The Penguin Parade was very well organized and staffed. As a result, while we could not see the penguins up close when they landed on the beach, we could see them very up close as they waddled up the hill to their nests. We witnessed more than one penguin being mobbed by his/her young with them competing to receive regurgitated fish. Everything was designed to minimize disturbance to the Little Blue Penguins while still providing a terrific experience to about 500 people. They call them Fairy Penguins or Little Penguins in Australia, but they are the same delightful type of penguin I have observed in New Zealand.
If you are in Melbourne and you need someone to organize transportation and tickets, then I highly recommend Melbourne Coastal Tours. Especially if you cannot stay locally to Phillip Island–best to let someone else drive you back to the city at night.
There are no pictures allowed at the Penguin Parade because the flash would scare the penguins. So instead, check out this “burrow camera” from the Phillip Island Nature Parks. http://www.penguins.org.au/attractions/penguin-parade/penguin-burrow-camera/
Sometimes a zoo can be depressing, especially when the animals are kept in small cages and without any creativity. Other times, like our day at the Auckland Zoo, it can be fun and increase one’s appreciation for the animal kingdom. It begins with the pukeko birds greeting us on the lawn outside the gates. Their legs seem like they are on backward as they ungainly gambol toward anyone with potential bread.
The Auckland Zoo is spacious for both visitors and animal inhabitants. It is laid out regions of the world. You can see all of the most interesting New Zealand native animals, including kea, kiwi and little blue penguins.
Some of our other favorite exhibits included the meerkats, and the African exhibits. And Burma the Asian elephant.
The Auckland Zoo is at Motions Road, Western Springs, Auckland. Monday-Sunday 9:30-5:30 during Sunday. The Blue Circle bus of the Auckland Explorer does stop at the Zoo among other attractions.