Encounters with New Zealand’s Largest Blue Penguin Colony

Part 1 – The Awesome Part of Day 219 

Man, there were two hours of our day today where we didn’t think we were going to make it to tonight’s Pohatu Penguins tour. From the moment we start climbing high on the Banks Peninsula capturing sensational views on the way to New Zealand’s largest mainland little blue penguin colony, we escape from the nightmare of a day we have just had…

the ride to New Zealand’s largest mainland blue penguin colony

Our guide, Avril, gives us the history of New Zealand’s “French Capital”, Akaroa, along with the conservation work that is underway between the farmers of the Banks Peninsula to eradicate the pests and return the native birds back to where they once flourished. In fact, a portion of a notably affordable fee for this experience with Pohatu Penguins goes towards the conservation efforts, so today we are really getting an understanding of the hard work put in to keep the little blue penguin colony as large as it is.

stunning views of the Banks Peninsula

The drive to Pohatu Penguins is a stunning experience in itself, travelling over the hills, not only to see vistas of Akaroa Harbour itself, but to see sheep-covered farmland overlooking several inlets. Even in this dark and dreary weather at the end of the day, we notice a turquoise colour about the water as glacial silt carried from the rivers finally make their way to the ocean. It’s a stunning drive, but no way a drive we would like to tackle ourselves. The 4×4 Pohatu Penguins van can tackle this one lane gravel road much better than any vehicle we’ve had on this trip.

Checking out the awesome views on the way to Flea Bay Checking out the awesome views on the way to Flea Bay
Best photo bomb ever! Best photo bomb ever!
Having a look inside the nesting boxes Having a look inside the nesting boxes
Afro penguin lives here Afro penguin lives here

Conservation for the nation

In a hilly terrain mostly stripped for farming, we can’t help but notice a long line of forest in the valley below. Avril tells us how her uncle and aunty have gifted this piece of their land to the Department of Conservation (DoC) so there are the funds to protect the land making it the largest native forest on the Banks Peninsula. We are blown away hearing the stories of one family’s dedication to New Zealand conservation, giving us a feel-good factor for even choosing to do this penguin tour.

Crazy pet sheep feeding session

We arrive at Flea Bay, the Pohatu Penguins’ base of operation, to the sound of baaing sheep. What? We get out of the van and Avril rushes away leaving us to watch a flock of sheep run from the hills towards her.

“Who wants to feed the sheep?” she cries over the baaing. Well, we decide to get stuck into it, grabbing some feed for the sheep and enjoying the hilarity of (what we always thought were) undomesticated animals want to be our friends.

Blue penguin rehabilitation station

After the chaos of sheep feeding, we follow Avril into the garden of her aunt and uncle’s to put on some camouflage layers. Not only does this keep us warm, but it is less likely to scare the penguins than our bright jackets. Dressed to impress, we go to a section of the garden where some penguin rehabilitation is taking place. Avril talks about the rehabilitating the chicks that for whatever reason, whether they have lost their parents or wandered away from their burrows, they have been found starving. Avril’s family will bring them back here and feed them three times a day to fatten them up to increase their chances of surviving in the wild.

We get the closer look than ever before of little blue penguins as Avril’s aunt feeds six chicks with bowls of anchovies. One by one, she guides an anchovy into the mouth of a chick still with its fluffy down holding onto its body or creating a badass mohawk on its head. We can really appreciate how small the world’s smallest species of penguins really are. (And not to mention how cute!)

The wildlife sanctuary of Flea Bay

Now, Avril takes us on a walk around the beautiful Flea Bay to check out little blue penguins in the wild. Along with seeing artificial and natural nesting burrows and Avril explaining how to check if the chick in the nesting burrow is healthy, we also so a few more wildlife that use Flea Bay as their sanctuary. A variable oyster catcher leads its chicks around the rocks on the bay below, while a couple of New Zealand fur seals roll around in their sleep.

Watching little blue penguins in their natural environment

As we make our way over a fairly rugged path high above the waters of Flea Bay, we stop at various locations of optimal penguin spotting. The best of which comes at the end of the track with a group of penguins gathering on the rocks below. A cheeky fur seal swims past, scaring them higher up the rocks. After seeing the penguins so close in rehabilitation, it’s extra rewarding to watch the penguins natural behaviour from a distance where they can just be themselves! Watching penguins makes all our troubles of today float away for just a moment.

Part 2 – The Crappy Part of Day 219

Some friendly locals coming to check out our van Some friendly locals coming to check out our van
Laura is not impressed by today's events Laura is not impressed by today's events
Robin working on finding a new vehicle between Christmas and New Year's! Robin working on finding a new vehicle between Christmas and New Year's!

So what the hell happened today? Are you going to tell us already?!

Ok, Ok… So we attempted to get to Akaroa already once this morning. We planned ourselves plenty of time to arrive in Akaroa, even after getting a brand new Certificate of Fitness (COF) (like a WOF for cars) for our campervan before leaving Christchurch. It passed! Our campervan was deemed fit and safe to legally travel on New Zealand roads. Hurray! We admit, we both thought there would be more expenses to pay like after last time we had the COF, so obviously we were super stoked that we had nothing to worry about with our campervan. In fact, we talked about this. We talked about this A LOT on the way to Akaroa. We were planning our future, planning what we were going to do with the money once we have sold the campervan after this trip – that sort of thing.

The smell of disappointment

“Is that smell coming from the inside or outside?” Robin asked. The smell got stronger and Robin started to see black smoke from his wing mirror. As we looked for a safe place to pull up on the side of the road, the engine made a clunking noise and slowly started to die. Yep, we broke down.

With no coverage, Robin ran to the nearest house to use their phone to call breakdown assistance. While we waited two hours for a tow truck, the owners of the house, one of which used to be a mechanic, took a look at the engine and believed it had overheated and, in short, destroyed several other parts of the engine. It would be a big job and a huge expense to repair it.

Figuring our sh*t out

The tow truck picked us and the campervan up. As there is not a single mechanics open in Christchurch open until the New Year, the tow truck driver graciously offers to store the campervan while we get our sh*t sorted. And we had A LOT of sh*t to sort considering that campervan was meant to be our accommodation in Akaroa for the next five days.

We had four hours to figure this one out if we wanted to get to the Pohatu Penguins tour on time. And we REALLY wanted to!

Jucy to the rescue and the help of locals

Robin was trying to find a vehicle. Laura was trying to find accommodation. At this time of the year, it seemed like only one rental car was left available, an 8-seater car with Jucy. We take it and yet again, Jucy absolutely saved our asses!

Laura managed to find accommodation of a friend’s cousin’s spare room for one night, but it turned out that Avril was keen to help us by letting us stay in her sleep-out for the remaining nights.

Wow… Somehow, we managed to work it out thanks to the help and kindness of a lot of people. Our Akaroa adventure still goes on. Now we just have to figure out what the hell we are meant to do with the campervan.

The adventure in Akaroa continues!

But until then, we have lots of awesome things planned on the Banks Peninsula while figure it out. Join us tomorrow where we take a jet boat by day and a stand-up paddle board by night!

Laura and Robin

Feeding time for the rehabilitating little blue penguins!
Feeding time for the rehabilitating little blue penguins! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Have you read the yesterday’s post about the journey to Edoras? How about these articles:

Until tomorrow’s blog post, check us out on the HerePin app to meet other travellers in your area. We also post travel tips for New Zealand on Facebook, as well as our adventure on Instagram. Join the Facebook Group to find people to travel with, ask us questions, and buy/sell.

See you tomorrow!

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Comments
  1. Hey guys thanks so much for this.

    Comment avatar Ave.
    14/02/2017 at 3:45 pm
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