Driving the whole of New Zealand meant we had number of very long days in the car. To break up the drive between some of the longer routes, we often found small towns to rest our heads. Originally booked as a rest stop between our drive from Christchurch to Te Anau, Dunedin was the South Island’s little surprise. With its green, rolling hills and Scottish heritage, this city is known to be the Edinburgh of New Zealand.
Honestly speaking, prior to our arrival we didn’t have anything planned. We checked into the Scenic Hotel Dunedin City and thought we would simply stroll around town and get a take out for dinner. Long term travel is exhausting – so we were thrilled not to have anything planned. That was of course until we saw the “what to do in Dunedin” pamphlets in the hotel lobby. Wildlife tours. Wait, what? How did we miss this? We were in luck as most the tours left in the late afternoon – prime time for wildlife viewing. We booked ourselves onto the Peninsula Encouters Tour with Elm Wildlife Tours and had a fantastic afternoon out on the Dunedin’s Otago Peninsula. Little did we know that the Otago Peninsula is home to unique, world famous wildlife.
After a tasty lunch at the Dog With Two Tails, we got picked up from our hotel in Dunedin and set off on our scenic adventure.
Here’s a look at the afternoon out and the unique wildlife you will encounter on the Otago Peninsula.
After about a 45 minutes’ drive, we made it to Taiaroa Head, the tip of the Otago Peninsula and the home of the Royal Albatross Center. This center is the only mainland breeding colony of the Royal Albatross anywhere in the world. So it’s safe to say that it’s one of the best and easiest ways to see these guys in action.
There are walkways along the cliff face that allow you to watch the Royal Albatross. During our visit we saw a handful of Royal Albatross as well as a bunch of other sea birds. It’s amazing seeing the wing span of the Albatross when flying near the small birds.
Be sure to pop inside the center as well. There is a short film a film that gives a nice intro to the birds and the conservation efforts being made on the Otago Peninsula. Peruse the gallery, visit the gift shop and have a coffee. It’s all there. If you didn’t get enough views of the birds, you have the option of paying extra to access the official observatory to see the royals up close. Probably an interesting option if there are chicks that have recently hatched. The Department of Conservation of New Zealand (DOC) have a live web cam stream that you can check out at the center as well.
//YELLOW-EYED & BLUE PENGUINS
Our next stop was to Elm Wildlife Tours’ private conservation area to see some of the world’s most unique penguins. We parked at the top of the cliffs and made our way along the path down to the gorgeous beach. This part of the Otago Peninsula is home to breeding areas for the Blue Penguin and the rare Yellow-Eyed Penguin. It also can only be accessed by those on the tour, so we had it all to ourselves.
Yellow-Eyed Penguins get their name from – you guessed it – their yellow eyes and their too cool for school yellow head band. After a long day of fishing, they swim back to shore, scuttle up the rock cliffs and feed their young. The conservation area that we visited has great, hidden observation hut that allow you to see this all take place without getting in nature’s way. There is even a penguin cam that allows you to view an actual nest up close.
The Blue Penguin is considered to be the world’s smallest penguin.These guys are only found in New Zealand and are one of the rarest species of penguin in the world. They stayed in their little hideouts during our visit, but it was still a very cool opportunity to see them in person.
//HOOKER’S SEA LIONS
On the same beach where we observed the penguins, we also got to see the New Zealand Sea Lion, AKA Hooker’s Sea Lions. These beauts are one of the rarest sea lion specie in the world and are typically only ound in New Zealand. Our guide mentioned that they migrated in the past and can also be found on the subantarctic islands as well.
Hunters began capturing the Hooker’s Sea Lions for their fur and oil in the 19th century. Even though hunting these guys was banned in the middle of the 20th century, their numbers are critically low and they are still endangered. Hopefully conversation efforts will continue to help see their numbers rise.
//NEW ZEALAND FUR SEALS
We made our way back to the cliff where we originally parked and took a different path down to a cliffside viewing area. The marked path led to another hidden observation area. This part of the visit was all about checking out the New Zealand Fur Seal. The observation area overlooks a large fur seal breeding colony so we were in luck.
There was no shortage of things going on here. As you can expect, the massive males were playing their game of territory with each other – taking massive, toothy jabs at each other. Talk about a perfect time to have tough skin. Due to the season we visited, there were also numerous seal pups that had been born. Mothers guarded their young as they curiously climbed the rocks and splashed about in the pools. It was nice to just sit there in silence and observe without being an intruder.
So it should be cleat that taking a day out on the Otago Peninsula is a great way to spend your time while in Dunedin. The guided, six-hour tour provided by Elm Wildlife Tours was very scenic and we got to see and learn about many unique wildlife species. Elm Wildlife Tours offer a series of tours with different types of experiences – including private outings – so definitely worth checking out your options and booking before your arrival.