We had a very special thing on our bucket list when we left Denmark: We wanted to see wild penguins. And rumours go that we could find yellow-eyed penguins on Otago Peninsula near Dunedin – or in general on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand.
We put up the tent at Portobello Village Tourist Park, a lovely campsite with the hottest showers ever. From there we set out to explore both Dunedin and the peninsula on the hunt for a glimpse of some wildlife.
Our first attempt was the Sandfly Bay where there should be a fair chance to see fur seals and a marginal chance to see yellow-eyed penguins. To make a trip out of it we decided to walk from Sandymount – a small sandy mountain a few kilometres from the beach. The track took us through green farmland with sheeps and then out of nowhere amazing views from the top of very steep cliffs.
However, soon the track turned into a more sandy version, and we encountered what seemed to be a huge dune down to the beach, and a big sign telling you about the wildlife you could see at the beach if you where quiet and willing to hide for a while. Thrilled by the chance of seeing some amazing animals and the fact that we appeared to be all alone we continued walking through the sand as quiet as possible. It took ages to walk through all the sand, but finally we reached the beach: Just to find around 100 other tourists that were not at all quiet nor hiding…
The amount of other tourists was a bit of a disappointment, but it was soon forgotten, as we got a glimpse of some New Zealand fur seals in the more quiet and rocky part of the beach. We quickly decided that it was time for a biscuit break and enjoyed the amazing fur seals posing for us for almost 30 minutes. It was awesome!
Soon it was time to move on, as we had an evening appointment with the wildlife reserve Penguin Place for a guided tour through their trenches to hopefully get a glimpse of one of the penguins nesting in their reserve.
Unfortunately, our way back was the same way as we arrived – through the dunes… It was about one hour of sweat, sand, relentless sunshine, and a never ending walk uphill in the sandy dune. We made it, but it was a tough one. Luckily enough we also made it just in time before the whole area was covered in a cloud of mist as we reached our car. A great and unexpected adventure out in the nature, and we saw the fur seals 🙂
The evening appointment with Penguin Place was no disappointment either. The yellow-eyed penguins are not fond of company; not even the company of other penguins. So they have a habit of returning from the ocean one by one at any time during the evening, and walk a lonely walk up the beach and the dunes to their nest. As only about 25 yellow-eyed penguins live in the wildlife reserve and they do not all return to their nest every day, it obviously requires some patience and luck to spot one of the yellow-eyed creatures. It must have been one of our lucky days, because just as we arrived 24 year old Jim decided to return from the ocean. Our guide Megan quickly led us through a system of semi underground tracks and hides to follow Jim on his route back to his nest, and we got some amazing close-up views and pictures of this rare yellow-eyed penguin. It may sound a little disappointing to go to a wildlife reserve to see just one penguin, but it was truly amazing 🙂
Our rental period for the car is running out, so this is the end of our wildlife adventures. Next stop is Christchurch where we are finishing up our New Zealand adventures too.