Monday, July 9, 2012

Even more Penguins! And baby Albatross!

Today we journeyed out to the Otago Peninsula, home to beautiful scenery and wonderful animals! The day started overcast, but cleared later in the afternoon. 

Our first stop was Larnach Castle, NZ's only castle. Turns out you can't even see the castle without paying, so we gave it a skip. We have both seen plenty of castles in Europe that were probably much better... sorry Larnach Castle. 

Next stop was the Royal Albatross Centre, now that was worth paying for! We had a guided tour to see the adorably awkward young albatross up on the reserve. The babies are still developing their adult feathers so they don't fly yet. They don't really move around at all, except occasionally stretching out their gangly wings. 

We saw some adults flying high above, which is pretty impressive. The albatross at this colony are Southern Royal Albatross, which are among the largest birds in the world with wingspans over 3m! Even the babies we saw were almost full grown, though it's hard to tell in the pictures.

Some more cool things about albatross: they drink sea water, and have special glands to excrete the excess salt. This is necessary because the birds spend most of their life out on the ocean. They can soar effortlessly (thanks to wings that can lock outstretched) for thousands of km. In fact when the babies first "learn to fly" their first flight is 9500km to Chile without stopping to sleep or eat, or even land for a rest on the ocean! They then live entirely at sea for about 5 years, circling Antarctica before coming home to the Otago peninsula to breed. Amazing birds!

And then we saw some other amazing birds, the Yellow-Eyed Penguin! This is the 3rd largest type of penguin, and they live only in NZ. Unfortunately they are endangered, and there are only about 4000 left :( The place we saw them was a reserve that allows viewing with minimal impact on the animals. It's pretty amazing, there is a network of covered trenches through the colony so people can view the penguins without scaring them (tour admission goes towards conservation). Since it's winter there are not many penguins at home in the colony, many stay out at sea for days fishing. But luckily we still saw some! Sorry to the Little Blue Penguins, but I liked the Yellow-Eyed more... they were much more "penguiny" in their look and walk. Though like many penguins they look strangely duck-like when they are floating in the water.

Today was a great day!

Driving out on the Otago Peninsula
Looking back towards Dunedin
It's low tide
Baby albatross! 
I don't know what to do with these massive things...
At about 5 months old they are already huge!
Some Stewart Island Shags down below
Southern Royal Albatross soars majestically 
They are so big!
The albatross like soaring on the wind gusts around this cliff
Looking down over the deserted colony
Walking through the trenches
Here comes a penguin!
So cute! Waddle waddle...
They look like strange ducks, hehe
2 penguins come ashore together!
Scott peeks out from the trenches
Howie the penguin!
Red flippers show that he is hot from his exhausting swim
He flaps his flipper to cool off and calls out to his friend!