Day 176 on the Road
Seeing Royal Albatross and Little Blue Penguins in Dunedin
Today we are hitting the Otago Peninsula to see the world’s largest seabirds and the world’s smallest penguins! If you like this video and want more epic NZ bucket list inspiration then head on over to our YouTube Channel!
Today we are going to be having a close encounter with the world’s largest seabirds and the world’s smallest penguins. Beem.
We set off from the Hogwartz backpackers in Dunedin city centre and make our way to the Otago peninsula around mid afternoon giving us plenty of time to go check out the royal albatross and also do some penguin spotting tonight. And once we reach the royal albatross centre we are meeting our guide Suzanne who starts off telling us about the life span of the albatross which is actually super fascinating but we’ll give you more of those facts later on in the video but for now we’re gonna go to the first viewing section of the royal albatross centre to get a close up view of those albatross.
We are super lucky today weather wise it is not really beautiful weather but it’s the perfect weather to see the albatross.
The albatross birds have an amazingly huge wingspan which makes it quite hard for them to actually take off and a very windy day makes them really playful in the air because it makes it a breeze for them to take off the land.
From our super well hidden hide, we get to see a lot of the albatross colony and they are behaving in the wild as if we weren’t here because well they don’t know we’re here. It’s really cool how close we are to the albatross. Our guide is giving us some binoculars but to be quite honest we don’t even need to use them because we’re that close.
The group of albatross that we are seeing today are a group of teenagers. They haven’t found a mate just yet and they are behaving very much like humans. They are making little groups and gangs and they are very very social with each other and we see them chatting to each other even trying to outdo one another when flying. However, when they are getting in the air and starting travelling around the world they are very solitary kind of animal.
And albatross are great world travellers. It’s actually really fascinating how far these guys these travel around the world. Per year they travel 192,000km and usually around a 1000km per day and they rarely see land once they make their way out to sea.
Most southern royal albatross breed on the subantarctic islands like the Auckland Islands or the Campbell Islands but this is actually one of the very rare sights to see them on the mainland of New Zealand so we feel super lucky to be here right now.
And this tour is a great non-intrusive way to get into a glimpse into the life of this elusive bird.
And the next section of our tour is going to take us to a colony of bird that, well, that Laura and I have a bit of a beef with. If you remember when we were back in Whitianga at the very early days of our trip we were basically robbed by red bill gulls that stole our entire fish and chips. there should be a little bit of a note on top where you can check out that episode. But in fact the red bill gull population is rapidly declining making them kind of endangered now in New Zealand.
Aside from seeing those birds yelling at us on New Zealand beaches, we usually never see how they actually live and how is a colony of those so it was really cool to see them even with a really lovely little cute babies.
But our tour around the fortified Taiaroa Head is already moving on. Taiaroa Head was built in the late 1800s to protect New Zealand from nobody because nobody even attacked New Zealand but because it has been built inside taiaroa head and not on top of it it gives us perfect opportunities to see the surrounding bird colonies because it does not disturb them whatsoever. And this reminds me of the one last fact about the southern royal albatross that I have not mentioned is that it is the largest seabird in the world with a wingspan of over 3m.
Leaving the albatross colony behind, we go an grab a bite to eat in the Royal albatross cafe waiting for our next activity.
That’s right, tonight we are heading to an elevated platform which has perfect views of a blue penguin colony. And while there are a few early stragglers that have already made their way to land, we are waiting for the main event tonight where we’re gonna see rafts and rafts of penguins coming into land to make their way to their hiding places for the evening.
So right now we are looking for a raft of penguins which is basically all of them swimming together. So we are trying to spot in the dark a white patch in the water with a lot of waves cos it’s very windy. in short, i have no chance to spot them so I’ll leave it to the professionals.
They’re just there. Ok I can see there is a really bright part are they on the bright part are they before or after? Closer this way.
While the first few penguins are making it to shore let me tell you a little bit about what event we’re witnessing right now. The little blue penguins first are pretty rare and are almost only found in New Zealand most of those penguins are spending their life at sea and every single day before the sun rises they are heading to the water and are going to be fishing for the entire day. they usually fish along but when their fishing day is finished they gather together in things called rafts that’s a group of little blue penguins floating on the water and as soon as it’s big enough they are hitting the beach. They are waiting to be in big numbers so they can basically find safety in numbers and avoid predators.
And as soon as they hit land they are making their way toward their partners. to find their partners every single little blue penguin has a different call that means they have a slightly different pitch to their scream because they’re basically just screaming at each and this helps them find each other in the complete darkness. And the reason we can see them right now is because the team at the royal albatross centre has installed some lights which actually don’t affect the penguins so they are highly sophisticated lights so they are only on for about 30 minutes every evening for people to witness that amazing event.
It’s so awesome to see such a huge colony of penguins coming in from the ocean. And for me and Robin this is our first encounter this close to the little blue penguins we have prime viewing position on these platforms where we can watch rafts and rafts of those penguins coming in.
Needless to say, everyone is buzzing at this awesome penguin viewing but there are a few rules in order not to disturb their natural behaviour for instance we aren’t allowed to use flash photography because this can damage the eyes of the little blue penguins also it’s pretty obvious but we do need to stay as quiet as possible as well in order not to scare them.
It’s pretty obvious but during the time of the penguin viewing we are not getting any commentary because obviously they don’t want to make any loud noises to disturb the penguins so beforehand we were given a few facts about the these little blue penguins and one of the main things about the penguins is that they are actually the smallest species of penguin in the world only reaching to about 33cm high.
We also learn that the little blue penguins are monogamous meaning that they only have one partner for their whole life and it’s up to the male to find the nesting site which usually penguins prefer really dark burrowed sites.
Laura and I are super impressed to see how many penguins are coming out of the dark waters we do not expect to see that many specimens. I really thought that there would be one or two rafts and that would be pretty much it but within only minutes the entire beach is filled with white stuff running all around and shaking all the salt water off their plumage.
Usually Laura and I prefer to join a wildlife tour rather than to try to spot wildlife by ourselves because usually wildlife tours have to have a department of conservation accreditation which means that they are making sure that we do not disturb the wildlife while observing them as well as usually having better access to specific locations which gives us an amazing viewing opportunities. I am so amazed at how close we got to those blue penguins and they really seem to not even know that we were here.
And another thing that usually accredited guides do is that they do some work for the department of conservation for this instance right here on pilot beach their duty is to count the number of blue penguins coming back from the darkness every single night so they can keep a check on the size of the population and if it’s increasing or decreasing and tonight as we are shutting off the lights on those amazing blue penguins the count is rather great. We have seen 187 blue penguins coming out of the waters.
Laura and I loved our time at the royal albatross centre and we can’t recommend it enough when in Dunedin.