One of my friends from work is obsessed with penguins. I don’t blame her, they are so stinking cute! And have you seen March of the Penguins? Or at least Happy Feet? Seriously….
Anyway, while I was telling her about our NZ plans and she talked about wanting to see different kinds of penguins. I did a quick search and discovered that New Zealand had a species of Little Blue Penguins….I didn’t even know penguins came in that color! Of course, I have to add it to our ever growing long list of Things-To-Do in New Zealand, but I knew that seeing these penguins was non-negotiable.
And yes, the Little Blue penguins are the smalles penguines in the world….weighing a whopping 2.5 lbs (1 kg)! Also, turns out, after this trip, I am now able to cross off having seen at least two from this list….but more on the other penguin later…
Anyway, the best way to see the penguins is, of course, in their natural habitat. There are ones held in captivity – but the idea of watching papa penguins coming out of the water at the end of the day was too cool to pass up. The largest colony is in Dunedin but that was too far south from our route to attempt. But then I found one in Akaroa. Score!
We found this company called Pohatu Penguins where they have a location in downtown Akaroa. Blue Penguins return to their nest around sundown, when the light grows weak – making them easier to hide from potential predators. That meant that on the day of the tour, you have to swing by the shop to find out not only when sundown is, but what time to meet.
There was a rather large group for our tour (we needed a car and two vans). The colony is on private property and it required driving out of the crater and through several gates to get to it.
Before we could get to the colony, we had to meet the roommates of the penguins, as well as get our camouflauge gear. You read that right – camouflauge. The team at Pohatu take the over all mental health of their penguins very seriously. They try to find a balance between allowing visitors to see the penguins but without disrupting the natural order. How is this done?
First, we were shown what a traditional penguin house looks like:
As you can see, it’s a normal hole – nothing special. The problem is that today there are so many sheep and cows that also graze in the area that their very walking has made the ground almost impossibly hard for the penguins. What should normally take a year to build for a penguin will now take three. Obviously that was not condusive to the survival of the species, so the team decided to help them out.
Here’s our guide. I am a terrible person and cannot remember his name, but he was wonderful with a delightful French accent 😀 Notice the number on the little penguin house. The team check on the houses to keep tabs on the penguin population and use the numbers to keep track. There are over 500 nests at the colony. Obviously they can’t check all the houses every day which is why they use the numbers. As part of our tour we were allowed to tag along and our guide would open maximal three houses to check on the mama and babies for the day (the next day would be another three houses and so on). He only opened the houses for a few minutes, just long enough for us to see them and take pictures. Then the houses were closed and we left them alone.
Then we ventured to the end of the colony where we could watch the papa penguins making their way home. We even saw a New Zealand Fur Seal just hanging out nearby. I must say that I was sooooo glad that I had my long range camera lens because despite what you see in the photos….we weren’t that close!
Eventually it was too dark to take any more photos so we had to head back. At one point, I was literally face to face with a little guy just as he was about to enter his house…..we stared at each other for a few moments before we went our separate ways and I sorely wished there was enough light to take a photo….but alas I must simply live with the memory.
It’s not the cheapest of things to do in New Zealand (granted…whale watching more almost double the price but WHALES!!!). At about 75 NZD ($54/44€) you not only get to see such unique creatures, but you are also paying to maintain their protection. Trust me. It’s worth it.
Tune in next week when I get all nerdy about Lord of the Rings and Edoras!
Bis nächste Woche!