Tuesday March 10, 2015: Last night at dusk we witnessed the coming ashore of the Taiaro Head blue penguin colony. At one time according to a friend that lived in Dunedin, one could take a dirt road to the end of the Otago Peninsula, also called the Taiaro headlands and take a dip in the ocean to swim with the penguins. Alas no longer, there is now a sealed (blacktop) road the entire distance from Dunedin to the peninsula tip and at the end stands a magnificent Albatross Visitor Center that controls access to the beach, which includes the blue penguin, yellow eyed penguin, and Royal Albatross colonies. The $25 - $45 admission fee fortunately goes towards the conservation efforts for these animals and maintaining the private, tribal ownership of the “Taiaro Headlands”. Apparently, in the 1800’s Queen Victoria granted the local Maori chief a personal land grant of the headlands and that grant has been perpetuated with his descendents to the present time, evidenced by his great-great granddaughter that led the penguin tour orientation. Her ancestry was reinforced by her command of the Maori language and characteristic south Pacific native chin tattoos. As we trekked down the hill from the Visitor Center to an observation deck by the beach, it became closer to dusk and poor light, thus explaining the lack of good photographs to share with you. At first there were only a few blue penguin stragglers emerging from the water onto the beach and lumbering up and over the rocks to their underground burrows, but after full dark there came groups of 5 to 20 little blue penguins suddenly fluttering from the surf and heading home after a long day fishing in the ocean. These little guys are only about 13 inches high but can still speed through the water at a similar speed to what many birds fly. They spend all day in the open ocean feeding on various fish and other sea life before heading for home to feed their young with the usual regurgitation method (miss being a shorebird youth?). That is, they come home if they successfully evade the predatory killer whales and sharks lying in wait at the mouth of the bay anticipating a penguin morsel.
First photo is of the Cathedral Caverns on the southern coast of the South Island, with Cindy and Annabelle standing at the entrance to provide some indication of cavern size.