We drove from Christchurch to Oamaru (pronounced OH-mah-roo), the town best known for its gorgeous Victorian architecture, and for the numerous colonies of penguins here – yellow eyed penguins on one side of the peninsula, little blue penguins on the other side. There’s a penguin viewing business with viewing stands (and premium stands for a premium price) – but the penguins won’t be bought, and many of them insist on gathering around the wharf in town.
After dinner, about 8:30 PM, we drove out to the reserve where the yellow eyed penguins hang out – we met some people coming up the trail, and they said they didn’t see any, but they heard them. So we decided to keep the yellows for tomorrow, and headed down to the wharf.
Jackpot!!!! A few penguins had already come in and were standing among the rocks at the beginning of the wharf, where numerous nesting boxes have been placed. We even saw a fuzzy baby penguin come out and harass its mama for some food!! We could see, further out in the ocean, large groups of little black blobs bouncing around – that’s where the little blue penguins gather at dusk, so that they can come in in large groups called rafts – safety in numbers and all that.
We waited, and waited – watched the few penguins that were in – watched the penguins out at sea group and regroup. Finally, a few small groups broke off and headed in, and we watched as they dove and swam and made it to our rocky area – they all seemed to know the best route up the rocks, and aimed for that, riding in on the waves, bouncing around in the surf, bumping into the rocks and jumping bouncing scrambling up. One little guy didn’t quite make it to the entry point and was drifting off – he squawked at his friends (“I’ll be right back, wait for me”) and swam off to join another raft coming in a bit later.
On and on they came, in dribs and drabs, maybe five or eight at a time, jumping and hopping up the rocks, resting briefly before hopping up another rock or two. Then some shaking out the water, a bit of preening to get the feathers back in shape, little flipper arms outstretched to dry out – and then waddling up to their nesting box, often in pairs, with the occasional juvenile waddling behind the parents if it was old enough to be at sea, or the little fuzzy baby coming out to be fed.
It was so exciting!!!! There must have been over one hundred penguins coming in, clambering up both sides of the rocky wharf, occasionally scurrying across the dirt road to their nest on the other side, with whistling and warbling and mewling (seriously, the babies sound almost like kittens!).
There were family squabbles, and one mama had to jump on an intruder who was heading straight to her nest – really, she leapt on top of another penguin and knocked it down the rock as they screamed at each other!!!!! All kinds of drama in the penguin world tonight!
I don’t have photos at the moment – signs ask people not to use flash, and I don’t know how to turn off the flash on my camera – but one woman said she’d email some photos to me, so I’ll post those when I can. So I’m adding some internet photos just so you can see the little blue penguins that are unique to New Zealand and southern Australia – they’re about 12 inches tall, and sort of a dark charcoal grey with a blue cast – almost like a Russian blue cat, but darker. The very young ones were all grey, but the adolescents and adults were in their tuxedo look with the white front and dark blue grey back and heads.
These penguins are shy, but almost curious about the people watching. One little guy tried to cross the road in front of me – it took him a few minutes to come out a few steps, pause, watch me, then a few more steps, stop, check me again, then waddle run across the road to the other side, and walk along that side to within a yard of me before he went down into the bushes. I was thrilled!! And one young woman apparently sat down to watch - then a few penguins tried to cross the road, and were distracted by her shoes - when I walked by, two young penguins were nipping on this woman's shoe!!!
But these little blue penguins are so cute, so interesting, so entertaining to watch!!!!! It was freezing cold, they were loving it, the whole beach smelled of fish, and it was one of the best experiences we’ve had in NZ!!!!!