TRAVEL DESTINATION: Otago Peninsula, Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand
The Otago Peninsula is an amazing part of New Zealand where you can encounter many unique animals living in their natural habitat. Native animals are protected, as many species became endangered after the past periods of their near extinction. There are still many threats to these animals today, one of them being human activities and incidental entanglement. Knowing how to share the environment and their mainland habitat with them is important to keep these species alive. I felt very much privileged to be around them for a short while when I was visiting Dunedin a month ago.
Yellow-Eyed Penguin (Hoiho)
Sandfly Bay beach is the most probable place to spot the yellow-eyed penguin on Otago Peninsula. These animals are unique to New Zealand and can be found on the long coastal stretch from the South Island’s Banks Peninsula (south of Christchurch) to Stewart Island. They also inhabit Subantarctic Campbell and Auckland islands. While most penguin species live in a cold and icy environment, these prefer the coastal scrubs, flax, and forests. They have become one of the rarest species of penguins in the world. They grow up just under 70 centimeters, can weigh up to 8 kg and dive up to 130 meters under water. They feed with squid, red cod, sprat, opalfish and blue cod. Being quite quick, they can reach 20 km per hour.
Seeing these penguins with the distinctive yellow eyes and the yellow headband was by far the most joyous experience for me on this trip. There is something about the anticipation while hiding and waiting in the coastal scrubs for hours. If lucky, you get rewarded with seeing these animals come back to the shore in the evening after a day out at sea. They truly have the best of both worlds. They are very shy and sensitive to the environment and prefer their privacy. To me, they always seem very entertaining with their unique walking style. Cuteness overload.
The New Zealand Sea Lions (Rapoka/Whakahao)
I searched for sea lions on few beaches and was lucky to find them on Sandfly Bay beach. And it wasn’t just one or two of them. They were literally taking over the whole beach! They were funnily amazing, seemed a bit lazy (or probably just needed some peace) and proved they can also be very fast – especially when going for that jump into the ocean. If yellow-eyed penguins are shy, these guys, on the other hand, love to show off and sunbathe on the sandy beaches. They were soaking it all in for several hours. They didn’t pay much attention to what was happening around them. Towards the evening some of them started stretching and then ran into the ocean to cool off and hunt for a meal.
The New Zealand sea lions are the rarest of world’s five species of sea lion. These animals can only be found in New Zealand and are becoming more and more endangered. They are quite sociable and can be found in groups. It’s usually easy to distinguish between male and female sea lion. When they reach the adult age, male sea lions develop black or dark brown coats and grow a long mane of thick hair around the neck and shoulders. They can grow up to 3.5 meters and their weight can reach 500 kg! Females have lighter grey-ish color. They grow smaller in size (up to 2 meters) and are also less heavy (up to 160 kg). Sea lions are wild animals, they are large, can be unpredictable and become aggressive if not given their space.
New Zealand Fur Seals (Kekeno)
New Zealand fur seals are quite common seals found in New Zealand. They are widespread and can be found from Subantarctic islands up to the Coromandel Peninsula, Auckland and even South and Western Australia. Unlike New Zealand sea lions, which love sandy beaches and dunes, fur seals prefer rocky coastlines, steep boulder beaches, crevices and tidal pools. They are also known to be one of the most skilled divers and can dive longer and deeper than any other fur seal. They can move quickly on land as well. It’s advisable not to come close to a female with seal pups or to cut off their escape route to the ocean.
Fur seals can be distinguished from New Zealand sea lions by their pointed nose, visible external ears, and long pale whiskers. They are covered by 2 layers of thick fur. The visible one has grey to brown color and serves them as a protection and to keep the inner layer dry and warm. Underneath they have a cozy dense layer of dry fur that they rely on. These animals are usually frightened of people, but can also be quite territorial during the breeding season. They are also very good at hiding and blending with coastal rocks. I nearly missed them a couple of times, as they can’t be recognized from far. So, if you know what part of the beach and coastal area they might be at, Otago Peninsula doesn’t disappoint.
Other Animals of Otago Peninsula
There are many other animals you can encounter on Otago Peninsula that I didn’t have the chance to meet up close. One of them is Northern Royal Albatross (Toroa). The Otago Peninsula is home to their only mainland breeding colony that is located at the end of the peninsula on Taiaroa Head. With over 3 metre wingspan and travel speed of 100 km per hour, these birds are amazing. They are one of the largest seabirds in the world. While in the area, you might also come across Little Penguin (Kororā), Kiwi, South Island Kaka and Tuatara.
It was a totally unique experience for me to be able to see such a diverse range of wildlife in their natural environment. And to be so close to these animals and observe them just be – it’s majestic! I could spend hours watching them. They all get to have the most amazing experience of the beautiful Otago Peninsula: endless coastlines, rugged cliffs and steady breeze from the ocean.
TRAVEL TIP: Bring binoculars for a closer look of these animals and a zoom lens for your photography.