Penguins on the Peninsula

Trip Start May 18, 2005
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Trip End May 18, 2006


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Tuesday, April 4, 2006

When you hear the jokes about the amount of sheep there are in New Zealand you might not think it so funny when you actually see for yourself. The journey down from Christchurch to Dunedin in the south passed through endless fields of, you guessed it, sheep. They are everywhere!! Someone told us there were 40 million of them here - that's 10 for every person. Far from being funny, its a bit loopy.

So, anyway, Dunedin is a lovely little town. It was settled by a group of Scottish Monks years ago and they named it and all the streets in it after Scottish places, like Aberdeen Street and Glasgow Square. It even looks like a Scottish Village and has even has the miserable weather to top it all off.

We came here to see the rarest penguin in the world - the Yellow Eyed Penguin - in a sanctuary on the Otago Peninsula, about 100km from Dunedin. We went on a guided tour of the place with the guy who actually founded the sanctuary and saved the penguins from certain extinction. It was really something else. But before he brought us there he brought us to see a Royal Albatross Colony too. That was a nice surprise for me. The Albatross is the biggest sea bird in the world, and the Royal Albatross is the biggest of all of them. They have a wingspan of more than 10 feet!! Massive!! Its actually quite intimidating when they fly towards you and look just like a typical seagull until they start growing bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and before you know it your hitting the deck as they swoop over your head like a glider. It was amazing to watch them flying about the place. They are hard to get a picture of though because they fly at around 100km an hour!!

We made our way to the penguin sanctuary next and it was fantastic. There were a couple of massive fur seals on the rocks near it, a nice little bonus. This guy has built this all himself with money he makes from bringing the likes of us to see them. There are a series of tunnell's he's made which lead to hidden bunkers from where you can peer out at the penguins. You get up to within 3 feet of them and they don't even know you're there. Most of the ones we saw were moulting for the winter and getting thicker coats so they were a little out of it as they haven't eaten in about a week. There was even one chick there who had yet to leave to go to sea for the first time. The rest of them had gone 4 weeks ago. There are only 250 of these guys left in the wild, and most of them are at this purpose built place. They used to nest in the coastal forests in this area, sheltered beneath the trees, but since the locals chopped them all down to make enough fences to keep their sheep in the fields there is nowhere for them to go unless we build them somewhere to stay. Our guide (Scotty as he calls himself) spent 3 years perfecting the little huts that they nest in. Too big or too small and the penguins won't lay eggs in them. Scotty reckons he has it right now though. Also, feril cats and stoats that were introduced by Europeans (to make themselves feel more at home - knob heads) steal the eggs and kill some of the chicks. So he has set up loads of traps around the place and even has a gun handy in case one shows up. He reckons he kills at least a couple a week. Fair play to him.

It was a magical experience, so it was. I only hope the rest of our wildlife encounters here live up to this one. And we have some serous ones planned...

Stay tuned!!
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