March of the (Yellow Eyed) Penguins

Trip Start Feb 26, 2010
Trip End Feb 26, 2011

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Where I stayed
Curio Bay Camp Ground

Flag of New Zealand  , Southland,
Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Erica woke first needing the loo at 06:15 (shows who really drinks the most at the van bar each night) and went via the beach to do some wildlife spotting. She drew a blank and as she got back to the van at 6:45 did a typical 'I'm not waking you up’ entry to the van sitting on my legs, climbing across my chest before ripping all the covers off me. She went promptly straight back to sleep and I got up to walk / stalk the headlands and beach. Whilst walking across the cliffs (and nearly breaking my legs in the process walking across slippery rocks in a pair of broken flip flops) a head popped out of the water and looked at me. It kept bobbing up and down and I just assumed it was a seal. I started to think differently when it approached the beach, while seals like rocks and rocky headlands, sea lions like to laze around on the beach. No-one else was up so there was just me and a sea lion about 20m between us and it just lay on the ground letting the waves break over it. I still wasn’t entirely sure it was a sea lion but if it was a seal it was the biggest I had ever seen.

I then climbed the headland and saw lots of seabirds, I always keep my eye out for Titi’s a type of bird we still haven’t seen but despite there being no titi’s I did see a few shags (whoever comes up with these names is a genius). As I came down the other headland I spied another sea lion on the rocks below but felt perfectly safe with that one. I wandered across to the Curio Bay side (where the penguins live) and sat down to try and spot one of the local yellow eyed penguins going off to fish for the day. I gave up after 30 minutes and went to try and rouse the lady to show her the sea lions. The campsites are spots in and around huge bushes so are really private but the sea lions do apparently live in them so when I heard an epic noise and moving darting out of one of the bushes I got the fright of my life only to see two bush turkeys in some kind of chase me chase me pre-mating action. The lady didn’t want to get up so I went back penguin spotting for another 15 minutes unsuccessfully again.

Since the witch put the blockers on Stewart Island we needed to slow down our pace of life so we drank coffees, cooked some egg butbuts before doing some more marches along the beach looking for Hectors dolphins, sea lions and penguins. We did manage to spot another sea lion out on the rocks but it didn’t give the lady the view and close encounter I had had that morning.

We waited around for the campsite owner to turn up so we could pay (is that a first) as he only started work at 11:00am (it’s a nice pace of life down here) then we headed for the petrified forest further down Curio Bay. Well Erica was amazed at the forest but the tide was still in so I’ll come back to that one. We had a quick look from the lookout worked out when we thought low tide would be and headed off to Waipapa Point.

After about 30 minutes we got to the point, the site of one of New Zealand’s biggest passenger ferry disasters, the town had a population of about 4 people (Erica again argued why would we need to go to Stewart Island to feel isolated) and found the DOC wardens there. There were four of them and we joked they probably had our pictures on a wanted sheet. We got chatting and they were actually there to try and tag some sea lions so they can monitor the lions movements, the more they know about their movements and habits the better they can protect them from humans and vice versa.

From here we moved on to Slope Point the most southerly point on the South Island, although we saw a few seals and a signpost there isn’t that much to see here. We therefore headed back to Porpoise Bay as low tide was probably approaching however firstly we stopped for a walk further round the beach to try and spot those dolphins again. Still no luck with the dolphins so he headed back to walk around the Petrified Forest while the tide was out. Essentially this is the remnants of a forest that have been preserved for 160 Million Years, While Erica was overjoyed, I didn’t think it looked all that good, sure it is amazing to be able to see remnants of wood in the rocks from that long ago but I wasn’t as overwhelmed as the lady. Erica edit:  It was amazing the result of volcanic ash covering the forest and then setting like stone protecting it from disintegration – and it is one of the best examples of this in the world – eat my shorts Stevo!

We nipped back into town (that being a place with about 100 people where the local museum (if you can call it that) advertised internet. The internet connection was actually dial up so was so incredibly slow. It is an amazing place that with the pace of life and places like the museum make you feel like you are in a different era.

We went back to the campsite and parked up on top of a big cliff face looking out for dolphins and whales for another hour before giving up and making dinner.  After another pasta el Stevo we started getting ready for the march of the penguins. Curio bay is known as one of the best spots in the world to see yellow eyed penguins (the rarest penguin in the world). We wandered down with two chairs, glasses and a box of wine, while the other few all had binoculars and DSLR’s we plonked down our chairs got our bag of red wine and waited. When the first penguin appeared we expected him to run into the shore to his nest, however it must have taken him 45 minutes to walk through the petrified forest back to his den. Then more and more started to appear and as dusk drew in we finished off the remnants of our red wine bag and about 4 penguins were still on their way. Erica described it as been the best night out in ages (probably since the Neighbours night), that I reminded her is because it has been our only night out in ages, and we simply swapped the location of the van bar to a beach to watch penguins. It was all good though a great day.
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