The Otago Peninsula is home to an abundance of interesting wildlife. Notably: the Blue Penguins (Kororā) at Pukekura, the Yellow Eyed Penguin (Hoiho), and the Royal Albatross.
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An introduction to The Royal Albatross Centre
The Royal Albatross Centre is located at the end of the Otago Peninsula (the foot of Taiaroa Head). The centre is operated by the Otago Peninsula Trust. This trust was the first private charitable conservation trust in New Zealand. A portion of ticket sales is used to help protect the Royal Albatross.
FUN FACT: There’s a secret fort (Fort Taiaroa) underneath the observatory. Tours of the fort are available for booking.
The Royal Albatross Centre is home to the only mainland breeding colony of Royal Albatross in the world. They are the largest seabirds with a wingspan of 3 meters.
FUN FACT: The Royal Albatross are estimated to spend over 85% of their lives at sea and fly over 190,000 km per year!
We did not participate in the paid Royal Albatross tour and instead stood at the fence boundary for quite a while. And, sure enough, we were fortunate enough to see a Royal Albatross fly overhead!
The tours include educational information about the Royal Albatross as well as access to the observatory. The birds breed and nest on Taiaroa Head. Chicks are hatched late January through early February and it’s possible to watch the birds guard and then raise the young chicks. The chicks depart in September.
Little Blue Penguins
The little blue penguin viewing at The Royal Albatross Centre is an activity we highly recommend.
FUN FACT: The Little Blue Penguin is the world’s smallest penguin. Adult blue penguins are approximately 30 centimeters (12 inches) tall.
The viewing time is dependent on sunset time. In early February the activity began at 9:15pm. We received an informative and educational introduction before descending to the viewing platform.
The adult penguins go out to sea during the day and, to return, they join themselves together and float back as ‘rafts’ of penguins. The penguins then hurl themselves onto the beach, shake off, and waddle back to their chicks. The blue penguin chicks have been awaiting the return of their parents in nests; many of which are located underneath the viewing platforms.
We didn’t have the greatest view of the ‘rafts’ coming ashore – everyone rushed to the front to see this – but we did have prime viewing of little blue penguin chicks.
TIP: Rather than rushing to the front of the viewing platform, pick a spot near the side railings.
Watching the spectacle of the little blue penguins waddle around in the dark was priceless.
Other Otago Peninsula Activities
Yellow Eyed Penguins
We tried multiple times, with no success, to view yellow eyed penguins in various natural habitats across New Zealand. So, when I return to New Zealand – which is most definitely happening! – I will be sure to visit Penguin Place. This bird sanctuary is home to endangered yellow eyed penguins.
Marine and Bird Life
A variety of other marine life can be found on the Otago Peninsula. For example, the New Zealand sea lion, the Stewart Island shag, and much more.
Breathtaking Views (with or without Tramping)
Sandymount Recreation Reserve: Chasm and Lovers Leap // 1 hr return
This well-loved loop track provides access to the popular Chasm and Lovers Leap viewpoints (20 minutes). However, due to overuse the viewpoints have been relocated. The walk still provides views of the coast.
TIP: It’s possible to walk to Sandfly Bay Wildlife Refuge from Sandymount Recreative Reserve (45 min).
Harbour Cone // 5 hr
I don’t know how we missed this tramp! Harbour Cone is 315 meters above sea level. The summit can be accessed from several starting points and must have spectacular views of the Otago Peninsula and Dunedin.
OK, so maybe there are not multiple castles. But there is one castle and it’s a major attraction. The Larnach Castle & Garden is the only castle in Australasia. In addition to touring the castle, the gardens are exquisite, and you can even stay in on-site accommodation. Fit for royalty!
Camping on the Otago Peninsula
We suggest using the information and bountiful reviews in the CamperMate app to find campsites suitable for your situation and inline with your expectations.
Portobello Road, Otago Peninsula
After a late-night of penguin viewing on the Otago Peninsula we inquired about nearby freedom camping. We ended up at a recommended pullout on Portobello Road.
We were tucked behind a large boulder – buffered from the road – and just steps from the water. Stunning spot.
TIP: If you’re unable to find an allowable freedom spot on the Otago Peninsula, there are a number of options in and around Dunedin.
New Zealand Planning and Resources
If you’re planning for your vacation or holiday in New Zealand, more resources – including our trip map with points of interest and camping spots – can be found in our New Zealand planning and resources post.
Our travelogue and the details of our day-to-day activities can be found in our New Zealand itinerary and travelogue post.
travel dates: February 7, 2020
last updated: 21-Jun-2021