Watching wildlife in Dunedin, New Zealand

Royal Albatross at the Ontago Peninsula in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Dunedin is the second largest city on New Zealand's South Island and home to the world's only continental albatross colony. During the gold rush in the 1860s it was even the wealthiest City in New Zealand.

Why to go there

For the avid bird lover, the albatross colony is a must. For everybody else, Dunedin offers plenty of opportunities to watch seals as well as blue and yellow-eyed penguins. For the active traveler, the Silver Peaks circuit offers a 2-3 days hike and the city beaches offer plenty of surfing opportunities.

Wildlife at the peninsula

Having a length of 30 km, the peninsula is actually quite small, but the roads are twisted with many speed limits in place. So plan at least two hours for a round trip from Dunedin to the headland and back.

The Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head

Located at Taiaroa Head, the tip of the peninsula, the Royal Albatross Centre is the only mainland breeding colony of Royal Albatross in the world. For bird lovers this is a great place to watch these animals with a wing span of about 3 m.

Owned by the Otago Peninsula Trust, the center offers a free museum about the history and wildlife of the area. To protect the birds, the breeding area is not accessible to the public. The center offers guided tours which take 60 minutes and lead through a one way glass and sound deadening system. The centers charges NZ$ 55 for a ticket and advertise that part of your money goes towards the fostering and protection of the Northern Royal Albatross. Unfortunately they will not share with you how much of your money is for the benefit of the albatrosses.

The blue penguins at Pilots Beach

Blue Penguin are native to New Zealand's south island.

Right next to the Albatross center lies Pilots Beach, home to Dunedin's largest blue penguin colony of about 200 penguins.

When visiting Pilots Beach, in 2004, admission was free of charge. Due to the vast number of tourists and especially those oppressing the penguins, officials were forced to restrict the access and install a viewing platform. Equipped with LED lights, it makes it easier to see the penguins and unlike in Oamaru, you are allowed to take pictures as long as you are not using any flash. According to the rangers the new penguin viewing platform is a success as the blue penguins are more relaxed now and no longer feel threatened by humans.

Access to Pilots Beach reserve is restricted from one hour before sunset to 8 a.m. year round. Access during this time is permitted only when on a guided tour with Blue Penguins Pukekura reserve. Admission to the evening viewing is $30 per adult, $10 per child, payable at the Albatross Centre. As with the albatrosses it is unclear how much of this money is used to support the penguins.

According to the Otago Daily Times, there exists a loophole though:
... people on the beach itself, which fell outside the reserve, could not legally be asked to leave. They would be able to leave in their own time, and would have to pass through the reserve to do so. Any issues arising from that situation were up to the operator to manage.

As with all penguin viewing, dress warmly as you might be standing in the cold wind of the sea for hours.

More penguins, seals and sea lions

 Yellow Eyed Penguin at Otage peninsula in Dunedin, New Zealand

Besides the guided tours on private land, there exist multiple opportunities to watch wildlife on a self guided tour. Chances are good to see sea lions and fur seals as well as blue and yellow-eyed penguins.

Victory Beach and Pyramids at Okia Reserve

This 3.5 kilometer long beach is home to all species mentioned above and comes with a distinct geological  feature - pyramids made up of geometric basalt volcanic columns. There is a narrow track so you can climb up the smaller pyramid for views over the dunes.

To reach Victory Beach, drive through Portobello. In lower Portobello, turn right onto Weir Road, then left onto Dick Road and follow it until the end.

Other wildlife locations on the peninsula

  • Allans Beach: Park your car at the end of Allans Beach Rd.
  • Sandfly bay: Park your car at the end of Seal Point Rd. There is a hide to watch penguins at the southern end of the bay.
  • Sandymount: Park your car at the end of Sandymount Rd. Besides wildlife, Sandymount offers views of coastline and cliff tops and an alternative access to Sandfly Bay. Access closed for lambing from 1st of September to 15th of October.

Other activities

  • Tunnel beach
    At the southern end of Dunedin lies tunnel beach, only accessible via 72 steps leading through a tunnel giving the beach its name. Natural sandstone cliffs archways and pillars dominate this coastal area. Note that the path is steep and can be very slippery. Access is only possible during low tide.

  • Silver Peaks Circuit
    If you are looking for some longer hikes in the area have a look at the Silver Peaks tracks north of Dunedin.

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