One of the reasons we came down to this part of New Zealand was the Royal Albatross Centre. We’ve been watching with fascination their webcam of an albatross chick growing from a very small baby.
As ever, we received some very blank looks when enquiring about public transport options, so we booked a last-minute tour with 8 others by Elm Wildlife Tours which included the Albatross centre amongst other delights.
The tour started with a pick-up in Portobello and first stop was the centre. We first were taught all about these birds (over 3m wingspan, can live up to 60 years old, spend their first 6 years just floating on thermals around Antarctica or sitting on the sea without landing at all on land, then they mate mostly for life and have a chick every 2 years). Then came the visit to the look-out. Once again, we’ve been lucky with the weather. It was clear blue skies and moderately windy – perfect Albatross flying weather. The next 45 minutes was spent mesmerised by these huge birds floating on thermals within a few metres of the look-out, the “teenagers” occasionally landing and hanging out and cute big chicks patiently waiting for their food. What a magnificent sight.
After almost dragging us away, we were then driven to a private farm while seeing many types of geese, duck and wader on the journey. Arrival at the farm we were confronted by one side having a glorious beach and on the other cliffs and rock pools. To add to the drama, an almost horizontal tree reminded us that it’s not always blue skies and light winds in this part of the world. Both sides required a bit of effort to walk down, but well worth the effort.
First, we went to the cliff and rockpool side. What we were confronted with were hundreds of seals sleeping, going into the sea, coming back, the younger ones playing in the rock pools including a tug-of-war competition using seaweed between two adolescents. All the while, the noise of seal barking and waves crashing filled the air.
Next was the beach. A steep path brought us to a stunning white sand beach. We were warned about how much sea lions weigh (400kg), how fast they can run (15mph) and how far to stay away from them (err, enough distance). But, the simple advice is essentially, if the guide starts to run, we should too. We’re just about to step on the beach when, hang on, isn’t that 2 endangered yellow eyed penguins just standing in the sand dunes doing very little? Oh yes it is.
On the beach itself there were three huge male sea lions and one female. Fortunately they seemed pretty docile, but one definitely was keeping a beady eye on us while our guide was doing exactly the same back to him. There were some more yellow eyed penguins and one little blue penguin hiding out in a burrow. Compared to the rest of the day, the wildlife was in relatively short supply on this part of the tour, but seeing penguins live in the wild for the first time and the magnificent scenery more than made up for it.
A pretty rubbish movie compilation we made is available here.
All was left was a steep walk up the hill from the beach, a drive home with yet another glorious sunset over volcanic hills and finally another walk up the hill from Portobello to our apartment on the fantastically named Allan’s Beach Road.
Another stunning day.