Almost two weeks ago I went down south. No huge mountains this time, but a lot of nature, ocean and wildlife. You might know I have a soft spot for native birds, especially the kiwi bird. But I shamefully admit that I don’t know much about other New Zealand wildlife.
Lucky me when I got invited to a Nature Frother Instameet. I can already see you raising your eyebrows. Nature frothers? What is that? I had the same reaction at first. A nature frother is someone who gets so excited about encountering the wonders of nature that they could start frothing at the mouth any moment. Yep, sounds like me! Sign me up!
I drove down to Dunedin and its beautiful Otago Peninsula and was ready to catch up with all those nature minded Instagrammers. As usual I was excited, hanging out with a bunch of crazy people who love photography and social media, who would say no to that?
Our two days in Dunedin consisted of exploring the peninsula and more important exploring the native (and often endangered) species around.
1. Orokonui Ecosanctuary
The Orokonui Ecosanctuary is a place where New Zealand’s native birds and other wildlife can live in peace. It’s an ecological wildlife safe haven in the Orokonui Valley, 20km north of Dunedin city.
They eradicated all the pests to bring back rare and endangered native species that would have been there in the past, including kiwi, South Island Robin, kākā, South Island saddleback and many more. A predator fence surrounds 307 hectares!
I didn’t really knew what to expect when arriving at Orokonui. First thought that popped up in my head: awesome visitors centre. The architecture is pretty cool and gives a good view on the sanctuary.
I went for a walk via the many little paths and… I NEVER expected to see so many birds! I was seriously amazed and childishly excited! Especially the Takahe left quite an impression, seeing that big flightless bird (there are many in NZ) cruising between plants at a relaxed pace.
2. Penguin Place
Warning! When you visit this place you’ll leave with a warm fuzzy heart, a full SD-card and you’ll be the biggest penguin fan ever. There are some cuties walking around at Penguin Place. The cuties I’m talking about are the yellow-eyed penguin – also called hoiho, a very rare penguin species you can only find in New Zealand.
The awesome staff will take you on a little walk through the nature reserve where you’ll see the penguins just walking and hopping by. I have seen penguins before, but always from a distance. This time we had a close and clear look from behind trenches! The song I’m So Excited of The Pointer Sisters would be very appropriate – as I couldn’t hide my excitement of seeing those little cuties from up close.
Unfortunately it’s not only cuteness we link to the yellow-eyed penguins. They have a sad story. When Penguin Place got founded in 1985 there were eight breeding pairs on the property. They were able to grow up to 36 breeding pairs, but the last years there has been a huge decline. There are only four (!) breeding pairs left at the moment – and also in the rest of New Zealand there is a 25% to 50% drop in nesting numbers.
The Penguin Place offers the penguins a calm predator-free reserve to help them survive. They also have a penguin hospital for the injured penguins.
This conservation project is entirely funded by guided tours of the reserve, so go and say hi! http://www.penguinplace.co.nz
3. Monarch Wildlife Cruises
It took me a minute to see the difference between a Bullers albatros and a seagull from a distance, but with the great crew on board I learned how to spot them. The albatros is huge – did you know that their wings can get up to two-three meters?
Monarch Wildlife cruises takes you out at sea to spot the mighty Bullers albatros and some other special species. If you’re lucky you also see Hector Dolphins and penguins. I wasn’t, but I was able to enjoy some seals chilling along the coast.
It’s also the perfect way to explore the Otago Peninsula, you get a unique and stunning view that you won’t have on land.
The Monarch crew on board gave a lot of information and were so friendly to answer extra questions (and pose for my camera – thanks again!). And it wasn’t just albatros spotting, it was also an introduction to the albatrosses’ history and life facts. Apparently the world’s only mainland nesting place of albatross is at the Otago Peninsula… And we saw it, aren’t we lucky?
Jump on board, quickly! http://www.wildlife.co.nz
Because words are never enough and I wanted to show my amazing experiences in Dunedin I made a short documentary.
For a person who doesn’t know a lot about birds a wildlife weekend like this is very enriching. I can’t only spot a bird (and know what it is), I also know their history and their often hard fight to survive, and that’s what’s important.
New Zealand is so unique, being an isolated island far away from other countries we have a lot of special native birds. But without our help they won’t stay there. I definitely realise now that they need a bit of help from us… I hope you do too.