New Zealand has an enviable endowment of natural wonders, and its isolation from the rest of the world means that we enjoy some flora and fauna that are unlike anything seen anywhere else. Many visitors to New Zealand come to see this incredible wealth of animals and plant life, so let’s examine what the Oamaru area has to offer in this realm.
One of the things that has long drawn visitors to Oamaru is the colony of “little blue” penguins that make Oamaru their home. These penguins, the smallest variety of penguin in the world, are also known as “fairy penguins”, and just “blue penguins”, they are also called “kororā” in Maori. These penguins stand 30 to 33cm tall (12 to 13 inches) and every night they can be seen coming back to shore en masse from a day out to sea at the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, where you can also see their nests, eggs and chicks during the daytime. If you do come to see the evening show at the penguin colony, please note that photography is not allowed, as the use of flash would startle the birds, causing them to regurgitate the food that they have spent all day collecting for their mates and chicks back at the nest, who will thus get no food! And a fun fact about these harmless-looking penguins — one of them bit Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux operating system, which led to his decision to use the penguin as the Linux mascot!
Aside from the more well-known blue penguins, Oamaru is also home to a colony of yellow-eyed penguins, the world’s rarest. These penguins behave very differently from the little blues, fishing more or less alone and returning in the late afternoon in ones and twos to their nests. The yellow-eyed penguin colony at Bushy Beach in Oamaru is on DOC land, and so is accessible at no charge, but please observe the restrictions on beach access that is imposed to ensure that the penguins will not be disturbed when they are coming back to shore. These birds can also be seen at spots in Moeraki, a short drive from Oamaru, and time their arrival on shore at a perfect time to allow you to view them before retiring to Fleur’s Place for a wonderful seafood dinner.
Also in Moeraki (as well as in Oamaru) you can see several marine mammals, including NZ fur seals and sea lions, along with marine birds like shags (which once were considered a threat to NZ fisheries, but are now protected). If wildlife is your thing, then a visit to North Otago is sure not to disappoint!