After our snowy adventure in Mt Cook, we made the long drive to Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula. We spent one of my favorite days of our New Zealand trip in Otago seeing yellow-eyed penguins!
On our way from Mt Cook to Dunedin, we stopped for a late lunch at Moraki Beach to check out the oddly round rocks. We ate, took some silly pictures, and got back on the road.
We didn’t spend much time in Dunedin beyond picking up more groceries and wine. Instead we chose to stay in tiny Portobello towards the end of the Otago Peninsula.
The first thing we did when we got to Portobello was decide on a penguin tour. Otago is one of the few places were yellow-eyed penguins live and obviously seeing them was number one on our New Zealand bucket list. With our tour booked for the next day, I could sleep with waddling birds dancing through my head.
The next day, the tour company picked us up and whisked us to the very end of the peninsula for our first stop: The Royal Albatross Center. There we got to see a few Royal and Buller albatrosses flying off in the distance or sitting in the water out at sea.
After a birding warm-up looking for the royal albatross, we headed out to a private reserve to see the yellow-eyed penguins. On the drive over, we had more opportunity to see different types of wetland birds: Herons, oystercatchers, cormorants, pukekos / swamp hens and paradise shelducks. (So many beautiful birds to enjoy – this might be super nerdy and sort of for older/retired people, but I think it would be fun to get into birding!)
When we got to the reserve, we parked at the top of the bluff and made our way down to the beach on foot. As we approached the beach down a little path, our guide stopped us and pointed out our first penguin! He was standing on a little bridge over a stream minding his own business. Some of the plants were obscuring the view a bit, but I was super excited we could see him as close as we did.
We continued down the path to the beach, just as a penguin was emerging from the ocean. Cue my heart melting. He waddled out of the water, up the beach, and then disappeared up the same path we had just walked down. After he was gone, we continued down the beach.
Besides penguins, sea lions also hang out on this beach. As we walked through the tall grass lining the beach, we had to be careful of half-hidden, sleeping sea lions that had hauled themselves into the grass for a nap.
On the opposite side of the beach was a penguin hide for us to sit in and watch more penguins come in from the water. From the hide, we got to see several more penguins swim onto shore, hop up the rocks, and then waddle up the hill to dry out before climbing up to their burrows. It was amazing. I could have stayed all night in that hide and waited for them to back to sea in the morning.
On this trip, I have gotten to see five different species of penguins: Galapagos, Humboldt, Magellanic, Little Blue, and Yellow-eyed! There are a few other types that can be seen in New Zealand, but unfortunately, we were there at the wrong time of year. (Heartbreaking!) So I will need to plan another trip. And also trips to South Africa, the Falkland Islands, and Antarctica…
After our amazing and perfect penguin day, it was time to say goodbye and head farther south towards the Caitlins.
Liz & Jim