Otago Peninsula – Beaches And Wildlife

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Otago Peninsula lies in the South Island, just east of Dunedin. As we leave the city, we find mainly pastures and different types of beaches, and not a lot of local people since the whole area is thinly populated.

Otago Peninsula
Sand patterns and sand dunes at Sandfly Bay.

Otago Peninsula Facts

 
On the other hand, we may find flocks of tourists here and there, especially at the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head (the very end of the peninsula), where an albatross colony can be observed.
Otago Peninsula is also famous for other forms of wildlife, such as penguins, seals, sea lions, and whales.
 

Let’s see some facts about Otago Peninsula:

  • Otago Peninsula is quite small: 20 km (12.5 mi) long and roughly 5 km (3 mi) wide on average.
  • The northern royal albatross colony situated here is the only breeding albatross colony in the world on an inhabited mainland.
  • The royal albatross can have a wingspan of 3.3 m (11 ft) and flies almost 200,000 km (125,000 mi) a year.
  • Some marine birds to be found here: yellow-eyed penguin, little blue penguin, shag, royal spoonbill.
  • The mainland coast habitat of southern right whales by these shores is one of the most renowned in the world.
  • Humpback whales, blue whales, and minke whales have also been sighted near the waters of Otago Peninsula.
  • After extensive hunting in the 19th century, seal and sea lion numbers have grown considerably due to nature protection measures.
  • There is also a castle on the peninsula, Larnach Castle, though it is still within the city limits of Dunedin. It was built in the 1880s by William Larnach, a rich businessman and member of the New Zealand Parliament.
Otago Peninsula, sunset
Silhouette of a seagull against the orange hues produced by the rays of the setting sun.
 

Otago Peninsula Inspiration

 
Encountering the “true inhabitants” (i.e. wild animals) in a beautiful natural environment makes a more meaningful connection to the place you are visiting.
In my case it was Sandfly Bay on the southern side of Otago Peninsula that gave me an experience I’ll never forget.
No, it was not that dramatic or striking, but in a deeper sense, it was very impressive and powerful. I came here with my wife to see some yellow-eyed penguins, a rare penguin species that live only in the southern part of New Zealand.
We arrived at Sandfly Bay late in the afternoon and slowly strolled by the sand dunes towards the sea swept by the wind and the golden rays of sunlight. In the meantime I took some photos of the beach and the ocean waves.
Finally, we got to a section of the beach where hides had been built by the Department of Conservation (DOC) for tourists and researchers to be able to watch yellow-eyed penguins without disturbing them. There were also a couple of other people on the beach with us waiting for the “wildlife show”.

Otago Peninsula, yellow eyed penguin
I didn’t move closer to the penguins not to scare them away (I used a zoom lens with a 2x teleconverter).
As the sun started to turn red, the penguins, one by one, emerged from the water and walked out on the shore heading towards the grassy hills where their nests were hidden.
The parent penguins, either the male or the female, were now returning home with the food they had caught during the day.
It was the first time I saw penguins in their natural habitat and would have liked to get closer to them to get better shots, but I kept staying in the hide. Respect and appreciation outweighed my ambition to have larger images of these lovely creatures who were very busy carrying the supplies to their families.
These moments were extraordinary because it was my first encounter with wild penguins (an unusual experience for a European), I could take some photos of an endangered species, to be found only in this part of the world, and probably because the natural scenery was remarkable with the setting sun, the rocks, the sand, the ocean…
Text and photographs © Daniel Kerek
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