Oamaru is home to a colony of blue penguins that visitors from all over come to see. They’re endemic to coastal New Zealand and southern Australia, the smallest of 18 species at 43cm (17in) in length and 1kg in weight. Unusual too is the fact that their color is distinctively blue (and white), while all other penguins have the conventional black-and-white markings.
I saw them for the second time in less than a year, the last time on Phillip Island in Australia (near Melbourne). I took my pre-school grandson to the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony because of his love of penguins and the fact that he wanted to witness firsthand the blues’ nightly march to their nests from the sea. This he got to see, as they arrived in several waves. Though there were 111 officially counted tonight as having arrived at the facility, the penguins come ashore all along the Otago coastline. On the tramp back to the hotel, we were able to walk up to several along Waterfront Road and the Esplanade, one of the best opportunities to get close to penguins in an urban environment.
Blue penguins nest wherever they can find a rock crevice or dig out niches in soil. At the colony, we noticed artificial structures throughout the grounds, clearly encouragement for the birds to make themselves at home at this former rock quarry.
Along the facility’s periphery is a concrete breakwater, built before the turn of the 20th century. While the audience was waiting for the blues’ arrival, we could see and hear from the bleachers tremendous waves crashing into its side, accompanied by the roar of scrabbling rocks, an impressive show in itself.
Exciting as this experience was, we got an unexpected surprise earlier in the day. As my grandson and I were walking past a small building along the Esplanade, an employee called out to us from behind a chain link fence and asked if we were heading toward the penguins. We were. Don introduced himself and wondered if we’d be interested in seeing the penguins he’d built shelters for on the grounds. Despite my suspicious tendency, I said, “Sure,” with some reservation, I admit. Don was quite jovial and explained that he’d been doing this for 8 years, keeping watch on blues that have nested in about 15 small shelters made out of wood. He lifted the roof of one to reveal a mother penguin and her two chicks. There was only one other resident in the compound, the empty homes awaiting the squatters’ return from the sea. Don encouraged me to take pictures, personally a great opportunity because no photography would be permitted at the Blue Penguin Colony.
Further down the Esplanade, Sumpter Wharf, its decking long ago rotted and damaged and therefore entry completely fenced off, was occupied by thousands of spotted shags (parekareka) who ignored the rickety underpinnings.
While Oamaru has other tourist draws, including an historic distinct called theVictorian Precinct and being the steampunk capital of New Zealand, its main draw is the penguin colony.
Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony
2 Waterfront Road
03 433 1195