Going wild in Dunedin – wildlife capital of New Zealand
On the inside – with its austere old stone architecture and strong Scottish heritage – Dunedin lives up to its moniker of ‘Edinburgh of the South’.
But on the outside, on the rugged hills and wild beaches of Otago Harbour, Dunedin loves to claim a different title as ‘wildlife capital of New Zealand’. And, with varied wildlife populations on land, sea and in the air, all within easy access of the city, there is plenty to substantiate that claim.
A new YouTube star is born each breeding season at the royal albatross colony on Otago Peninsula, as the cameras focus on the life of a young albatross family. Millions of followers around the world keep watch as their egg is laid, nurtured, hatched and the chick eventually learns to fly away.
Other local wildlife stars have included a sea lion that took to frolicking in the warm waters of the city’s saltwater pool complex, and the latest – a sea lion mother who occupied a city golf course to deliver her pup, while the city fathers had to close a road and golfers were obliged to take extra care on the greens.
New Zealand sea lions - one of the rarest species of sea lion in the world - are only found in New Zealand, according to New Zealand's Department of Conservation. They are found mainly on beaches in Otago and Southland in the South Island, and in New Zealand's subantarctic islands.
World renowned environmentalist Sir David Bellamy has described the Otago Peninsula as "the finest example of eco-tourism in the world".
Visitors to Otago Peninsula have a diverse range of rare wildlife observation opportunities – from New Zealand fur seal and sea lion, to the rare yellow eyed penguin and the world's smallest penguin – the little blue, as well as the world's only mainland colony of royal albatross, and all within a 30-minute drive from Dunedin's city centre.
The recommended way to make the most of these attractions is on a tour hosted by passionate and knowledgeable guides who have expert local knowledge and private access to the best viewing spots. Elm Wildlife Tours is one of many tourism operators offering a range of tours on and off the water.
Royal Albatross Centre & Pukekura little blue penguins
The Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head on the exposed eastern tip of Otago Peninsula is the only mainland-based albatross breeding ground in the world. Visitors can experience the exhilaration of having a huge northern royal albatross with a three-metre wingspan glide effortlessly and silently over their heads or landing in front of their cameras.
Guided tours offer excellent opportunities for viewing these magnificent birds, whilst the world-class visitor centre has superb educational displays on albatross and other wildlife species present at Taiaroa Head, including the fur seal, blue penguin, spotted shag, and royal spoon bill.
Discover korora / little blue penguin – the world's smallest penguin in their natural habitat of cliff-face burrows at nearby Pilots Beach. After a day at sea, penguin groups congregate as rafts just offshore where they often can be heard vocalising with short, loud squawks. At dusk, penguins swim into shore, scurrying uphill to their nests to feed chicks or roost.
Penguin Place Yellow-eyed penguin
At Penguin Place, visitors can discover why the quirky yellow-eyed penguin is the world's most endangered penguin species, found only on the south-east coast of New Zealand.
Small groups of visitors are taken on a short off-road trip across a private farm to the sanctuary, then guided on foot through special covered trenches into viewing hides. These allow close viewing and photography of the breeding behaviour and young chicks of this shy penguin.
Natures Wonders Penguin Beach
Natures Wonders is a private conservation programme funded by guided wildlife tours. Visitors are taken to a viewing spot over Penguin Beach – a reserve area of natural habitat, devoid of any human modification via a special 8-wheel-drive Argos machine that has been designed to respect the environment.
The off-road tour, which takes in a spectacular coastline and amazing vistas of Otago Harbour, is perfect for all ages and fitness levels. Expert guides share their knowledge on this unique wildlife habitat for rare yellow-eyed and blue penguin, cormorant, and New Zealand fur seals, among others.
Orokonui Ecosanctuary, in hill country within easy reach of Dunedin, is a New Zealand bush wildlife experience where native flora and fauna thrive in a combination of original untouched forest (which shelters New Zealand's tallest tree) and regenerating farmland that has been cleared of exotic predators.
From the spectacular visitor centre – an award-winning architectural statement of eco-design – visitors can take a variety of guided tours or meander along various tracks through the forest, serenaded by birdsong.
Monarch Wildlife Cruises & Tours
For a cruisy on-the-water experience, Monarch Wildlife's boat takes visitors out into Otago Harbour, and around Taiaroa Head for a different view of the huge variety of wildlife that make their home on Otago Peninsula.
The cruise back into Dunedin takes in New Zealand's most photogenic harbour.