I was perched down low, my body buffered by the wind when I first saw its black and white body roll in with the waves. It danced in the wash as it reached the sand, before looking around cautiously then chasseing through the seaweed and over the rocks away from me. I sat still with my camera, clicking furiously as it navigated the puddles to complete its evening repertoire. Over by my right shoulder, my husband caught sight of further members of the dance troupe, and shifted silently to get a better angle. Hidden from view, we both sat transfixed as we snapped at their tiny faces, eager to capture the brilliant yellow of their eyes. As the sun dulled in the sky, they waddled towards the bushes, unaware of their audience, the yellow strip around their eye now glowing in the dusk.
We were at Curio Bay in the Caitlins region of New Zealand and had come to witness the nightly nesting of the Yellow-Eyed Penguin (Megadyptes antipodes). The Yellow-Eyed Penguins are native to New Zealand and are considered to be one of the oldest and rarest of the penguin species. The presence of cacarotene in their eye produces the yellow pigment and it is thought that a relationship exists between the richness of the colour and the bird’s ability to easily catch prey.
The Yellow-eyed penguin can be found along the Banks Peninsula, down south through the Caitlins to Stewart Island, and then further south in the Auckland and Campbell islands. Preferring to nest within coastal scrub or flax, the penguins are shy in nature and like to nest out of sight of other penguins. With an estimated population of 6000, the Yellow-eyed Penguin is an endangered species and it is the last species of its genus; the Megadyptes.
Yellow-eyed penguins are best viewed between 3pm and dark. It is important to stay out of sight of the penguins, to allow them to feel comfortable approaching the beach.
The penguins at Curio Bay are located a short walk from the Curio Bay Camping Ground, which is positioned on the headland just south of the sleepy village community. There is a small viewing platform located above the beach, from which you can view the penguins as they make their way in from the sea. Given the ‘out of the way’ feeling at this viewing area, Curio Bay makes for a peaceful penguin watching experience.
Curio Bay Camping Ground: This unique campground is carved into flax, which on a windy night provides both protection and an eerie soundtrack. Both tent and powered sites are divided into a maze of small pockets, allowing complete privacy from neighbouring campers. Whilst the facilities are very basic (and the toilets unappealing for a night-time run) there is a small kiosk, but it is recommended to stock up on any food prior to going to camp. There did not appear to be any shops within Curio Bay itself.