Wednesday: Ohhhh heyyyy sunshine! It’s a glorious day in Dunedin and I’m glad because at 1pm I’m getting picked up from the I-Site for a full 8 hour wildlife tour with Elm. (I opted for this company because they’re so highly recommended!).
I’ve just hopped on the bus and been handed a wildlife cruise ticket! Today is looking pretty good… I realise I could have gone out this morning and explored a bit of Dunedin but I’m pretty tired after yesterday – it was pretty full on, plus I know that today is going to be fairly long.
The Scottish bought the land off the Maori, and set up a Scottish presbyterian religion, but things changed with the gold rush as many people descended on the city. (Not all of whom you’d necessarily want to share a city with). Funnily, the harbour and the ocean are not on the same side here in Dunedin! Instead they have 22k harbour!
As the weather is so much better than last night, we are taking the high road instead of along the harbour so that’s pretty cool! The suburbs are beautiful up here. Apparently in 2006, 5 icebergs floated past NZ which is a rarity, they haven’t been seen since.
I didn’t realise this but the dairy industry is one of the biggest in NZ, alongside tourism and wine. The sheep industry has changed a bit because the price of lamb here is super expensive, driven up by the fact that Europeans and Americans are willing to pay so much for it abroad.
There are several islands around the coastline;
– Goat island – so steep only goats could live there.
– Quarantine island – when settlers moved over and when soldiers travelled home from war and got sick, they were sent there until they were well enough to return to the main land.
The harbour looks so different now the tide is coming in! We spotted two white faced heron in a field.
We’re heading out on a Monarch wildlife cruise! There were about 5 of us sitting in a waiting area when someone finally asked ‘should we board the boat’, the woman on the desk replied ‘yes definitely!’. Definitely? I’m thinking… Why wouldn’t you tell us that before the bus load of people arrived? The front of the boat is now packed full of people. Brilliant.
It’s significantly colder now, than the blazing sun beaming down on Dunedin just a few hours ago! As I look at the time now, it’s been 2 hours since I got picked up and I’m surprised how quickly the time has passed! Apparently the other tour group on board are German, I know this because after everything our captain says, a lady translate over the intercom in German.
I’m back to the same area where we saw the little blue penguins last night, it’s pretty different seeing all of this in the day light and from the ocean instead of on land!
Stewart island shag endemic to NZ colony on the side of the cliff face!
Albatross would be 1.2m in height if it stood up and has a wingspan of 3m! You can tell them apart from the seagull because they tend to glide on the water as a pose to flapping
Spotted a giant petrol! A true seabird and a relation of the albatross!
To put things into perspective, last night, our guide told us it took her 6 months to see her first albatross in flight, over the past two days, I have seen perhaps 7 or 8.
White capped albatross!
Spotted a huge sea lion perched on the beach, he’s been hanging around the past few days with a sore nose apparently. They’re a bit concerned about him so they’re keeping an eye on him, I’m wondering if he’s the one who’s been trying to eat the little blues across the other side of the bay.
We’ve been on the water for just under an hour and it looks like we’re headed back so I’m intrigued to see how the rest of the day plays out. From my recollection, I thought there was to be an element of coastal walking but I’m not entirely sure now!
We’re back at the albatross centre, we’re having a 60 minute guided tour which I think includes heading to a viewing platform! The Royal northern is the 3rd largest! Because their wings are so huge, they have joints in their wings that they can fold inwards. As gliders, they get tired if they have to flap as they have weak chest bones. They drink salt water and eat squid, to get rid of all of this salt, they have a duct to release it, like a permanent drip!
Albatross return and nest where they hatched. Not all albatross mate for life, they may separate. The nest is never left unattended from when the egg is dropped until the baby is about 6 weeks old. The babies aren’t waterproof to begin with! There are also lots of mammal predators here, luckily none have been attacked here since 1994!
When chicks first leave, they fly away for 5 years, towards Argentina and chillie, during this time, they don’t actually touch land at all! They stay ocean bound the whole time! When they come back, they’re like bambi for the first 48 hours, they’re legs just don’t work! Albatross only lay one egg every 2 years, rearing the chick is so draining, the birds need a year to recover.
So this was originally a Maori settlement. They built on the headland, but after the threat of Russian warfare, canons were placed around the area as it provides really great views across the harbour. In 1938 the first Royal northern albatross chick hatched here. This area was on the whales migration path, so a whaling station was built, but closed 10 years later as they were almost hunted to extinction. The area wasn’t great for nature after all of the human disturbances but now things are better! The southern right whale has also returned!
In recent years, the heat has caused flies to breach the albatross eggs. One way around this is to replace the real egg with a ‘dummy egg’ during the day (when it’s too hot out – it gets transferred to an incubator) and then changing them back over in the evening when it’s far cooler. There’s also a sprinkler system in place for when its get too hot and the birds overheat. This system cools them down!
The ranger will sit down next to the bird and stroke it’s tummy, if they stand up, the ranger will swap the eggs and it means the bird is happy for them. If the bird resists, the ranger moves on as he doesn’t want to stress them out, this stress can be transferred to the egg and kill the chick.
Albatross will recognise their nest and their partners, but not their chicks. Sounds nuts ey? But apparently this can work out well if some are underweight and some over, because the centre can comply swap them over so the better partners fatten up the small chicks. There are also foster parents up here because one bird cannot raise a chick by itself.
The parents have been swapping chick every 2-3 days which signals that food is near by! In total there are 22 species of albatross, 17 of them live in the Southern Hemisphere.
At first, I kind of thought, oh great, albatross again, but as I looked out, I realise how lucky I am. This is the only mainland colony because they tend to nest on steep cliffs that are inaccessible to us basically. So I’m feeling really lucky to have seen little blue penguins and albatross so close.
We’ve left the centre and we’re heading to spot some yellow-eyes penguins. There’s no guarantees because they’re super rare but I’m hopeful!
We saw oyster catchers and a large group of Royal spoonbills! White faces herons are self introduces from Australia! Of the four types of heron in NZ, these are the most common. Now that the tide has gone out, we can see many marsh birds feeding! The east coast forest is totally different to the west, it’s way dense with no grass growing.
We’re on private property, only elm can be here. We’re going to be on this land for the next 2 hours!
The yellow eyed penguin, the second rarest in the world! He’s sitting on the path in front of us! They pick a home for life! These guys are super endangered for a number of reasons, including sea lions (who eat them!), a few years ago, there was a toxin in the ocean that killed 65 birds, there have been years of starvation when there has not been enough food, also big schools of barracuda were fishing in the same area as the penguins and nipped them so a lot of them were injured. And this is the past 4 years so they’re having a pretty bad run!
Now there are only 5 instead of 15 but they’re all single so it’s pretty sad to see and they’re twice the size of a little blue but half the size of an emperor penguin!
This is the rarest sea lion in the world, they were almost hunted to extinction and are not scared of humans, most of these live in sub-Antarctic conditions. The females often hide from the males as they can be quite possessive (they can sit on them to prevent them from leaving… Therefore suffocating them) so not that many babies got born on the mainland.
These penguins but on 2kg extra before they malt because they cannot swim while this is happening, so they drink the freshwater from this stream but they also have salt glands like the albatross so they can purify the salt water too. They spend 3 minutes at a time under the water, can dive to a depth of 160m and dive around 350 times a day (although they do not typically dive that deep, this often).
These penguins flap their arms wide when they’re too hot, this cools them down! I’ve just spotted a fat little chick following his momma as she takes him down to the beach! Another fat little chick has joined them! They look like they’re wearing little blue jumpers! Saw a total of 13 tonight!
Fur seals cannot swim in the ocean until they’d roughly a year old so these little rock pools are the perfect place for them to splash around! Baby fur seals will rush to any momma who appears for feeding, to prevent them from feeding other pups, the momma gets used to her own babies smell.
If we sailed for 9,500 km in this direction, we’d get to Chile!
I’d like to end by recommending this tour! Elm Wildlife really are great!
Overall, the day has been exceptional, it’s a great time to be alive and I’m sure glad I am.
(And again, I have been asked, coerced or bribed to say any of this!)