Saturday, November 24, 2007

Little Blue or Big Yellow?

Our first stop after Christchurch was the small coastal town of Oamaru, reknowned for its penguin colonies, old victorian building, and possibley the best botanical gardens in NZ. What brought us to Oamaru were the penguins, but we were pleasantly surprised by our daytime stroll though town and the gardens--we definitely could have spent more time here--but we hurried through as the penguin viewing starts around 5:30 pm.

Yellow-Eyed Penguins: Our first penguin viewing wasn't a managed (read: expensive) experience. Essentially you walk along a nature path along the coastal cliffs above the yellow-eyed penguin colony and wait for the notoriously shy adult penguins to swim to shore to feed their babies nested along the cliffs. When we arried, there was a lone penguin standing about 2 feet tall on the beach, wings outstretched, occassionally flapping to cool down. As the small crowd of people watched the lone penguin for about 30 minutes wondering what s/he would do next (go back into the ocean, signal to his friends that it was safe to come ashore, flap his wings a bit more, etc?) we heard some rustling underneath the blind we were hiding behind. The blind was constructed to not disturb the endangered and skittish yellow-eyed penguins, so the crowd was completely hushed and hidden from view of the beach.

To our collective surprise, the rustling beneath the blind turned out to be a penguin feeding its young, but mostly preening for the cameras a few feet away. It was definitely a special experience to be so up close to this rare and beautiful bird, found only in NZ.

Blue Penguins: We moved on to view the blue penguin colony, which is a conservation projecte and was more of a manged experience (read: we had to pay). At dust, we were corrallled through the gift shop to a lighted stadium seating area nex to the beach where the blue penguins come ashore each night. The blue penguin is the world's smallest--only about 15 centimeters tall. They're known in Australia as fairy penguins and are rare in NZ and AUS, but not endangered. After a brief talk by the marine biologist, the rafts of penguins began to arrive in groups of about 20. We watched as they climbed the steep rocks ashore--running, stumbling, and goofy walking their way into our hearts. Awww.

1 comment:

Dave said...

Ah yes, the "Managed Experience". You have to give it to those Kiwi's, they have raised taking money from tourists to the level of an art form.