The Scottish settlement of Dunedin is known as the wildlife capital of New Zealand. Its prime position on the Otago Peninsula makes Dunedin the ideal base to explore this incredible region from.
While Dunedin city itself rhymes with gourmet food, craft beers and independent music, the Otago Peninsula is a little piece of heaven where nature reigns supreme.
You can reach the peninsula either by taking the scenic harbour side Portobello road or the uphill Highcliff Road which will take you past gorgeous scenic beaches, hills, pastures and plains.
One of the stars of the Otago Peninsula is the Yellow Eyed Penguin, which nests on bushy headlands facing the ocean. They are best to see late afternoon from November to March when they come ashore after a long day of fishing.
You can take a tour run by local operators like Penguin Place, or visit fantastic beaches like Boulder Beach or Sandfly Bay and be rewarded with close encounters with some of New Zealand’s rarest wildlife such as the endangered NZ sea lions or the NZ fur seals as well as the returning yellow-eyed penguins or hoiho in Maori. For me, nothing comes closer to the spirit of the peninsula than taking a stroll on Boulder Beach at dusk, with haunting calls of penguins echoing across the sand dunes.
Bird lovers, your next stop will be Hoopers and Papanui inlets further down the road going to Taiaroa Head. These two lagoons are havens for ducks, shelducks, black swans and a multitude of wading birds. Name it, you’ll see it. White-faced herons, oystercatchers, pied stilts are there all year round and are joined by godwits and royal spoonbills in summer.
But the holy grail of the Otago Peninsula nests in the northern point of the peninsula, Taiaroa Head where the magnificent northern royal albatrosses settles during summer each year to breed. This is the only mainland breeding colony in the world! And very easily accessible to visitors. The colony itself is protected by the old Taiaroa Head fort where the Albatross Centre stands. Pay them a visit to get closer to breeding pairs and, if you are in luck, some big fluffy albatross chicks. Spotted shags also nest on these same cliffs and the mounded nests of colourful Stewart Island shags can be seen from the albatross observation area. To get to the viewing site, visitors walk through a chaotic breeding colony of red-billed gulls – a declining if not yet endangered sea bird. But to fully apprehend their majesty, the Royal Albatross Centre carpark is the place to be. Go there in the late afternoon when Taiaroa Head transform itself into a very busy airport with albatrosses flying around. Simply magical!
If you stick around at dusk, another magical moment awaits. At the base of Taiaroa Head, at a rocky beach called Pilots Beach, is a burgeoning colony of blue penguins – the smallest penguin in the world! This little penguin is also known as little blue penguin or fairy penguin and lives in New Zealand and Australian waters. Book an evening guided tour at the Royal Albatross Centre to admire hundreds of these charming sea birds swarming ashore under special lights.
So, what are you waiting for? We’ve got you covered with our Dunedin Airport location.