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PENGUINS on Otago Peninsula, NZ: Best Tour or Guides?

PENGUINS on Otago Peninsula, NZ: Best Tour or Guides?

Old Nov 29th, 2006, 02:03 PM
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PENGUINS on Otago Peninsula, NZ: Best Tour or Guides?

What is the best way to see the Penguins on Otago Peninsula? My husband is a biologist and our anniversary trip includes 3 nights in Dunedin.

We will want to observe the penguins as closely as possible, without disturbing them. If we have a guide, my husband will want him/her to be a well-informed naturalist.

I am considering the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Reserve on McGrouther's Farm at Harrington Pt...is this the same as Penguin Place? Also considering ELM WILDLIFE TOURS and OTAGO NATURE GUIDES, which offers "small-group ecotours" according to the Rough Guide New Zealand. www.nz.natureguides.com

There is also Monarch Wildlife Cruises & Tours.

Which one is better for a biologist and his wife on an anniversary trip?! <) My husband becomes disappointed if he ends up knowing more than our guide. I complain if I have to trudge for hours in a slippery swamp.#-o

Thanks for anybody who can share their experience! We are going in FEBRUARY which sounds like a good time for both albatross and penguins I think...
Melissa5 is offline  
Old Nov 29th, 2006, 08:20 PM
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Elm Wildlife Tours is fantastic. The day involves a fairly rigorous hike over private farmland, down to an isolated beach populated by sea lions. At dusk, the yellow-eyed penguins come to shore and clamber up the hills for the night. It was a terrific tour, with extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides.
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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 02:34 AM
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A few years ago we did the sunset tour at penguin place in late january.

I have to say that it was one of the best wildlife exhibits i have seen.There was an erudite quite scientific introduction to the species at the old farmhouse and then the very knowledgeable guide took us through a system of hides at the beach as the penguins returned to their nests.

The site and smell of a returning penguin regurgitating fish to feed its young about 3 metres away was excellent and memorable.

I would highly recommend penguin place. For me this was ecological and wildlife tourism at its best.

As an australian it pained me to compare it with the penguin "show" at phillip island.
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Old Dec 1st, 2006, 12:29 AM
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Renforth1: Several travellers have enjoyed Elm Wildlife. How rigorous is the rigorous hike? We're in our 50's and in good health, but my husband walks a lot more than I do. I don't do hills well but can do a 2- or 3-hour nature walk (not too hilly.) I'm verrrrry slow on hills. Sounds like seeing the yellow-eyed penguins at dusk was great! Thanks for sharing.


JOHHJ_AU: It's interesting to hear from someone who enjoyed the tour at Penguin Place. If we do that one we'll definitely book the sunset tour. Thanks!
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Old Dec 1st, 2006, 01:25 PM
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Melissa: Based on the time of your visit, February, you may be dissappointed by the Penguins. Their annual molt is about that time, during which they are very inactive, and tend to hide in bushes and just look forlorn. I am not sure of the timing.
We were told this in early March by the naturalists at Doubtful sound. We saw it for real in Dunedin/Otago. We did not go to the Penguin places due to that, but on our own did find some penguins looking quite dishevled, forlorn and sad hiding in some bushes up by Moreki. Again, this was early March, and I don't know exactly when the molting starts. Late Feb? Early Mar? Dont know.
Albatross were fine. The morning we wanted to go, we called out to the Albatross place to reserve a time. YOu don't want to be there when the large tour busses arrive. It was great. Right outside the blind was a nesting chick. We saw two fliers, which is unusual.
Have fun.
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Old Dec 1st, 2006, 02:46 PM
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BillJ, poor little molting forlorn penguins! I am hoping we will see them before they are molting, as it will be early February.

Glad to hear your Albatross visit was great. Sounds like you didn't need to reserve in advance. But February is closer to high season, so I am thinking we need to reserve in advance for albatross and penguins...I'm not sure how long in advance? For sure we don't want to be anywhere with a big tour bus!

BillJ, I sure enjoyed your trip report, which I read right-side-up, upside-down, inside-out, and high-lighted in yellow and orange! Thanks! It's great to read a good trip report from a genuine independent traveller.
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Old Dec 1st, 2006, 05:30 PM
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Hi Melissa:

It is very hilly, but if you're in reasonable health, I can't see it being a problem. It's not a long hike and there's lots of time for pausing, going at your own pace.
Not sure about molting season - we were there in late April when the viewing was great.
Whatever you decide, all of the south is so spectacularly beautiful you will have a wonderful time.

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Old Dec 1st, 2006, 06:42 PM
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Thanks Melissa, for the kind words. I get so much from the Fodor travel boards, its good to return the favor. You can see a picture of the poor little molting fellow (or gal) in my pix at
http://www.flickr.com/photos/calbill...7594209116164/
He never moved. Just stood there. We tried not to disturb him.
At the Albatross center, at your appointed time you will enter a small theater type room. A naturalist will give you some input and a short slide show, total maybe 20 minutes or so. Very informative. Then you walk up a rather steep but short hill. Don't worry, Everyone goes slow.
In case of weather, there are huge rain coats available for all.
At the top of the hill is a "blind" or viewing station, with binoculars. We couldn't take pictures. The chick was nesting mayber 20 yards away. Didn't move while we were there. More information is dispensed by the guide, and the coding and tracking system of leg bands is described. We were charged with identifying the color combination on the leg bands of the two fliers, and the guide dutifully made entries in a log book.
I believe it is quite possible that the albatross will be extinct in our life time. Hope you get a good look. They're beautiful.
By the way, the cafe at the Albatross Center is quite adequate for a lunch or snack, depending on your time schedule.
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Old Dec 2nd, 2006, 03:08 PM
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I went on the Elm Wildlife tour and can highly recommend it. The guide was very good and certainly knew alot.
I was there in Feb and did see one little fellow standing still molting, but also saw many more active penguins. SO I think it's a good time to go to see both. Elm Wildlife goes on private property and so it is not a well worn path. It was a real thrill to watch the penquins go about their business and greet their spouses and kids at the end of the day.
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Old Dec 2nd, 2006, 09:28 PM
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I had a good experience at Penguin Place when I went in November, probably a late afternoon visit because the parents were returning from sea. With the trench/hide situation we got within nearly arm's reach. There was a pre=show film, I did not get an impression that the guide was a naturalist. However I also did not get the impression that it was a farmer's attempt at tourist-gouging. It seemed they had done a great job at conservation. The penguins seem to prefer the little wood huts and are all named, tagged, and their pairings are recorded. The other times I have seen penguins such as at Oamaru you are not nearly as close, perhaps 20 yards or more away. It is nice to see them in a natural environment. There are some hides along the Catlins that you can visit on your own if going that way.
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Old Dec 5th, 2006, 08:04 PM
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Is it possible to do any of this self-guided? We will be in the Dunedin area on 12/24, 25 and 26 -- and while I'm waiting for an official answer back, I'm assuming that the tours will be closed. (Or is that an incorrect assumption?)
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Old Dec 10th, 2006, 11:53 AM
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Whenever i have friends from out of town or country visit me here in Dunedin i ALWAYS take them to sandfly bay. you pretty much need to be told by a local to go there and it sounds perfect for what you're wanting.
of course ensure that you go at sundown to see them come in over the rocks into there grooves up the hill.
be prepared for a bit of a walk tho. the penguins come in at the opposite end of the beach. at the side of access theres massive sand dunes, which i recommend running down as fast as possible and getting wiped out!! soft landing promised!!
its a lot of fun to go down, and a little challenging to get back up, but worth it for sure.
you are also almost certian to see at least one dead looking sea lion or seal on the beach!

i'm unsure of a self guided way to see the albatross's. in fact i think you have to take a tour to do this, my mum once took a boat ride in the harbour and by chance caught a glimpse of the birds in flight, not certian this would happen tho i guess,

hope this is the kind of info you're after

All the best and mery christmas
Jonesy

p.s sandfly bay should be on any basic map of the otago peninsula
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Old Dec 13th, 2006, 08:20 PM
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At Penguin Place, you should get much closer than at other viewing sites, because of the trench and camouflage netting rather than a wooden hide. However the atmosphere is a bit more boot camp than nature reserve.

I was on the Elm tour a few days ago. Compared to Penguin Place, you do not normally get as close (perhaps 20-30 yards to the nests). However there are closed circuit cameras set up in several of the nests with feeds to the hides. We were lucky enough to nearly trip over a juvenile who decided to take a nap on the path, so we got to about 15 yards before stopping. The guide was very knowledgeable. The hikes thru sheep pastures are steep but short. You could pass on the second one which goes only to a fur seal breeding site.

If it is windy, the albatross can be seen for free from the parking lot and from the cafe. You can also look at the albatross exhibits without charge. There is an information desk inside and they will give you a map and directions to the public beaches with yellow eyed penguins.
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Old Jan 12th, 2007, 12:11 AM
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Thanks everyone for the penguin and albatross info!

MLGB: Especially appreciate your comparison of the Elm Wildlife and the Penguin Place as you have done both.

From what everyone says, it sounds like it is partly luck as far as what you will see on a particular day, how close you can get...

I had to take a break from working on this trip because of the holidays...(Ha ha, a holiday from working on my holiday!)

I just don't feel ready at all. We're leaving in February...EEEk! We have done a lot of traveling yet I still get that pre-trip freek-out feeling like I'm not reaaaaaaady...Why am I going? Did I plan everything right?

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Old Jan 12th, 2007, 01:33 PM
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GP
 
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Hi Melissa5

The beauty of the Elm private tour is that they can drive you a lot farther down the hill and you do not walk as far. We got so close to the penguins that me and the wife we afraid we were getting to close. We were within 10 feet of one at one time. I have a degree in Natural resources and trained to be a park ranger and Shawn our Elm guide was very good he even knew the latin names of the birds and plants.
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Old Jan 13th, 2007, 01:27 AM
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GP, your private Elm tour sounds like it was wonderful. Ahh! The more info I collect on comparing the Elm Wildlife tour with the Yellow-eyed penguin reserve on McGrouther's Farm at Harrington Pt...the more I am befuddled. I wish we could just do both, they both sound worthwhile.

I think I should try to book something as we're only in Dunedin for 3 nights and we also want to see the Albatross. Plus my husband the biologist will see something at the last minute he just has to stop and see.

We leave in February 2007! Not ready! Getting excited.

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Old Jan 13th, 2007, 11:20 AM
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GP
 
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Hi Melissa5

The Albatross center was included on our tour with Elm

Have Fun
GP
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Old Jan 13th, 2007, 01:17 PM
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There are addon options for the standard Elm tours (basic $75 tour stops at the Albatross visitor center but doesn't include the tour). If it is windy, the birds will be flying and you can see them very well from the cafe and parking lot. Two people on our tour added on the Monarch Wildlife Cruise which takes you on a boat close up to the colony, which they said was worthwhile. I have been on the Albatross center tour on another occasion and didn't think it was worth the extra admission.
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