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.