South Island Trip: Christchurch to Queenstown
Written by Cathy Siegismund
We continued our drive down the coast. We were heading to Dunedin for the
night, but first made a stop in Oamaru.
Oamaru a small historic coastal town, best known for its penguins.
Both yellow-eyed and little blue penguins nest in Oamaru. The yellow-eyed
penguins are one of the rarest. Penguins fish all day, and come ashore in the
evening. Penguins are known to go to see and stay out fishing for prolonged
periods of time. They will do this particularly when they are preparing to
Prior to the molt, the penguins must at least double their weight. While they
are molting they will lose all their feathers and grow a complete new set.
During the molt, the penguins are unable to fish as they are not waterproof and
will remain ashore for several weeks to a month, depending on the type of
Penguins often mate for life, as long as the partnership can successfully
produce chicks. Most penguin parents will produce two chicks each year. Parents
will take turns fishing and both participate in the raising of the chicks.
We first went to the beach to watch the yellow-eyed penguins coming ashore. A
site that can only be seen in central South Island of New Zealand and the
Beach where we watched the yellow-eyed penguins
Rare yellow-eyed penguin
We next went to a center for the little blue penguins, a site has been fenced
in to keep out predators, and nesting boxes and a small grandstand have been
You pay a small fee, sit in the grandstands and wait for the penguins to come
ashore. The small grandstand is next to the rocky shore. There is a small dirt
road and across from that is a fenced man-made nesting area. We at first were
perplexed at how the penguins would get through the fence to their nests, until
we saw that they are only about 10 inches tall, and would only have to duck to waddle
under the fence. As amazingly cute as the little blue penguins are, they are are
extremely successful fishermen. They will usually travel up to 20 km a day to
feed and dive up to 30 meters.
Just as it was getting dark, the surf seemed to spit out 3-5 penguins at a
time. The little guys would then carefully climb up the rocky shore,
periodically preening themselves. They then would congregate at the edge of the
road, looking right and left like they were expecting traffic. There then seemed
to be some unheard command to make a run for it, and the little blue penguins
would dash - as quickly as a 10 inch penguin can go - across the road, under the
fence and into their nesting area.
Little Blue Penguins
We didn't leave Oamaru until about 8pm, and had a couple of hours drive to
Dunedin. We were thankful we had made reservations at a nice hotel. After a good
night's sleep, we spent the morning exploring Dunedin. After breakfast, we
toured the historic railway station.
Dunedin Train Station
In the early afternoon, we had made reservations to tour
Penguin Place, and the
Royal Albatross Center.
From Dunedin, we took the scenic one-hour drive out to the end of the Otago
Peninsula. The home to several cute small towns, some lovely homes, and a
number of tourist attractions, including Larnach Castle, Penguin Place and the
Royal Albatross Center.
View from the Otago Peninsula
Our first stop was Penguin Place. A first rate private conservation reserve
for the yellow-eyed penguin. This extremely rare penguin, which nests on the
Otago Peninsula was suffering from the feral animals that now live in New
conservation project was established in 1984. At the time,
just 8 breeding pairs. The area is fenced and protected from feral animals such
as dogs, cats, possums and skoats (a sort of ferret), as well as having man-made
nests the penguins can use. To fund the conservation project, Penguin Place was
created. There is a visitors' center, gift shop and guided tours through the
colony to view the penguins. The tour starts with a short lecture and film about
the birds. You are then driven out to the colony were you are led through
covered trenches and observation huts from which you can view the
penguins up close without disturbing them. This year the conservation had 36
nesting pairs of penguins.
Penguin Place, set on the lovely Otago
A few fur seals resting on the penguin's
A young penguin getting the lay of the land
trenches and observation huts
While we visited Penguin Place, the penguins were in the middle of their
Molting Yellow-Eyed Penguin
On the way back to the visitors' center, we stopped at the Penguin Place
hospital. Here they care for injured and sick birds, and will feed immature
were underweight when they were ready to leave the nest.
Penguin Place hospital
After a great tour at Penguin Place, we continued further out to the end of
the Otago Peninsula to Taiaroa Head to the Royal Albatross Center.
The Royal Albatross is the world’s largest sea bird. It is huge with a height
of up to four feet and a wingspan of over ten feet. They feed on surface
shoaling fish and squid. Male and female pairs, who usually mate for life, raise
one chick every two years. The chicks mature at six years, and live for about 45
years. When the Albatross is not looking for a mate or raising chicks at Taiaroa
Head, they are at sea. After the young albatross leaves the nest, they will
spend 6-10 years living at sea, until they return to find a mate. Once they are
a part of breeding pair, they will spend one year on land raising their chick,
and then an alternate year back at sea. The albatross can fly over 60 km an hour and
fly over 1000 miles per day. While at sea, they fly around the
Antarctic continent through the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans before returning to
New Zealand waters.
The Royal Albatross Center, protects the breeding area from feral predators
as well as tracking the albatross that are born and return to breed on the Otago
Peninsula. The colony tour started with a film about the albatross; we then
walked up to a glassed observation room. We saw one albatross flying around
Taiaroa Head and three of the large chicks were sitting in their nests.
After our two wildlife tours, we set off for Invercargill, where we would
spend our last night before we had to be in Queenstown. We arrived in the early
evening, and got a room at bed and breakfast and had dinner. The next day we
drove around town, and stopped at the museum, where they have Tuataras.
The Tuatara is the last
surviving member of a family
of reptiles, which have existed for over
200 million years. The first
Tuataras lived with the Dinosaurs. The Tuatara disappeared everywhere on Earth,
except for New Zealand, where mammals never reached.
Tuataras are reptiles but they are very different
from lizards, crocodiles and amphibians (frogs, salamanders). Tuatara have a
primitive body structure indicating that they are one of the oldest and most
un-evolved species, having hardly changed in the past 200 million years.
They have extremely slow metabolisms; you can watch them for hours without
seeing them move. Some of the Tuatara at the Invercargill museum are over 100 years
After the visit to the museum, we drove through the beautiful Southland country
to Queenstown. On the way we saw a not uncommon site.
Stopping to let farmers drive their sheep past us on the