Due to hosting issues, the comments for this article were lost. We apologize to anyone whose comment was lost, and we thank everyone who has taken the time to leave a comment.
Elm Wildlife Tours
The Otago peninsula, located near the city of Dunedin, is famous for its wildlife. There is no public transportation out to the peninsula, and some of the best viewing grounds are on private property. For these reasons, it is essential to go with a tour guide. We were picked up by the Elm Wildlife Tours team at 3 pm. It is necessary for these tours to run in the evening, in order to spot one of the stars of the tour – the yellow eyed penguin.
As we drove out to the peninsula our guides, Sean and Tony handed out information sheets with the variety of wildlife it would be possible to see, as well as binoculars. Whenever a bird of interest was spotted, the bus would come to a stop, while the guides provided in depth information about the animal. The guides also did a fantastic job of painting a picture of what the peninsula would have looked like before human intervention.
As the bus wound its way up to Tairoa head to view the Royal Albatross colony, James and I hopped off to meet up with the Monarch boat cruise, which can also be booked through Elm. Check out James’ review of the Monarch cruise here.
Once we rejoined the tour, we were taken onto a section of private property where it is ideal to spot penguins, sea lions, and seals. Elm is the only company with access to some of this land, where you can really have a close encounter with the wildlife. Braving the cold, strong wind, we hiked down a steep hill to the sandy beach where several large blob like rocks were located. Upon closer inspection, these were not rocks at all, but actually sea lions.
Sea lions are incredibly unafraid of humans, which is why it was easy for the Maori people to hunt them to extinction in New Zealand. Since that time, a few sea lions have begun to return to this area. We were able to get terrifyingly close to the sea lions, while the guides from Elm regaled us with interesting history, facts, and stories about these majestic animals.
As we were all happily snapping photos of these beautiful animals, our guide pointed out some birds in the distance who were un-gracefully making their way up the beach. These were the yellow eyed penguins, who return to their nests around dusk after spending all day fishing in the sea. These penguins are incredibly shy and build their nests under trees or shrubs. After feeding all day, they have to make their way up a very steep hill, through a sheep paddock, to their nests. Elm has taken a very proactive role in penguin conservation and not only pays the farmers in the areas to trap stoats, rats, and feral cats who can easily kill the penguins, but also plants bushes and trees for the penguins to nest under.
Our guide had to coax us away from the adorable penguins, as we could have easily stayed there for hours watching them exert themselves as they hopped up the hill. We made our way back up the hill, and then down the other side to the rough rocky shore where the fur seals come to rest. Today, most of the seals here were mothers and their pups. We have seen seals twice before, in Kaikoura and also in Westport, but we have not yet gotten such a close look at the pups as they played and rested amongst their mothers.
As the sun began setting over the hills, it was time for us to make our way back up the hill (make sure to bring sturdy shoes!) and to the bus. Seeing penguins has been on my “must do” list for quite some time, and the six hours of pure glee that this tour inspired in me, completely wiped me out. I almost fell asleep on the drive back into central Dunedin, but luckily the wonderful guides from Elm dropped us off right outside our hostel door.
Seeing the wildlife on the Otago peninsula, from both land and sea, has been one of the highlights of my year in New Zealand. The guides were so friendly and informative, and I learned so much about all these beautiful animals. And I took photos…. Over 1000 photos! If you are going to Dunedin, then you definitely must consider going on a wildlife tour. With a tour you are able to access areas that would normally be off limits, and you can also rest assured that some of your fee is going to help preserve the resources that these beautiful creatures need to survive and thrive.
Our wildlife tour was provided complimentary by Elm Wildlife Tours, but the opinions in this article are completely our own.