This past weekend I was lucky enough to go on an adventure with some good friends from Abbey College. It all started around 6 pm. The wind was howling, the sky turned a dark gray, and clouds blew over Dunedin. Would our plans still go on? After a quick phone call to check, I discussed it with the group and for better or worse, we were headed to the very end of the Otago Peninsula. Here’s hoping our cars don’t blow away on the way there…
We left Abbey around 7:10 pm in two cars. The stormy rain had died down, but it was still quite windy. Besides a quick petrol stop halfway there in Portobello, the hours drive was pretty uneventful (besides some great conversation!). We had arrived…
Our final destination was The Royal Albatross Center at Takiharuru/Pilots Beach on Pukekura/Taiaroa Head. Here is a colony of over 300 Little Blue penguins! We were taking one of the daily Pukekura dusk/night tours onto the beach to view the penguins returning back to colony. Believe it or not, this was the first time I saw Little Blues while in New Zealand! We perused the AMAZING/WORLD’s BEST gift shop while waiting for the guides to make the final decision regarding the weather (too windy and it becomes unsafe, so they cancel the tour). I have never been in a gift shop where I want every. single. item. There is no “crap”, just really cool, unique gifts featuring penguins, albatross, New Zealand, and other wildlife. Prices range and there is something for everyone. More than something for most of us!
We were delighted when the tour was given the green light. We officially checked in and received a glow-in-the-dark plastic bracelet (a souvenir too!). One of the guides talked to us for about 10-15 minutes, not only giving us information about the colony, Little Blue penguins, and health/safety but also allowing us to remain dry and warm until just about sunset. Some people donned borrowed rain gear, I put on my hat and bundled up. We made our way to the reserve gate, flashed our swanky bracelets for ‘entry’, and began a short walk down a flight of stairs that crossed a small reserve area. The stairs stopped on the beach and opened up to a viewing platform. It was really large, as the tour can accommodate up to 90 people. We only had about 30 (excellent!). I surveyed my surroundings and spotted a perfect viewing location: right in front of the main penguin track they use to get to their nests, to the left of the people pack. We had to wait maybe two minutes until the first raft of 40+ penguins arrived. It made my heart jump/flutter/stop. They were just going about their business, beating the surf and the wind to climb over rocks and hike up a small hill to scuttle through the brush to their nests. Their mates and chicks were waiting anxiously for a reprieve, supper, and sleep. Lighting (especially designed to prevent harm to the birds) illuminated the main path they used. Some even zipped under the platform, a passageway to the other side of the reserve. As a way to protect themselves against predators, this smallest penguin species move in a big pack. Occasionally some would break off towards their individual nests. Others would stop on the road and preen their feathers and take a poop. They did not seem bothered by us at all. I suppose it becomes common place after a while, millions of people each year watching your daily commute.
4-5 different rafts of penguins came home, around 200 penguins if not more. They all made it safely to their burrows (most live in artificial nest boxes, they prefer these to ones they have to make). Among the darkness you could hear mates vocalizing to each other and the faintest chick calls begging for food. I really enjoyed the whole night, I love talking with everyone and sharing my knowledge along with experiencing these amazing birds for the first time. I wanted to stay longer than the hour but most of the birds had come home anyways. It was a lovely evening, I highly recommend it and will definitely be going back myself!
Keep posted for more information about Little Blues!