What You Are Seeing Is Happening Now
Trip Start Nov 06, 2003
87Trip End Jan 24, 2004
Eventually we turn inland at Portobello and claim a site at a picturesque holiday park. Despite the late hour we set out again for the albatross colony at Taiaroa Head, hoping to arrive before sunset. The Royal Albatross Centre is semi-closed; we can't climb to the glassed-in viewing area that overlooks the nesting grounds, but do take in the excellent displays about these amazing birds. With a wingspan of over 3m, they can glide 200,000km in a year around the southern seas before returning here to breed. Unfortunately, they rarely fly around their nests, so we have to content ourselves with some video feeds
The cliffs on the east side of the point house a gaggling community of spotted shags and cormorants. Fur seals occasionally torpedo out of the surf. We lean out over the guard fences, looking at their antics (and those of the bird watchers) or gazing out across the southern Pacific.
Suddenly Emma shouts "Look!" and points to a HUGE bird gliding along the cliffs towards us. The birdwatchers go bonkers, their shouts and camera shutters drowning out the shags. The albatross passes right below us and drifts out of view around the tip of the peninsula.
Feeling very much privileged, we finally return to the car. But our day isn't done yet. Blue penguins are rumoured to come ashore at the bay just before Taiaroa Head. We bundle on all the clothes we've got and trudge down the hill as the sun sets.
After the grand stands of the penguin parade on Phillip Island, this is a very intimate affair: no rangers around and we almost have the place to ourselves
As dusk gathers, Emma and I wander down the beach within a few metres of a big Hooker's sea lion. By the time we get back to Julie and Lucy, there are maybe a dozen people lined up along the fence. We dutifully obey the sign and keep our distance, but all the late arrivals fill in right along the penguin path. When the penguin rafts eventually drift in, they outnumber the humans 5:1. With the exception of another clutch of people - probably rule-abiding Canadians as well! - everyone lies right beside the path within a couple of feet of the penguins. This is really hard on Emma (and me, I confess). A couple of camera flashes go off right in the penguins' faces.
Despite the intruders, the little honkers make their oblivious way up the hill to the toots of greeting from their mates. It's magical to experience without loudspeakers and throngs of Japanese tourists, even if we do have the back row seats. Our forbearance is rewarded as we make our way up the path to the car. A straggling penguin comes out of the brush right beside us. We freeze on the spot, and the little fella waddles up to our feet, whirring and hooting, then teeters right around us before rustling into the brush on the other side. It's a wonderful moment to end a great evening.