You don’t have to go on a safari to see some awesome wildlife. Right here in the south of New Zealand, there is plenty to see. I alway get excited when I can get up close and personal with beautiful animals. Here are some of my favorite spots from my roadtrip.
There are two kinds of penguins to see in this area. The first one is the blue penguins, which can be seen in Oamaru and the Otago peninsula. Unfortunately you have to pay to see them, although there is a protected reserve in Oamaru that doesn’t charge you. I am not sure if you can see anything though, since I didn’t try.
I did go to two places where you can see the yellow-eyed penguin, or hoiho, a native penguin that is 62–79 cm tall, on the endangered animals list and famous for being on the 5 dollar note. The best time to see them is early in the morning when they go out to sea, or at dusk when they come back. It differs a bit from place to place. Katiki point is a breeding ground, but they can also be found in Curio Bay, the Otago peninsula and Steward Island.
I first went to Bushy beach, near Oamaru. This gorgeous beach has a hide for penguin spotters. It is pretty high up, so hard to see them up close. I saw two penguins here after over an hour waiting time. My second chance was at Curio Bay. At the petrified forest you can walk on the rocks and wait for the penguins. There were a handful of other people around and we all waited patiently for about 2 hours. In that time we managed to spot one that was sitting far away on a rock. If you’re lucky you can come really close, but that night they didn’t come over the rocks where we were walking. Penguin watching is not for the impatient.
Curio Bay is the place to go to for dolphins. Your best bet is to go in summer because when I was there in October, I didn’t see any. However, you’re never guaranteed to see them. If they are there though, they are known to swim right in the bay where the surfers and swimmers are. The dolphins will come really close if they are interested. So, this is the spot to swim with the dolphins for free. It’s a really nice beach to and the penguins are close.
Seals and sea lions
All along the coast you will find seals and sea lions. Some surprise you and some you see because you are looking for them. There are many places where you can see them, but only a few where you can walk amongst them. One of these spots is Waipapa Point, where you will find Hooker’s sea lions close to the lighthouse. It’s a 4km drive along a gravel road into the country and on my way I suddenly saw a big group of sheep straight ahead. “Where is the road?” I was thinking, only to figure out the road was now crowded with sheep. The sheep passed, I waved to the farmer and was on my way again. I was the only one at Waipapa for a while. Three big sea lions were lying on the beach, every now and then posing for me. Really amazing.
Don’t let the name Sandfly Bay keep you from visiting this awesome spot on the Otago Peninsula. Just minutes from Dunedin, you can walk around freely on this beach and there are some massive New Zealand sea lions about. A similar thing happens at Surat Bay where you can also walk around them. Just are just asked to keep about 10m distance, but when I saw how big they are that wasn’t a problem at all. Mostly they just lie there and if you’re patient they might move. It’s a good opportunity to take some nice photos.
At Shag Point you can see New Zealand fur seals from a viewing platform. I was literally blown away by the wind the day I was there, so I didn’t last long. I did see a pup with his mum, which was really cool. He was very playful, whereas the big guys were all lazing on the rocks. Katiki Point is the main breeding area for New Zealand fur seals in North Otago. They are hard to miss, just scan the rocks and see them sunbathing.
Playful pup at Shag Point
Yeah, unfortunately, these are also part of the wildlife. They are the most annoying little things you’ve ever seen. And even if you don’t see them, they’ll see you. Cover up and spray yourself with anti-sandfly lotion, because they’re out to get you. Summer is the worst time. I travelled in spring and just discovered tiny red spots all over me, without actually having noticed they were eating me alive. I may have taken some as hitchhikers in my van.