Must-go hotspot for wildlife is the Otago Peninsula with several guided tour options to observe Royal Albatross, adorable penguins and native lizards. Go for a walk on remote Dunedin beaches and keep your eyes peeled for massive sea lions lounging in the sand dunes or rocky shores.
Otago Peninsula Royal Albatross and penguin encounters are closely managed to ensure the bird’s wellbeing. Guided tours are the only option.
ROYAL ALBATROSS CENTRE – MAINLAND COLONY OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST OCEAN BIRDS – GUIDED TOURS
Gliding the thermals, floating above the Taiaroa Head are the ocean birds, the Royal Albatross. Its 3 metre wingspan is feathered flight, engineered by nature. And this unmissable glorious spectacle is yours at the Royal Albatross Centre, the only mainland breeding colony for the albatross in the world. Unmissable opportunity to observe life and find out about the habits of these magnificent enormous ocean birds.
… read more about the Royal Albatross
Otago Peninsula is home to several well known private wildlife sanctuaries for yellow-eyed penguins and little blue penguins as well as a significant repository of ancient native forest at Orokonui Ecosanctuary.
THE BEST TIME TO VIEW ROYAL ALBATROSS IS BETWEEN JANUARY TO SEPTEMBER WHEN THE CHICKS ARE ON THE NEST
PENGUIN PLACE – GUIDED TOUR
Waddling penguins tug at the heart strings of visitors. Yellow-eyed penguins are endangered and their sturdy bodies and the effort to return home has visitors beguiled. Join a tour of Penguin Place and listen to dedicated volunteers and staff explain the issues involved in predator control, rehabilitation of sick, starving or injured yellow-eyed penguins.
PUKEKURA – LITTLE BLUE PENGUINS – GUIDED TOUR
Another opportunity to watch the daily routine of Little Blue Penguins waddling home to their nests. Blue Penguins Pukekura offer visitors a glimpse into the life of Little Blue Penguins from a purpose built viewing platform. Miniature Kororā, are the world’s smallest penguin, emerging from the sea at dusk at Takiharuru/Pilots Beach, on the end of the Otago Peninsula. Tours include information on the penguins, plants, other wildlife and Māori history. Blue Penguins, Pukekura guarantee to see penguins. Restoration work on site to protect the land and the penguins is solely funded by revenue generated by the tours.
The tour starts from within the royal albatross centre situated at the end of the Otago Peninsula at Pukekura/Taiaroa Head. Getting to Blue Penguins Pukekura is easy. Drive yourself, and allow 60 minutes from Central Dunedin. Please check in within the centre 15 minutes prior to the tour start time.
… read more about Otago Peninsula top sights
Finding wildlife is not always a walk in the park. Sea lions enjoy privacy and remote beaches. Enjoy the challenge of getting there.
Biology of New Zealand sea lion (NZ Department of Conservation online resource). The breeding season is the summer (December – January)
Smails and Tomahawk are remote beaches neighbouring St Clair and St Kilda city beaches. The beaches are isolated by a headland of volcanic rock. The sand dunes are now a favoured spot for nursing sea lions to create a haven for their pups.
The stream running across the beach comes from Tomahawk Lagoon, a picturesque home for black swans and many other native birds and plants.
There are tracks through the sand dunes to the beach. The seagulls will be swirling as Bird Island and headlines are favoured nesting spots. Smails Beach marks the beginning of the Otago Peninsula.
With very low tides, Tomahawk and Smails Beaches become a continuous ribbon of gold sand.
SAFETY – MARINE MAMMALS ONSHORE
- give seals and sea lions space stay at least 20 m away if you can
- avoid coming between fur seals and the sea
- keep dogs on a leash and well away
- do not drive vehicles closer than 50 m of a marine mammal if you can
- never attempt to touch seals or sea lions – they can be aggressive and often carry diseases.
WHERE ARE THE SEA LIONS FOUND ON THE OTAGO PENINSULA?
- At Victory Beach there’s a Egyptian-looking rock formation known locally as “The Pyramids”
- Discover the large sand dunes of Sandfly Bay, Otago Peninsula and perhaps encounter the local inhabitants, sea lions and seals. A favourite instagram spot for its seascape, sand dunes and tussock grasses.
- The MOLE, Aramoana, an artificial rock barrier protecting the Auckland harbour is a hot spot for sea lions sunbathing between bouts at sea feeding.
A birding hot spot where native birds flourish in the regenerating forest. Orokonui Ecosanctuary is the flagship biodiversity project for the South Island where multiple species of plants and animals are protected from predators. A predator fence surrounds 307 hectares of Coastal Otago forest, pests have been removed, habitat enhanced with weed control and planting, and many rare and endangered species re-introduced.
LIZARDS & OROKONUI ECO-SANCTUARY RESERVE
Orokonui Ecosanctuary is home to native tuatara (survivors of the dinosaur era) and numerous native birds. There are various tracks through native forest. Visitors have the option of self-guided or guided forest tours. Highlights include opportunities to view tuatara, Otago Skinks and bird species korimako, tūī, and kākā. Guides will share their knowledge of Orokonui’s history, its conservation stories, and discuss any taoka (treasured) native species you encounter along the way. The guided tour finishes at our viewing platform, amongst ancient podocarp/broadleaf forest.
Wildlife encounters can be wrapped around a guided tour organised by Elm Wildlife Tours or Monarch Wildlife Criuses & Tours. Catch a boat and cruise the harbour with prime water side views of the harbour, Royal Albatross colony, ocean birds swooping in to feed the nutrient rich harbour waters, sea lions and dolphins resting on shore. The one hour cruises depart from Wellers Rock Wharf (Otago Peninsula) are the most popular tour option offered by Monarch Wildlife Cruises & Tours. Check Monarch for other tour options and pick up details for visitors staying in Dunedin.
Short on time or want to guarantee you have the best opportunity to view wildlife in Dunedin & Otago Peninsula?
JOIN Elm Tours and take the hard work out of finding and observing sometimes elusive marine mammals and ocean birds. Visitors enjoy close-up viewing of yellow eyed penguins, sea lions, albatross and fur seals. Explore around the inlets and visit remote beaches. Expert guides will take you to spectacular wildlife spots, ensuring you have unrivalled access to protected locations and amazing viewing opportunities.
Undoubtedly Dunedin & Otago Peninsula offer visitors a chance to experience the wild. Discover nature at its raw on remote beaches and the Taiaroa Head where massive albatross soar the skies. Otago is a region renowned for its natural beauty with The Catlins one of New Zealand’s scenic road trips and sea lions basking on wind swept beaches.
Dunedin & Otago Peninsula travel guide provides you with a comprehensive guide to key Dunedin attractions and things to do.
Lace up the boots and puff your way up the steepest street in world, Baldwin St.
TRAVEL PACK INFORMATION
Dunedin soon to be sea lion city … January 2022
Dunedin City Council Animal Services Team Leader Peter Hanlin says, “Just like everyone else, sea lions hit the beach over summer. When it’s time to give birth, sea lion mums can choose spots near popular beaches, like we saw last year near St Kilda Beach. To make sure they get the space they need with their new pup, temporary restrictions for dogs may be put in place at some beaches.”
Restrictions are already in place at Smails Beach, where 4-5 female sea lions have made their summer home. Dogs are only allowed on lead at this beach to protect the sea lions.
“We’ll be keeping an eye on the sea lion mums and where they settle with their pups. Some beaches or areas where people can usually walk their dogs off lead may change to on lead only temporarily to help keep both the sea lions and dogs safe. We’ll put signs out if this is needed,” Mr Hanlin says.
The Otago Peninsula population has 28 breeding age females and a number are expected to find spots around the city to give birth and rear pups over December and January.
“Sea lions can be difficult to spot and generally aren’t afraid of people. As they’ll have new pups, it’s important to give them a wide berth and keep dogs away. If you come across wildlife, including sea lions, put your dog on a lead and stay 20m away.”
Vehicles can also pose a risk for sea lions and people need to remember that vehicles are generally not permitted on beaches unless there’s an emergency or they’re launching a boat.
Department of Conservation Biodiversity Ranger Jim Fyfe says Dunedin is one of the few mainland places where sea lions breed.
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