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Published: March 22nd 2006
In all its grandeur ... the grounds are very impressive
With our last few days in New Zealand, we took our car down the south east coast to the otago peninsula. The journey had one purpose (in my mind)- to see as many penguins, albatross, sea lions, and fur seals as possible. Well, the dream came true, and we were psyched to be up close, seeing these amazing sea mammals and birds in nature.
We stayed at a place called Larnach Castle, which the locals say is more of a big house, but the only castle new zealand has. It was built in 1871 by william larnach, a wealthy merchant who immigrated to new zealand, but continued to fancy himself as an australian. He built the castle at one of the highest points on this penninsula (located 1/2 hour by car from the city Dunedin) with some of the most spectacular views, especially from the roof of the castle. The castle itself and the man who built it have a humbling and tragic history that makes one wary of the ills of spoiling one's children and the tragedy of affairs (especially between step-sons and step-mothers)- larnach and his son both took their lives, larnach's 1st 2 wives died "mysteriously" in
View of the lighthouse at the Tip of Otago Peninsula
This is the view from right outside the albatross colony with a whole "flock of seagulls" (minus the bad 80s hair)
their thirties, and two of larnach's daughters died young: one in childbirth and from typhoid. We were happy to not stay in the castle itself, as it is said to be haunted. We stayed in building which was the original stables, but now houses 12 rooms. To learn more about the castle, you can check out www.larnachcastle.co.nz
From here we spent 2 days on the coast of the peninsula. Our first stop was visiting the royal albatross colony at taiaroa head, where we learned about and marvelled over the only known mainland breeding colony of these giant birds. their wingspan can reach 3.5 meters! no doubt longer than i am tall, and when they stand, they would probably from to chest height!! since the chicks hatched 2 months ago, we were able to watch one from the observatory room. It was enormous, but so cute- covered in downy fluff of feathers. they can not fly until about 6 months and during the day until that time sit at the nest while their parents (yes both!) are out to sea gathering food for the chick. their biggest predators are ferrel cats and skoats (which are ferrel like creatures)- which were
Majestic Royal Albatross in flight
It's hard to describe just how huge these birds are - over 10 feet in wingspan as M wrote in this blog! I couldn't get a shot of him or his friends next to smaller birds, but you can get an idea from this one. They are very elegant in flight also - they almost don't move their wings at all and just glide
introduced to new zealand to help control the rabbit population (another introduced species). unfortunately, it was a lot easier for these mammals to feast on indiginous ground birds, so they ignored the rabbits and went hunting for birds. The kiwis (ne zealanders) have little pitty for these introduced species (not surprising, given many of their native bird populations are threatened), and without flinching will shoot or hit them with their cars. At the albatross centre and the penguin place (where we saw endangered yellow-eyed penguins- only 4000 known left in the world!) the conservationist trap and readily rid new zealand of these animals.
We went back to the albatross center later that night at sunset and watched for about an hour 4 adult albatross riding the wind, gliding about and feeding their young. It was quite a sight! only until a measley seagull crossed the path of the albatross, did we really get how enormous these birds are. and to think they spend most of their lives out at sea...I can not imagine how they survive!
We also visit the yellow-eyed penguin reserve, which is a popular ecotourist destination. The 2 consrevationist who developed the reserve built "tunnels"
Yellow-eyed penguin striking a pose
We took this shot from one of the "tunnels" that the conservationists built to let us tourists peek in without disturbing the penguins. It's really very well put together - I mean, we were within a few feet of this little guy and he didn't know we were there until someone dropped their bag.
throughout the breeding lands of the penguins, so that tourists can walk through the tunnels and watch the penguins without disrupting them. This particular species is not very social, so unlike the blue penguins that we saw at night time, they do not hang out with the other penguins. nonetheless, they are cute, especially when they waddle and hop on land!
Later that night after sunset, we stood in the cold dark and starred at the ocean's edge, trying to get a glimpse of the hoards of tiny (10 inches tall?) blue penguins returning from their day foraging in the ocean. Because they rely on their keen vision for seeing food at deep ocean depths, we were not able to use flashlights (only infrared, and i forgot mine at home) to see them, as the light is damaging to their vision. We could, however, see thier waddling outlines, watch them resting and preening, and hear the yelling, growling and thrilling their voices, as they called for their mates to return to the nest. These penguins are super social, and hang out in groups. They are also unique in that they are burrowing penguins and travel 100s of yards from
Yellow-eyed penguin getting ready to Jump
They were really funny when they waddled along - they look just like we\'ve all seen them on film or TV, but they do these little hops over things that are just hysterical
the ocean into the brush to make their nests. Like the yellow-eyed penguin, though, both the male and female care for the young, and one of the 2 stays with the nest and chicks during they day while the other forages for food. These guys exist "by the truckload", although there are concerns that further land development is threatening their breeding grounds and will likely impact their numbers.
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