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The Wonders of Nature

Monday 16th November 2015

sunny 19 °C

Having had a slight change of plan yesterday we were now leaving Dunedin in order to go and stay in a place called Oamaru, about half an hour further north than Moeraki where we had originally planned to stay. We still wanted to visit Moeraki as they have a very famous rock feature on the beach there that I really wanted to see. Having done some research we knew that the best time to visit was at low tide which was at about 1pm. Our Blackhead cottage hosts had kindly said that we could leave whenever suited us as they wouldn't be around and no one else was checking in that day. On that basis we hung around at the cottage until about 11am having a relaxed breakfast, a FaceTime chat with one of my sisters and sorting out a couple of bookings.

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We got to Moeraki at just the right time and there were already quite a lot of people on the beach. Moeraki Boulders are large spherical rocks which have formed by a slow precipitation of calcite, a bit like a stalagmite, but are spherical because they are essentially growing in the mudstone which surrounded them over approximately 4 million years. As the cliffs erode the boulders are exposed. The vary in size from about 18 inches to over 7 foot and many have cracks in them, others having already broken open.

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They make for great photographs. So that we could also see them as the tide was starting to come in we went and had a cooked meal in the cafe just above the beach. We then went back down onto the sand and took a few more photographs.

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Once we had taken photographs of them from every conceivable angle we thought we ought to get on our way and drive the short distance up the coast to our motel in Oamaru. The room there was nicely furnished and as they have an onsite laundry we were able to get some washing done as I was certainly starting to run out of clean clothes. When we were checking in the woman on reception had told us about the penguin colony at the southern end of the town that the public could visit. She suggested that we got there about 7:45pm in order to get tickets which is what we did. There are two places to sit, with the smaller stand being more expensive but only about two to three metres from where the penguins come into the artificially created and protected nest site. We were told to come back at about 8:15pm and we were then able to walk on boardwalks through the apparently empty colony and take our seats. They have quite strict rules in order not to distress the penguins which includes not being able to take any photographs or videos.

We had to patiently wait until the first of them came ashore and whilst we were waiting we told a bit about these little blue penguins.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons/JJHarris

They are the smallest penguins in the world at less than 12 inches tall, and they mainly come ashore to lay eggs. They go out to sea to feed during the day so the adults are only on land overnight. Only the young stay in the nesting boxes in the daytime. Slowly they started to land on the rocky beach in groups called rafts which offer them a degree of safety. Once ashore they cool off after their exertion and then slowly and very much in their own time climb up the steep rocky bank. When they were good and ready they filter through v shaped channels and into the colony. It was amazing to watch them. Some did a mad dash for cover, others looked so tired that they would flop on their bellies before picking themselves up and waddling a bit further. As more and more came ashore they got noisier and noisier. As they went into the colony the staff would count to see how many returned. Roughly half would come back each night, with the other half of the breeding pair staying out at sea to continue to feed on their staple diet of sprats.

It was a great privilege to watch but one needed a lot of patience. I was pretty appalled by the behaviour of a lot of the visitors. Large numbers just got up and left after a short while, presumably because they didn't have the time or patience to stay. They seemed oblivious as to the impact this had on the birds, and a couple of Penguins turned round and ran back out of the colony. There were quite a few young children in the same seating area as us, including a couple of babies, and there was no way they were going to be able to keep quiet. Mean as it might sound I just felt that area just wasn't really suitable for children under ten and the guide I spoke to felt the same but for now although they try to discourage parents bringing young children, they don't stop them. By the time we left and walked back over the boardwalk well over 150 penguins had come into the colony and we could see them making their way into their nesting boxes as we tiptoed past. There were more on the road as we were leaving, as not all the penguins that come ashore nest at the centre, some have stuck with the traditional method of building them at the base of the cliffs. On our way back to the motel we both agreed it had been a great privilege to see them.

Posted by Gill's Travels 20:41 Archived in New Zealand

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