34. Cross paths with penguins in New Zealand
When it comes to unadulterated outdoors and authentic wildlife experiences, New Zealand over delivers: here is No. 34 of our 101 Reasons To Stop Dreaming About New Zealand And Go.
Interesting fact: 13 of the world’s 18 penguin species have been recorded in the New Zealand region. Three species actually breed on the mainland itself, which makes it relatively easy to see these waddling little sea birds on a visit to Aotearoa as long as you’re in the right place at the right time. Irresistibly cute but extremely vulnerable, penguins are commonly monitored and cared for in the wild by community-based conservation groups that work with the Department of Conservation to keep them safe.
Penguin-viewing tours are often available as part of these partnerships, so that the birds can be appreciated without human disturbance. The most common mainland species is the kororā/little blue, which is also the world’s smallest penguin. At the other end of the scale is the rare hoiho/yellow-eyed penguin, easy to distinguish due to its vivid yellow eye band. The tawaki/Fiordland crested penguin is a big, beautiful bird found mostly in the deep south around Fiordland and Stewart Island/Rakiura. Wildlife sanctuaries and guided tours offer safe and rewarding encounters with these precious birds, with the most accessible populations found on the east coast of the South Island/Te Waipounamu around Akaroa, the Otago Peninsula, Ōamaru, Curio Bay and The Catlins.
Akaroa Harbour, near Christchurch/Ōtautahi, is home to the largest colony of kororā/little blue penguins on mainland New Zealand. Pohatu Penguins runs a two-hour evening tour featuring a conservation walk and talk, penguin spotting, and stories of the area’s volcanic past. These folks also run a bunch of other great tours including kayaking.
The sweet little east coast town of Timaru also has a resident rookery of kororā/little blues, which nest from October to March in the rocks at Caroline Bay, right next to the town centre; ask a local about the best time and place to see them swimming ashore. The park at Caroline Bay is also home to the Trevor Griffiths Rose Garden, highly recommended if you fancy somewhere fragrant to take the weight off your feet.
The Ōamaru Blue Penguin Colony, in the Waitaki region, is just one of many good reasons to visit New Zealand’s most architecturally impressive small town. On the far side of the port, not far from the handsome Victorian Precinct, this conservation-focused wildlife centre provides ringside seats for watching kororā waddle ashore after their day’s fishing.
A short drive from downtown Dunedin/Ōtepoti, the Otago Peninsula is a hotspot for all sorts of amazing marine life, including penguins. One of the best places to go for a chance to see the endangered yellow-eyed penguin, or Hoiho, is Penguin Place. The private conservation reserve is entirely funded by guided tours and is dedicated to helping the yellow-eyed penguin survive. Their work includes habitat restoration, predator control, a research programme and on-site rehabilitation care for penguins. The tour includes an introduction to the conservation work, a visit to the rehabilitation facility followed by a bus to the reserve for a guided nature and wildlife walk.