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I am a Denver-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

Watching New Zealand’s Yellow Eyed Penguins

One of the big reasons why I wanted to travel to New Zealand’s south island was to see the endangered Yellow-eyed penguin. I had become so familiar with the different species of penguins through my travels to Antarctica that when I read about this one, I knew I had to see it. And it was well worth the trouble.
My flight was booked into Christchurch, up the coast from the Otago Peninsula where the penguins live, and rental car secured. Unfortunately the one little glitch of my never having driven of the other side of the road before, especially at night, wasn’t ever one that crossed my mind in all of this. Thankfully the drive was easy and I only made one wrong turn before pulling into my hotel a couple of hours after night fall.
It was a great family run place that took care of all the bookings for me. Heck, the lady that owns the place even dried and folded my laundry for me when she found my pants hanging throughout the room the next morning. It was definitely impressive service in an area that I wish I had spent more time seeing.
My morning was spent touring Larnach Castle, perched high on the hills of the peninsula, as my tour to see the penguins was booked for the afternoon. After a bit of lunch at a nearby restaurant, which definitely seems to be a night time favorite of the locals, I hopped on the tour bus, which is the only way to see the wildlife.
I was the last person on the bus as my hotel wasn’t far from our destination. The drive was still quite an ordeal as it wound along past a lake over some rarely used dirt roads. The beautiful tree-lined drive ended on some private farm land that overlooked the Pacific Ocean on the east side of the island. The salty smell of the sea carried to the top of the hills as we climbed out of the bus ready to see the penguins; unfortunately they were a long hike down, and thus back up, the hill through an area filled with little bombs left by the farm animals.
We spotted a couple of yellow-eyed penguins as we followed the path down to the beach where the rest lived. A little surprise of a New Zealand fur seal though blocked our way when we arrived. Thankfully the tour guides are well familiar with this little guy and were able to coax him away from an enclosed pen where we were able to safely relax and observe the penguins, snapping away, flash-free, as many pictures as we liked.
The penguins, which live with a single mate – unlike their Antarctic cousins who congregate in a colony – struck poses like models for us as though they knew what we were there to see. They were beautiful creatures that stood about the same height as the Antarctic Gentoo penguin, both of which are significantly smaller than the famous Emperor penguin at about 15 or so pounds in weight and 30 inches in height.
We left the forts on the beach to head for an overlook at a fur seal colony, but were rather underwhelmed as the light at dusk was less than ideal for photographs. So after only a short visit we made the arduous hike back to the top of the hill to the bus. In such occurrences I’m thankful for the extra lung capacity from living a mile above sea level in Denver since many of the other tourists were huffing and puffing their way up with several breaks.
Back at the bar near my hotel I relaxed and reminisced about a great day; the castle visit was fun, but the penguin and seal tour was spectacular. I love going out and seeing wildlife and this was one of the more amazing opportunities I’ve had to do so. It is definitely a tour I’d recommend to anyone making the trip to the South Island; just make sure to take several days to enjoy all that the area has to offer.
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