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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.

View of Porpoise Bay from the deck of our cottage

View of Porpoise Bay from the deck of our cottage

Fossil forest

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:

We were lucky!

We were lucky!

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.

Overlooking Curio Bay, home to the fossil forest and yellow eyed penguins

Overlooking Curio Bay, home to the fossil forest and yellow eyed penguins

From the viewing platform you can see some of the fossilised tree trunks

From the viewing platform you can see some of the fossilised tree trunks

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.

Fossil forest, Curio Bay

Fossil forest, Curio Bay

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!!

Yellow Eyed Penguin, Curio Bay

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.

Penguin sign, Curio Bay

Yellow Eyed Penguin, Curio Bay

Yellow Eyed Penguin, Curio Bay

Yellow Eyed Penguin, Curio Bay

Rough photo, but this was from about 15m in dim evening light, peering into the shrubbery along the top of the beach where a baby yellow eyed penguin was waiting patiently for ma to return with some food

Rough photo, but this was from about 15m in dim evening light, the zoom enabling a view into the shrubbery along the top of the beach where a baby yellow eyed penguin was waiting patiently for ma or pa to return with some food

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

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.

At the far end of Porpoise Bay

At the far end of Porpoise Bay

Here is a great place to watch surf crash against the rocky coastline

Here is a great place to watch surf crash against the rocky coastline

Porpoise Bay, Catlins

It was almost a bit hynotic watching the bull kelp get thrashed about

It was almost a bit hynotic watching the bull kelp get thrashed about

Porpoise Bay, Catlins

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.

A surfing lesson gets underway

A surfing lesson gets underway

Caspian terns, Porpoise Bay

Poor fishy

Poor fishy

Nice walk, cut short by a big fat raindrop or two

Nice walk, cut short by a big fat raindrop or two

Nooo we don't want to goooo.....!

Nooo we don’t want to goooo…..!

We will return!

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14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Janice Strong #

    A really lovely spot Hayley I even wanted to stay just reading your blog.
    Janice
    xxx

    3 March 2013
    • I’m not sure if you’ve been down there but you guys would love it. Thank you Janice.

      3 March 2013
  2. How cool!! I love watching penguins, and I was lucky to see a few off the coast of Adelaide, Australia. These guys you saw, Hayley, look so unique. The coastline looks beautiful.

    3 March 2013
    • They are awesome little things! I’ve yet to see one around the Wellington coast near where I live but there are signs warning you. Unfortunately, with the yellow eyeds, there was a mysterious event which saw 40 die suddenly in a colony in the South Island – not what one of the rarest species needs. On the news last night there was an item about the babies of the dead penguins being released into the wild after having to be hand reared for a few weeks. Hope they make it! Thanks for the comment Steph.

      3 March 2013
  3. Just read this in your archive and we actually stayed at the same accommodation place back in Oct 2012 and again in April this year as it was so amazing – we stayed in one of boutique studios and absolutely loved it! We were lucky enough to see the yellow-eyed penguins on three different trips down to the beach – aren’t they incredible? 🙂

    23 August 2013
    • That’s a nice coincidence! The penguins are amazing, you appreciate them more I think once you’ve seen them in person. I was annoyed I didn’t have a bigger lens with me at the time but I think I remember seeing that you were able to get some great photos. I would so love to go back there.

      23 August 2013
      • I agree. Me and my husband are huge fans of penguins but were just so happy to see them in the wild. They exceeded even our high expectations! You can definitely go back with your bigger lens next time you visit – that is the great thing about living in NZ I guess! This time in one week we will be back in the UK and far away from the lovely penguins – but with amazing memories.

        23 August 2013
        • Well you’ve done an outstanding job of seeing and doing all you’ve done, and documenting it. You’ll have acquired a wealth of knowledge for http://www.bluepenguintravel.com and I wish you every success with it!

          23 August 2013
          • Thank you so much! We certainly have seen as much of NZ as is humanly possible – and through Blue Penguin Travel I hope to help other people have their own amazing NZ adventures! I will continue to see NZ through your eyes once back in the UK 🙂

            23 August 2013
  4. Argus #

    I never did figure the difference between porpoises and dolphins. But the petrified forest is a shivering thought. We’ve made just a couple of brief visits but you’ve inspired us to go back this summer. Thanks for that (you’ll keep!).

    1 September 2013
    • I’m immensely jealous as I have to make do with North Island gallivanting next New Year break. Tell the por-phins and penguins I said hi.

      1 September 2013
      • Argus #

        Shall do. I contacted the accommodation folks you used (and gave your blog a plug too). I’m thinking of shouting The Spouse a couple of nights there before the herds start moving. Thanks for the tips …

        1 September 2013

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