Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pohatu Package - Penguins!

I mentioned her earlier, but Shireen is the reason we found ourselves on the Pohatu Package. She and her husband have been working on penguin conservation efforts for more than 20 years. When Paul found out there were penguins in New Zealand, he researched some options for activities that involved penguins. I think he found the best one!

This little guy is a Little Penguin, specifically a White-flippered Penguin. It is a species of an Australasian Little Penguin. The reason he is being handled and was so available for us to see is because he has issues. He is thought to be blind in one eye and has a bum foot. Shireen is taking care of him for the time being.

Most of the sheep on Shireen's farm are not pets. They graze out in the pastures, are wrangled by sheep dogs and are not so fond of hanging out with people. However, she does have a few pet sheep that seem very fond of hanging out with her. They were sticking a little too close by as we started our evening penguin hike, so Shireen had to bribe them away with treats.

While she was bribing the sheep, we got a chance to check out the penguin a bit closer. He is in a bucket being carried to the water for a swim, so he was pretty much at our viewing mercy. So, at this moment, we were on a remote farm, on a nighttime penguin hike, with a penguin in a 5 gallon bucket waiting for our host to come back from distracting her pet sheep. Yep. We were.

The penguin's swimming was bittersweet to watch. As soon as he was set in the water, he was obviously full of glee and swam in circles with great joy. Around and around and around he went! The sad part was that he doesn't have a great future. The rest of his colony have already gone to sea and he is left behind. He can't swim properly, nor can he see well enough to catch his own food. Here's hoping that Shireen can continue getting the support she needs from local organizations. She is dependent on them to provide the special fish that he needs to eat to stay healthy.

After our little blue friend was put back in his enclosure, we headed out on the hike. Also on the hike with us were a few people who were completing the full length of the track we had been on earlier that day. They spend the night at different farms along the track. Most of them were from New Zealand and they let us know how special what we were seeing was. I guess this type of access is unheard of. Again, we felt really fortunate to be starting our trip off with such an amazing experience.

Shireen maintains nesting boxes for the penguins on her land. Providing these boxes is part of what she does to help increase the population. If there are not enough nesting sites available, the penguins will fight over them. The word is that they will fight dirty, sometimes even ousting another penguin's eggs to claim the nest. Having plenty of boxes means the penguins will keep coming back and they will have little to do but make more penguins while they are there. To further ensure their survival, Shireen also traps predators of the penguins. The predators are not native to New Zealand and have proven to be a big problem for the country. In this part of the country, the primary problem are stoats, which are similar to ferrets. While in New Zealand we heard, "the only good stoat is a dead stoat" on many occasions.

Most of the penguins have already left the breeding grounds by this time of the year, but we were lucky enough to be there in time to see a few of the last molting penguins. Shireen lifted the lid on the box to give us a peak at these penguins. These are the same kind of penguins as our little friend from above. The one on the left is just starting the molting process and the one on the right is almost done.

We hiked further out to a blind where we were fortunate enough to catch a look at the other type of penguin that calls this peninsula home. This one is a Yellow-Eyed Penguin. I didn't have a zoom lens with me, so I took the photo above and then cropped it for you below. We were looking at him through binoculars, so we got to watch him groom himself and stretch for a good long while.

We watched him until he gave us a pointed stare that said, "People, your measly blind is not fooling me. I see you! I would like to go home now but will not be able to do so until you leave. So, could you kindly leave now."

We did not wish to overstay our welcome, so we turned tail and headed back to the cottage.

The rest of the evening was spent in a most peaceful way. A candle lit cabin in a secluded pasture amid the mountains is a most perfect way to end an exhilarating day.


  1. This blog is amazing! I've happened upon several over time, most often stream-of-consciousness, too often invective-filled screeds, never before with the qualities - and quality - of yours: literate, poetic with visual continuity. Your blog was like being invited to a travelogue led by a personable guide who loved every minute of the adventure. Thank you!

  2. Your trip sounds so amazing! Love the photos, too. Can't wait to read more.


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