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Seeing Little Blue Penguins in Dunedin

Seeing Little Blue Penguins in Dunedin

Seeing a raft of little blue penguins approach shore and then flop out of the water and up the beach toward their nests is one of the best experiences a tourist (or a local) could have in Dunedin. We did the Blue Penguins Pukekura tour at Pilots Beach, Taiaroa Head recently and were blown away by the experience — I reckon you’re going to want to book it too after reading this post!

Do you need to take a tour?

Yes, as access to the beach where the penguins land is blocked an hour or so before sunset (they arrive home from sea at dusk). You may see them in other places around Dunedin but it wouldn’t be anything like this experience.

Sunset at Taiaroa Head

We saw little blue penguins in Dunedin in January, with the tour starting at 9 pm. The sun was going down as we arrived at Taiaroa Head — there’s some time before the tour properly starts to have a look around and get some photos.

The First Penguin

After a brief talk about the area and its tiny inhabitants we headed down to the viewing platform above Pilots Beach. We waited around for a while until a lone penguin came into view. It was too early for it to come in (they wait until dark / go in groups for safety reasons) so it just played around in the waves for about 20 minutes.

It would walk a little way up the beach and then go back, and seeing it getting knocked over by waves and rolling around in the water was pretty cute. It eventually walked up towards its nest and then stopped and relaxed by the viewing platform for another 10 minutes or so. Once penguins get close to the nest area they relax, preen their feathers and socialise. As the first penguin enjoyed some alone time chicks were starting to emerge from their nests.

Penguin Chaos

With the black cloud of penguins approaching, excitement levels were getting high. They cruised into the beach and then landed in that undignified way only penguins can before waddling up the beach.

Then they just waited around. Some went straight to their nests, but a big group congregated at the top of the beach and stayed there for ages, with some coming and going. This is their social time, so they like to preen their feathers and be near their penguin friends for a while before going home to feed the kids. Just like humans I guess.

They don’t all arrive together either. Several more groups came in over the next half hour or so, with a few arriving way later than the main groups. There were well over 100 penguins that night. They’re fascinating creatures — you’ll never get bored watching them and the platform gives you as close a view as you could hope for in a wildlife experience. You’re metres from the penguins. They don’t seem to mind either — the colony is thriving,  probably because it’s run by a trust funded by these penguin tours.

Nightlife

Walk around the platform and you’ll see penguins pretty much surrounding the whole thing. They’re everywhere. After they all landed it kinda reminded me of a bar late at night, with penguins hanging out in pairs, or small groups, chasing each other, and basically just looking like drunk people having a good time before the doors shut for the night.

Chicks

December to February (breeding season) is the time to visit if you want to see chicks. We saw some adorable chicks who had lost half their feathers  — so cute!

The Details

The tour starts just before sunset, so varies month by month (you can book it here). We did it in mid-January and couldn’t have timed it better. You’re guaranteed to see penguins but there are a lot less in winter. There is transport available from the city if you need it, otherwise it’s a 50 minute drive out to Taiaroa Head — it’s a narrow, winding road and some of the locals go fast, so drive carefully and let people pass if they’re getting agitated behind you.

Are you planning a trip to Dunedin? Check out our Dunedin travel guide!

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.