Wildlife extravaganza on the Otago Peninsula

The Otago Peninsula is a marine biology paradise, and is credited with being the wildlife capital of New Zealand. There are penguins, seals, seabirds including albatrosses, whales, beaches, and an aquarium all within a 40 minute drive from central Dunedin. I envy people who have a house in one of the Peninsula communities. For the next few weeks, I am housesitting for my supervisor while she is in holiday. Their house is located in Mcandrew Bay, one of the first communities that you reach after arriving on the Peninsula. The house, like most New Zealand homes, has no central heating. However, there is a heat pump in the lounge along with a wood burning stove. Once the fire is going, it’s not so bad, and can get quite toasty. Unfortunately, the rest of the house is freezing. My new roommate is Ali; the epileptic cat, who receives medicine twice a day in the form of crushed pills and fancy feast cat chow. Ali will let you know when it’s feeding time by being the most annoying cat you have ever seen. And she must be watched during dinner time. I have caught her up on the countertops snooping for extra food. She’s very pleasant the rest of the time, taking time to sleep on your lap in front of the evening fire. All in all, I have gone from one extreme (noisy dorm) to the other (isolated single family home) in living arrangements.
The community

View from the front of the house

Mcandrew Bay Beach 

My roommate, Ali the cat

I spent the weekend touring around the Peninsula and here are some of the highlights. 
Sandfly Bay – Sea lion Central

Sandfly Bay is where the tourists go to see the rare New Zealand Yellow eyed penguin and the New Zealand sea lion or Hooker’s sea lion I arrived around 4:30 PM and encountered at least 15 sea lions lounging away on the beach. From a distance, they look like huge logs until they move. And they can move fast even on sand. You do not want to be between the water and a galumphing sea lion. Sea lions come to the beach to rest after deep water foraging expeditions.

I also saw two Yellow-eyed penguins. The first was seen from the penguin hide, which is a shack at the end of the beach that tourists camp out in to wait for the penguins to come ashore at dusk. I watched that one for a while before heading back up the beach. Then I spotted something in the water that looked like a bird. I waited around a while, and sure enough, it was a penguin. So I backed off a bit and it finally came ashore and took off up the beach. Those things can waddle pretty fast. They won’t come ashore if you are too close, that’s why the penguin hide was constructed. This allows for viewing the penguins without disturbing their natural behavior.

Sandfly Bay  

 New Zealand Sea Lion

Stupid tourists

New Zealand Yellow-eyed Penguin
Royal Albatross Centre – Bird Paradise
This awesome place is located at the end of the Otago Peninsula at Taiaroa Head and is the only mainland breeding colony of any albatross species in the southern hemisphere. These are amazing birds to see in flight. Their wingspan measures over 3 meters (9.5 feet). Since it was June, I decided to take the guided tour up to the observatory to view the nests and chicks. The Centre operates year around, but viewing is limited during the breeding season (September-October). Adult albatrosses arrive at the colony in September to re-form pair bonds and to build the nest. The males arrive first and begin to build the nest in preparation for the arrival of the females. The females inspect the nest and will fix it if necessary, or will build a new nest if she is unsatisfied with the nest he built. Sounds a bit like humans, right? Eggs are laid in November and chicks hatch in mid-January to mid-February. Parents share incubation duties for 11 weeks. Some of the more inexperienced couples have their egg taken away and replaced with a dummy egg until they learn how to sit on it properly without breaking it. Hatching can take up to 3 days while the chick emerges from its shell. Nest guarding occurs in March in which the parents take turns feeding and sitting on the chick for the first month or so. By mid-June, the chicks are old enough and have put on enough weight that the parents do not remain at the nest constantly. They spend the majority of their time foraging and bring food back to the chicks. The chicks are still very fluffy, but begin to develop their adult feathers. They begin to become more active during this period in preparation for fledging. Chicks fledge in September, and will not return for 4-6 years. The parents only return to the colony every other year to breed. The oldest breeding female that the colony has seen
was 63 and was known as “Grandma.”

During my visit to the observatory, there were five chicks within the viewing range. There was also a huge group of Stewart Island Shags below the chicks. During the viewing period, several adult albatrosses flew by the observatory. The chicks mainly sat around. They are large birds; the largest chick this season weighs over 9 kg at the moment. They will have to lose some weight before September when it’s time to leave the breeding colony.


The Centre also offers a fabulous visitor’s center with a ton of information on the history and wildlife of Taiaroa Head. Adult albatrosses can also be seen flying from the parking lot.
5 month old chick  


Lifesize chick models 

Soaring adult                                                       

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