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Chocolate Fishing on the Monarch
Deciding to book a ticket on the Monarch Wildlife Cruise Chocolate Fishing Trip, one of the Cadbury Chocolate Carnival events, was not a hard decision to make. I think I have extra salty blood. I grew up in a sailing family and spent six years in the Navel Reserves doing hydrography, so naturally I’m happy to cruise Otago Habour. 

 
 
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White Herons -Koutuku
Whataroa is a small farming town on SH6, just north of Franz Josef Glacier village on the West Coast of the South of New Zealand. Beyond the weatherboard pub, and across the road from the ice cream shop is White Heron Tours

 
 
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Give us a Kiss!
Penguin Place, on the Otago Peninsula is home to endangered yellow eyed penguins. Set on a private conservation reserve, the site was created by Howard McGrouther in 1985. Back then there were only eight breeding pairs of yellow eyed penguins in the area, thanks to Howard’s foresight and dedicated team there are now over 19 breeding pairs nesting in paradise.

The penguin tours fully fund the project and pay for the upkeep of the nesting area, the world’s only yellow eyed penguin hospital, predator and replanting programmes, and the employment of a marine biologist and team of tour guides.

The tour takes around ninety minutes. Tim, our guide, was one of those rare individuals who genuinely adores his job, and telling the world about the very rare yellow eyed penguins. We visited the auditorium first, learnt about how ‘Penguin Place’ came to life, and some of the reasons why the yellow eyed penguin or Hoiho - which means ‘noise shouter’ in Maori, is unique.

The yellow eye is the third largest penguin species in the world, being outsized only by the Emperor and King. Unlike other penguins, they are very territorial and like a sense of space. Each year they stake their claim on a section of coastal property and together with their mate for life build a nest to lay their two eggs.

Sadly, their choice of nesting site, down on the ground on a small section East Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, is also home to their land based predators. Stoats, dogs and feral cats see penguin eggs as a must have delicacy. They aren’t really safe off shore either, orcas and seals find the penguins a tasty snack, and they often drown in fishing nets.

At the on-site penguin hospital there were no bird’s predation injuries, however, it was sad to see the number of undernourished birds. With the La Niña weather pattern, the fish supply has not being close to shore and the young penguins have simply starved.

A short bus trip over the farm to the Eastern side of the Otago Peninsula took us to the penguin reserve. There is WWI trench like system with viewing bunkers covered in camouflage that allowed us to get right up to the birds. It was the middle of malting season, so the birds had spent four weeks over feeding and then come to land to shed their coats.

The second part of the tour is above ground; we walked out to the ‘Bachelor Pad’ a rocky point overlooking the beach where adolescent New Zealand fur seals come to ‘hang out’. We also saw the little blue penguin breeder boxes and got an aerial appreciation of the ‘trench system’. This really is THE wildlife tour to do while in Dunedin, it is by far the most intimate wildlife experience, and I can’t wait to go back in December to see the chicks. All I can say is 'Thank the universe!' for people like Howard McGrouther and his family who created this amazing place.

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Aerial view of Penguin Place
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New Zelaand Fur Seals
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Inside the Tunnel System