Our lodge owns a secret penguin breeding area that is closely guarded from the public. Protection of these birds includes keeping the area free of dogs, rats and stoats to limit predation. Due to the mild human caretaking this rookery has grown from 30 breeding pairs to over 100 in the last 30 years. Meanwhile the penguin population at the nearby public beach has shown a decrease to only about 20 pairs. Penguins are sensitive birds; if they feel threatened by people getting too close to their nests or they are harassed by photographers, they typically flee to the ocean, leaving their chicks to starve.
The access to the 1km trail is just off the main highway, but the guide actually parks the van down the way so the pullout doesn’t get unwanted attention. And they asked us to remove any EXIF location info from our phones/cameras so our photos cannot be geolocated once posted. In addition to keeping the number of visitors to the rookery small, there are nasty folks who will poach penguins to sell to zoos for hundreds of thousands of dollars!
Tawaki (Fiordland Crested penguin) can be identified by their bright orange beak and yellow ‘eyebrows’. Unlike other penguins, the Tawaki make their nests under trees, logs or boulders in the rainforest. They use the beaches as thoroughfares between their forest nests and the Tasman Sea, where they spend the majority of their lives. There are upwards of 6000 Tawaki in the south of New Zealand, maybe 10% of those are found around the wilderness lodge. Females will almost always lay two eggs, but only one chick will be fed, leaving the second to die.
After a tasty lunch at the lodge, we walked out to the public area at Monro Beach to see if we could see more penguins. Sadly all we saw were sand flies. They are evil little buggers who will take a bite of whatever flesh they can find, even with two layers of bug spray. However the walk there and back was quite beautiful.
After another wonderful dinner (Moroccan soup, falafel and steaks) Gerry took us on a night walk. The resident morepork owl was sitting in the trees right outside our room snacking on moths.
We donned hi-vis vests to walk out along the highway to find our first glow worms nesting in the embankment (sadly no photo possible – hopefully later in our trip).
Then we looked to the sky as Gerry pointed out a few galaxies, the Southern Cross and the constellation Scorpio (appropriate for Kris). Apparently in the Northern Hemisphere we see approximately 1000 stars – in the South we can see up to 5000 stars!
In the stream at the side of the road, Gerry found us a crayfish. Invertebrate biologists didn’t believe that they lived here but we proved them wrong!
Tomorrow we leave this little slice of paradise and head further south to Wanaka.