Otago Peninsula, South Island, New
From where we parked the
campervan it was a 45 minute walk to the beach, so we left
ourselves plenty of time to get there before the
yellow-eyed penguins surfed ashore. They would return at
dusk to their nests on the hillside after spending the day
feeding in the Pacific.
The sandy trail down to the beach crossed numerous fences designed to keep out dogs. Man's best friend is one of the penguins' biggest enemies. The New Zealanders take wildlife conservation seriously: signs stated that thus was a wildlife refuge and thus dogs would be shot on sight.
The beach was a beautiful, broad and sandy one, the tide was low and we quickly founded the "hide" up on a grassy dune above the beach. It was a low wooden shack with a slit window facing the beach. As the penguins wouldn't see us on the beach, they would now come ashore. Out beyond the breakers a group awaited the right wave to surf in on. They came in alone or in small groups of just a few surfing on their bellies until the wave dropped them on the sand.
Then with much aplomb they got to their feet and stiffly walked up the beach towards the hillside that was home. As these were the first wild penguins that either Rose or I had ever seen, we watched their every move in the gathering darkness.
Finally it became just too dark to see and with our flashlights we found the trail back up the hill to the camper. I have always loved the experience of being in the out-of-doors as the dusk turns to darkness. It seems to help center my mind upon the importance of the natural world in my world. This evening our thoughts were filled with the sight of the penguins coming home.
Returning to the camper, we drove the gravel roads back to our campsite listening to a few carols on the radio. It was now nearly midnight on Christmas Eve, 1993.