Penguin Place, set on the breathtakingly beautiful Otago Peninsula near Dunedin, is a conservation reserve, dedicated to helping the endangered Yellow Eyed Penguin - apparently the most endangered penguin breed on the planet. The reserve gives walking tours in small groups, which get up close and personal to the penguins while allowing them to remain relatively undisturbed in their natural habitat, which were probably the most compelling reasons for us to choose this particular tour above the other options.
Entry, like so many places in New Zealand at the moment (due to exchange rates and a relatively buoyant economy compared to some other parts of the world right now), seemed quite steep initially, at $49 per adult (the littlest hobo was free) but when you start the tour and realise that the money raised from tours alone funds the entire facility, the charge seems quite justified and reasonable.
Our group listened to a short talk from Ainsley, our guide, about the penguins and the centre before walking over to the penguin hospital. The centre receives rescue penguins from a wide area, being the only one of it’s kind in the vicinity, and we were lucky to see several chicks as well as a couple of different breeds of rescue penguin too.
|A rescue penguin in the rehabilitation centre|
|A Yellow-eyed Penguin chick|
From the rehabilitation centre, we went on a short, bumpy bus ride across farmland, with spectacular views spanning both sides of the peninsula, to the penguin habitat. We’d only been off the bus and heading down the track for a couple of minutes before we turned the corner to find a penguin couple standing right in the middle of the path preening their moulting feathers - they were a new couple, but according to Ainsley, if they moult together, they often breed together too, so this was an exciting sight in terms of protecting the species, especially as currently, due to predators such as sea lions, numbers are on the decline.
|The couple who moult together, mate together (hopefully)|
|Monty the teenager with the distinctive Yellow-eyed Penguin markings on his face|
They seemed completely unphased by our presence and we all snapped away gleefully. We continued on our merry way, and seconds later we were treated to the sight of several male seals lolling round on the rocks, and another penguin ducking in and out of the long grass on the hillside, only a couple of metres from where we stood. It was amazing to stand so close to these creatures which we had only previously experienced in the zoo and they carried on as if we weren’t there.
|Standing with the seals|
|Camera shy seal!|
Our tour took us down the hillside, past several penguin nesting boxes, most of which had penguins inside them to a series of bunkers leading to hides, which allowed us to get close to even more penguins while leaving them relatively undisturbed. We were lucky that most of the penguins we saw were standing - I got the impression that you would almost always see penguins on the tour, but the big deal is whether they’re standing or not; if they’re lying down it’s a bit like looking at randomly scattered rocks!
Visiting at this time of year was particularly cool because the penguins are moulting, and we saw fluffed up and partially balding penguins (the ‘ugly’ ones) right next to their beautifully sleek, neat and streamlined buddies with their distinctive yellow face markings at their very brightest (the ’pretty’ ones), who, it was incredible to hear, had been through the same appearance altering process just a couple of weeks earlier.
Mr T and I loved the tour and would definitely recommend it. It was an absolute treat to get up so close to these gorgeous little birds without disturbing them; we felt really privileged. The littlest really enjoyed it too, she coped really well with keeping quiet, loved seeing the wildlife and trotting along the trenches, and the amount of walking, with the exception of the hill at the end, was ok for her to manage or else wasn’t too much carrying for us (in the loosest sense of the word… I had the camera around my neck) when the slopes got a bit too challenging.