The Catlins is somewhat remote. Nearby Owaka has the largest population in the area with only 400 habitants. It’s rugged beaches and dense native temperate rainforest are abundant with wildlife including endangered species such as the yellow-eyed penguin, which I was lucky enough to find and photograph. In addition fur seals, Hooker sea lions and Hector’s dolphins can be found here...oh, and Great White Sharks.
It wasn't a bright and sunny day as yesterday had been but the dense low cloud cover and the haze added to the already rugged and remote feel. The Catlins exposed location leads to frequently wild weather and heavy ocean swells, which is an attraction to surfers. I had heard about the many surfers who had ridden the waves with the dolphins and hoped to get some shots with the girls and the dolphins. I wasn’t to be so lucky to catch this shot today, which just gave me another excuse to come back again.
So the girls put on their wetsuits and got in the water, the beginners having some lessons and the more advanced hanging out the back break. There had been a Great White shark attack a couple of weeks ago…the first ever in the Catlins, so everybody was feeling a little nervous. However that didn’t keep any of the girls out of the water. They all felt safe with the knowledge that it was very unlikely to happen again.
The team got the Mistral SUPs inflated which go up very quickly. We had some 11"5 Adventurer's which are a good all round board. It is a compact Cross Over board that can be used anywhere from flat water in a lake or river to choppy water conditions in the sea. So it was the perfect board for us to be using in all the locations we were visiting in NZ. Roo was already out back on hers along with Beanie on her surfboard and they spotted dolphins soon after getting in the water. In the distance Daisy and Jordi had gone exploring the cliffs and rock pools. The waves crashing against the rocks made them look tiny. I hurried to join them and this is where I met Jeff the Yellow-Eyed Penguin.
Most people imagine penguins living on ice bergs, but that’s not the case in the Yellow-Eyed penguin! They can be found in their preferred nesting areas of the deep and secluded coastal forests of southern New Zealand. I found Jeff on a high cliff side in the scrub.
He was moulting and looked a little weak. I discovered that in February the chicks fledge and go to sea. It is an extremely hazardous time, with fewer than 20% surviving to maturity. Then in March and April (which is now) the parents must recover and put on weight before beginning the annual 3 to 4 week moult. They are confined ashore as they wait for their old feather coat to be replaced. This is a very dangerous time as energy levels are low and there is always the threat of starvation and attack by predators. I was able to approach Jeff without him moving. I did of course stay a little distant so as not to frighten or stress him. But I’m sure this is a terrible time for the penguins with less caring or respecting human visitors and predators.
There is a Yellow-Eyed penguin trust where you can donate money to help protect this species. If you are interested you can find them here (http://www.yellow-eyedpenguin.org.nz/passion/support-the-trusts-work).
The rest of today must remain a secret and will only be discussed in the 20 strong group of wonderful ladies of whom I spent the weekend. But it was an amazing sunset and when it got dark....it got interesting! :-)