Yesterday was “tour day”. From Dunedin we drove out to the Otago Peninsula, known for its wildlife. We began with a non-so-wild tour of Larnach Castle, built by Willilam Larnach in the late 1800’s. It’s been beautifully restored by its current owners and we were able to walk through rooms on the three floors of the castle. The grounds were also beautiful, but due to foggy weather and time constraints we didn’t spent much time exploring the gardens and pathways.
At the end of the peninsula is the Royal Albatross Centre. There we were able to see albatross nesting in the headlands and soaring above. It was quite windy and we saw several albatross flying around the area.
The albatross colony is protected by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and we viewed the birds from inside a hut so not to disturb them. They don’t seem to mind humans though and we watched the DOC ranger approach each nesting bird, sit down next to it, lift out the baby chick from under the parent, weigh the baby then put it back under the mom or dad. Amazing! Our guide said that if the baby is underweight the ranger feeds it extra food so that it maintains a healthy weight.
Mature Royal Albatross have a wing span of almost 10 feet and weigh almost 20 pounds! They can fly at speeds of approx. 75 MPH. They’re very graceful and were beautiful to watch. Unfortunately our little cameras don’t do them justice.
Our final tour of the day was to see the yellow-eyed penguins at their conservation reserve. We booked this tour for late in the day as that’s when the penguins arrive home after being out in the ocean fishing all day. We were able to view a penguin come up the beach and wander through the dunes to his “home” – a wooden shelter built into the side of a hill. His mate and baby were waiting for his arrival and we got to watch the male feed his family (they regurgitate the food to pass it on).
We were watching all of the action from blinds and tunnels built into the dunes so as the penguin traveled from the beach to his home up on the hill we could follow him. The male also had a run-in with a neighboring penguin, something that the guide said that he had not seen before.
After watching the penguins for awhile we walked out on the headland and watched more penguins arriving on the beach along with sea lions. One of the sea lions clambered up the hill and plopped himself down less than 10 feet from us. We didn’t seem to bother him at all but I was a bit nervous being that close to such a big guy.
All in all we had a wonderful day of wildlife viewing then enjoyed an excellent dinner in the little town of Portebello before heading back to our little cabin in Dunedin.