1. Keep at least 10m away from wildlife
The general rule for viewing wildlife in The Catlins and New Zealand, in general, is to stay at least 10 metres (33 feet) away from wildlife. That’s about the length of two cars lined up one in front of the other. Sea lions don’t like to be disturbed, so may roar or charge if you get too close. If this happens, just move away quietly. When viewing penguins, make sure that your 10m distance is not blocking the path between them and their nests. Providing that you follow these rules, you’ll get an awesome view of penguins and sea lions, often socialising (or fighting) with each other and going about their routines. It can be an amazing experience as long as they are not disturbed.
2. The best time to see penguins is early morning or in the evening
While it’s possible to see penguins all year round in The Catlins, there are particular seasons and times of day to increase your chances of seeing them. Summer is the best time to watch penguins while there are chicks around. During early morning and in the evening, adult penguins walk across the shores to their nesting burrows to feed their chicks – often met by their chicks waddling across the shore!
3. Don’t try to find penguin nests
Speaking of chicks, whatever you do, don’t try to look for the penguins’ nests. Yellow-eyed penguins are very timid and like to keep their nests a secret. If their nest is disturbed, there is a risk that penguins will not return here giving them yet less habitat to choose from. To avoid accidentally disturbing nests, do not walk into or go near coastal vegetation around The Catlins. For more tips on watching penguins responsibly, see5 Tips for Watching New Zealand Penguins.
4. Know what to do if you are swimming near wildlife
Swimming at the beaches and bays of The Catlins can certainly be a refreshing way to cool off in summer, but remember that you are sharing the water with rare wildlife. If you see Hector’s dolphins while swimming in the water, identified by their black rounded dorsal fin, try to stay at least 50m away from them. However, if you are lucky enough to be approached by a dolphin just relax and let them interact with you on their own terms. Don’t try to chase them, as they may be discouraged from coming back to the area. Plus, avoid touching them as we carry bacteria on our hands that could harm them.
5. Know where you cannot go fishing
Approximately 161km of the Catlins Coast is a marine mammal sanctuary meaning that there is a set-net ban to help protect dolphins. Familiarise yourself with the Ministry of Primary Industries rules regarding fishing which are signposted on popular bays and campgrounds in The Catlins. Plus, learn more inWhat You Need to Know About Fishing in New Zealand.