© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

Releasing Little Blue Penguins into the Wild

© NZPocketGuide.com

223 Days on the Road

Oh Akaroa. It’s a bit like a wonderland all the way out here on the Banks Peninsula with its French flare town, turquoise sea water, green grassy hills, and an abundance of wildlife. We mean, when you hear of a place with blue penguins and miniature dolphins, you hardly think it’s real, do you?

We’ve spent a lot of time on that picture-perfect turquoise water in Akaroa – A LOT. Swimming with dolphins, seeing a huge amount of coastal wildlife, speeding around on a jet boat, and sailing on a yacht, there’s a lot happening on Akaroa’s waters. But once the sun starts to go down, it’s the land you want to be on for the best wildlife viewing. Pohatu Penguins is where you want to be.

Round Two at the Pohatu Penguins

Already, we have taken an evening tour down at Pohatu Penguins, seeing the world’s smallest species penguin species up close in their rehabilitation stages, as well as watching them behave in their natural environment. Because we have been staying in the Pohatu Penguins’ team’s sleep-out after our campervan broke down, they invited us to do something a little different with them from this afternoon into the evening. Today, we are going for a tour of the Banks Peninsula, as well as release some little blue penguins into the wild!

The wild ride of the Banks Peninsula

In the late afternoon, we meet our guide, Ben, at the Pohatu Penguins Akaroa town base. From there, we’re hopping in the van with our fellow tour-goers to discover some of the landforms and wildlife of the Banks Peninsula.

The first thing we discover about the Banks Peninsula is that there are a lot of steep and narrow gravel roads. The places we are going to today, around the Pohatu Reserve and Tutakakahikura Scenic Reserve, are much better attempted in a 4×4. As we have discovered in most places in New Zealand, getting to the most stunning of places is never the easiest.

Akaroa: A History

The steady speed of negotiating these roads, and revealing glorious views of Akaroa township, allows Ben to talk about how Akaroa came to be. He talks about the early Maori, their rituals, their history. Then the arrival of the French who wanted to colonise the South Island via Akaroa, only to be beaten by two weeks by the Goddamn English. Out of stubbornness, or more like fatigue from the journey Down Under, the French decided to stay in Akaroa anyway, giving it it’s Frenchy feel the town is still proud to hold today.

And how can you resist photo stops when there are views like this?

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Can we offer you another photo stop?

The drive is broken up with plenty of photo stops, and we mean PLENTY! We might all be laughing when we stop for the third time to another sensational view over the land and coastline, but we’re still not afraid to take our cameras out and snap up this scenery! Finally, we get to nurture our guilty pleasure of parking up every five minutes to take a photo. (Usually, we talk ourselves out of it, or else we would never get anywhere).

Akaroa Head Scenic Reserve

Once Akaroa is out of sight, we are driving toward some headlands overlooking a marine reserve. It’s like a national park in the water, where fishing is prohibited allowing for growth of an ecosystem which explains why the waters here in Akaroa are a playground for dolphins and is the home to New Zealand’s largest mainland little blue penguin colony.

Looking through the Spyglass

A short walk to the remains of the Akaroa Lighthouse (which has now been moved to just outside the Akaroa township for everyone to see), brings us on top of some rugged coastline with various inlets. One of these headlands is called The Spyglass due to the hole going right through the rock to reveal the ocean on the other side.
Ben is on bird watch with the binoculars, passing the binoculars round once he’s seen seabirds like a petrel or tern. We even spot three or four Hector’s dolphins rising and falling at the surface of the water.

Penguins in rehab

Our next stop is Flea Bay, the home of the Pohatu Penguin Colony, rehabilitation centre, and farm with some baaaarmy pet sheep. As the evening draws in, we feed the flock of pet sheep and gather in the garden wearing provided camouflage fleeces to watch the feeding of the little blue penguins in rehabilitation. It’s our chance to see these beautiful creatures up close while they are fattened up to increase their chances of surviving in the wild. Take a look at this blog post about our last trip with the Pohatu Penguins for more about this experience.

Once the penguin chicks are starting to reject their food, it’s time to release them into the wild. Two chicks are ready today, so they are put into a bucket, and we follow as they are taken down to the beach.

Calling of the wild

We get into optimal viewing positions to watch as the little blue penguins walk out of the bucket then… They don’t quite know what to do with themselves. One of the guides, Avril, says that most of the time they bolt for the ocean or they run back to the house… But right now, they are just standing.
One of them finally plucks up the courage to waddle into the sea. Goodbye, little guy! The other one decides to run towards us, concluding that this one isn’t ready to be released. He probably wants one more free dinner before the guides try to release him again tomorrow. As we watch his buddy swim out to sea, we feel super privileged to have watched them up close. We just hope that he survives out there. (This is why we are not conservationists. If this was our job, we’d have a house full of unhappy little blue penguins that we just couldn’t let go).

A penguin Hobbiton

Although we have said goodbye to some penguins, there are plenty more to see in their groups from viewing areas along the hills. During this season, there are a few more occupied nesting boxes and natural burrows that our guides show us. (Come in November, and the place is a city of penguins). In fact, the set up of nesting boxes makes this place look like a little Hobbiton

This marks our final wildlife fix in Akaroa, and the beautiful thing about wildlife is that they make no two tours the same. Tomorrow, we’ll be jumping in the Jucy and rounding up our time in Akaroa discovering the Frenchest town in New Zealand. Join us then!

Go, penguins! Be free!

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