Thursday, March 29, 2007


Hoiho (yellow-eyed penguins) are one of the rarest penguin species in the world, with numbers at only around 4,000. I think they're found only in New Zealand. So when I got to see some in Oamaru, I was floored. But I did not realise that it was only the beginning.

During my day on the Otago Peninsula, I went out to an area called Allan's Beach because my guidebook told me it was one of the best places in the area to see sea lions. The beach itself was really amazing. To get there, I took a long dirt road that curved around an inlet, and the parking was next to a field of sheep. From there, I had to climb a fence (yes, that's what the sign told me), walk across the sheep paddock, and then through some sand dunes. I was promptly rewarded with a stunning stretch of sand, complete with giant waves. And I had it all to myself.

Well, not quite all to myself, as I soon discovered. I started to walk down the beach towards some rocks where I hoped to find some sea lions. A little ways down, I saw strange looking rock--it was white instead of brown like the rest. I kept walking and discovered that it was not a rock, but a hoiho. He was just standing there, preening himself.

The books and brochures all warn that hoiho are very frightened of movement and sound, so I kept very quiet and moved slowly. He didn't seem to notice me. There were some big rocks near him, about 20 or so feet away, so I made my way over there. I managed to position myself sitting against one of the rocks (I like to think that my dark jacket camouflaged me a bit), with the hoiho in plain sight. He looked at me once or twice, but mostly just preened. He and I hung out like that for a good half hour or more. Me (quietly) snapping pictures, him preening. The pictures and video will be posted soon. I was going to wait for him to leave first, but I eventually got so cold that I took off (quietly, and as far away from him as possible so as not to disturb).

I wandered down the still empty beach some more, trying to find the sea lions. But all of a sudden I noticed that the brown rocks were moving, and that there were some seals basking around. I realized that I was between the seals and the sea--which is when they're most likely to attack--so I quickly turned around.

I'm still kind of in shock that I was able to see the endangered hoiho in the wild, and that I had such a good view. He was so beautiful, and so stunning. The thought of seeing endangerged animals anywhere but a zoo never really occurred to me, but in New Zealand, it seems I encounter the impossible on a daily basis.

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