Ecotourism On The Mainland

Blue penguins: magic!

By Tony Fraei

After Xmas Allison and I went with our son, daughter in law and two grandchildren for a week in the South Island

Our daughter in law is from Bristol and had visited NZ some three times already but never seen the “main land”

One of our favourite spots is Oamaru. We spent two nights there and our team selected the Blue-Penguin Colony as a must for an evening visit.

It appeared an ideal selection as none of the party had been, and the two granddaughters were particularly very keen.

The Oamaru colony 

The colony is located at the old limestone quarry near the waterfront. We were told that it has grown to some 300 plus birds.

The birds go out to sea at about 4am and scavenge for food all day and return ashore at dusk.

It was about 9pm at night when we visited in late December. Camera flashes are not permitted for the evening viewings of when the penguins come ashore.

The colony has set up small hutches for each penguin, couples live in the same hutch and stay with the same partner until one dies……wow! I guess a wee nudge for us humans.

Catering for international tourists

The evening we went there were some 140 folks attending and, based on our fee of an average $27 per person, equated to $3780. Not a bad contribution for one evening’s viewing. They are open every night in the summer.

There were two presenters one English speaker and one Mandarin speaker. I understand that specialist speakers are used if there is a reasonable sized international tour party.

This night, about two thirds of the audience were from the People’s Republic of China. It took about an hour for all the penguins to come ashore; they make a lot of chattering noise but all look rather exhausted. They did appear to recover quickly when they got to their hutches though.

There are also day time tours of the centre’s conservation work, self guided or guided. The fees for these tours are slightly less but according to the conservation team are very popular, especially with tour groups.

The centre has saved plenty of birds

Until the centre was set up the penguins used to nestle at nights in the machinery at the quarry or predominantly burrow in the ground.

The soil was very unstable and a lot of the penguins perished and their numbers were quite quickly diminishing.

However with the quarry closed and the colony now established for a number of years the population has more than doubled.

In my opinion, based on the money that is being provided by tourists, the colony should be fully self-sufficient and an excellent example of what can be achieved with a well thought out “ecotourism” initiative.

Well done to Oamaru and the staff and the Colony

This is only one example I have noted in our retirement travels around New Zealand, however we’re sure that other KIN readers would be able to share examples that they have also observed.

(We are definitely interested in holiday stories from other readers!)