This morning we took the 10:30 flight from New Plymouth to Christchurch, landing at 12:00. Excellent weather conditions afforded us excellent views over both the Taranaki country side, including an aerial view of Mount Taranaki, and of South Island as we approached Christchurch.
We took the "Behind the Scenes" tour with the resident Marine Biologist Phillipa as well as the evening viewing when the Blue Penquins come ashore to feed their young. The combo ticket came to 30NZD but just the evening viewing is 20NZD per person and is very popular. This evening the viewing began at 20:15.
We found our tour with Phillipa to an excellent introduction to the Little Blue Penguins. As a non-Marine Biologist (actually an IT-boffin) I have to admit that I didn't know about Little Blue Penguins until quite recently. Until this morning actually. As it turns out, there's another colony on the other side of the water which is closed to the public and run by the omni-present Department of Conservation. Comparisons betweeen the colony in the harbour and the DOC reserve are made regularly and, at the time of our visit, no significant impact on the colony in the harbour had been found as a result of tourism in the area. Which is good.
The evening viewing was a marvellous experience. The Little Blue Penguins mate at the same place every year and mate for life. Each adult penguin takes in in turn to go to see for a upto five days to find food for their young. Around dusk, the most amazing squaking commences as the chicks, ashore, beckon their parents in the sea. The adults, congragating off shore, arrive on land in a raft and will only approach in a large group. As the first penguins scrambled ashore, another raft began to form. Each penguin, knowing exactly where their nest is, runs up the ramp, over the road and round the colony directly to their young. There's no need for maps amongst - they know where they're going. They've been here before. As more penguins arrive, more feeding goes on and the calling dies down to a quiet nothingness. Slowly, as meals are finished, the social Little Blue Penguins, for it is they, come out to the colony for a hearty gossip and slowly, but sure as they're little and blue, the noise begins to rise again. In all it's quite a raucous ritual.
We were scheduled to be in Dunedin this evening but, as the Blue Penguins were in town, decided to spend the night in Oamaru. The Blue Penguin event lasted until gone 10pm - and Dunedin was another 90 minutes away so checking in locally proved to be a good move.
Being breeding season, we were blessed with numbers - over 100 came ashore this evening - and this is certainly an excellent time to visit if you can.
The Blue Penguins were a great, albeit accidental, find and I'm quite sure these cute little critters will be a splendid highlight of the trip.
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Mark Sukhija is a travel and wine blogger, photographer, tourism researcher, hat-touting, white-shirt-wearing, New Zealand fantatic and eclipse chaser. Aside from at least annual visits to New Zealand, Mark has seen eclipses in South Australia (2002), Libya (2006), China (2009) and Queensland (2012). After twelve years in Switzerland, Mark moved back to London in 2012. You can follow Mark on Twitter or Facebook