Hanging with penguins in Curio Bay
Summer 12/13 roadie, days 7-8
The Catlins is a fabulous part of NZ and Curio Bay is a treasure amongst treasures. We had two nights in the region and the first was here.
Mike had sorted all our accommodation and even though I have full confidence in his decision making, I wasn’t sure what to expect in some of these remote parts of the country. As this was a special part of the trip he decided to splurge a little and, well, Curio Bay Accommodation was perfect. Located in the neighbouring Porpoise Bay, the beachside cottage was so nice that as soon as we arrived we were sorry we weren’t staying longer.
With little time to muck about we shot back out the door fairly quickly. A short distance away is the famed fossil forest AND yellow eyed penguin nesting ground. Real bang for your buck – not that you’ll pay a cent to see them. On arriving at the carpark we were excited about this sign:
A short path takes you to viewing platforms where you have an elevated view over the petrified forest and, depending on where they happen to be at the time, a penguin or two or more.
No penguins in immediate proximity, we went down for a closer look at the fossil forest which being low tide, was visible. 180 million years ago (the mind boggles!) the area was further south and a forested coastal floodplain, part of the super-continent Gondwana. Most of what is now New Zealand was under the sea. A series of natural events over a gazillion years or so saw the demise of the living forest and birth of the petrified forest.
Today it is one of the best examples in the world of a fossilised forest. Extremely accessible, it stretches from Curio Bay down to Slope Point where Mike and I visited earlier in the day. Unfortunately over time unscrupulous people have removed bits of petrified wood for souvenirs but hopefully the forest will stay much as it is today for hundreds of future generations to enjoy.
Yellow eyed penguins
Yellow eyed penguins are among the rarest in the world and are native to NZ. I was inspecting old dead tree trunks and rock pools and was suddenly aware of a quiet commotion behind me. A penguin had come ashore in an unexpected place near where we and the handful of other people were and proceeded to make his way through the group to the nesting area.
Department of Conservation signage asks people to keep at least 10 metres from the penguins. Everyone was respectful of this and just quietly watched the little guy make his overland journey. This was slow business as their routine seems to be shuffle forward, stop for a while to monitor for danger, and then repeat these steps numerous times.
It was a privilege to watch.
The penguin happened to go quite near to one lucky person and he would’ve taken some excellent shots. I on the other hand was further away and totally kicking myself for not bringing my zoom lens. Grrrr!!
The main observation area protected the coastline containing the nesting ground. We returned here in fading light just after 8pm which is the best time to watch the adults as they return from a day spent finding food in the ocean. A few were visible in the distance and before long there was one just in range for a few photos.
Disappointingly, we observed a couple of people go right up to the vegetation line and stick their cameras in for photos of the nest.
Porpoise Bay is a beautiful broad sweeping golden sand beach and we went for a couple of walks along it. The bay is home to some Hector’s dolphins though originally they were mistaken for porpoise, hence the name. We did see some from afar and I have a photo with two black dots to prove it.
The yellow eyeds don’t have the monopoly on the penguin population here and the guest information and visitor book at our wee place made frequent mention of little blue penguins nesting under the cottage. And that they’re often quite vocal during the night. Consequently we weren’t sure what quality of sleep we’d get but neither of us heard a thing. We did see little footprints the next morning which we imagined could well have been from little penguin feet.
After a final beach walk it was time to farewell this wonderful corner of NZ and continue our exploration of the Catlins.
We will return!