Curio Bay & Porpoise Bay, NZ

January 24, 2012

A REAL Wildlife Haven

Curio Bay is a must stop destination for anybody visiting New Zealand.  To get there you travel on the Southern Scenic Route highway most of the journey, which is a stunning experience in itself and then it’s a short but worthwhile detour off this road to the coast.  Summer is an excellent time to visit as you’ll see the world’s smallest and one of the rarest dolphins in the harbour (Hectors Dolphins) as well as fur seals, sea lions and penguins in the area, plus amazing beaches and a lot more.

There are plenty of small B&Bs and campsites in the area, but we chose a campsite with direct access to the beach and an excellent view of the porpoise bay, a short walk from the Department of Conservation managed area where you’ll find the Yellow Eyed Penguins breeding.  It’s totally free to watch the penguins, just keep your distance, don’t interfere and don’t use flash photography.

We didn’t choose to visit the penguin centre in Oamaru (when we’d been further up the coast a couple of days earlier) that charge for the experience of viewing from a man-made amphitheatre.  We’d thought that this may have been our only opportunity, but we were wrong.  This experience was very real, if a little chilly.

I’m no Sir David Attenbrough, or an expert in natural history, and as we didn’t have a guide my explanation of what we observed may seem a bit naff, but I guess it was one of those had to be there moments.  The picture on the right is of the Petrified forest which was flattened by floods over 40 million years ago and now the tree trunks are left visible fossilized in the rocks at Curio Bay.

Persistence Pays with Penguins

We watched in amazement for hours over two days as every evening starting at about 4pm and going on until about 10pm the penguins would return home to feed their nesting chicks.  The penguins would be thrown from the crashing waves up onto the rocks or struggle up clinging to the multicoloured kelp. They would then, once they’d manoeuvred a short distance from the water, stand stationary for about 10 minutes, periodically giving themselves a little shake.  I guess they’re exhausted after being at sea all day, swimming in search of fish for themselves and their young. They then would give out a scream, then their family would appear from the nest and return the cry, and this conversation would continue. Believe me these little fellas can belt out a chorus, until after about 20 minutes the penguin would eventually waddle back to its nest in the undergrowth to feed the little one.

It’s not just the penguins that are breeding, so are the seagulls.  We’ve both been attacked by seagulls recently (OK we weren’t actually touched) but it’s pretty intimidating when a crazy seagull decides to take a dislike to you.  Craig is Orniphobic and has been doing extremely well with my confidence boosting mantra, “look see they’re not interested in you, you’ve just had a bad experience when you were attacked by a bird when you were a kid.”  Until I got ‘attacked’ this morning, I’d just stepped foot outside the campervan with an empty wine bottle heading for the recycling bin, when this screaming (HOWLING) bird of evil came flying straight for my face.  At the speed of light, with its beak and claws getting nearer with each swoop and me getting closer to the ground, I made a hasty retreat back to the camper.  I suppose it was trying to protect a chick, although I wasn’t near any visible nesting site, or it was just plain old crazy! I guess it serves me right for being unsympathetic to Craig’s little phobia.

We’ve had 3 days here, who’d have thought cold, rainy and cloudy days could be so much fun.

Why Plan in Too Much Detail?

We’ve allowed ourselves plenty of time in New Zealand, as part of our RTW trip, and it’s just as well as it’s absolutely fab here.

We purchased our ticket just before arriving here.  We hadn’t read a guide book or had any preconceived notions of what to expect, as we’d been too busy touring Australia, and what Craig had seen was in the Lord of the Rings movies.  Thankfully this place is amazing. If you were on a quick tour or have a specific interest then this research is essential.  It’s very easy to travel here, speaking English, and we’re keeping on what feels to be a fairly well trodden path, if you count the amount of backpackers, and campervans we meet of an evening.

Due to the number of visitors here (I heard on the local radio this morning tourism figures are at an all time high) NZ offers endless facilities and opportunities for those on the road, free drinking water, recycling and dump stations (where you empty the van of used water and such like and top up with fresh) aplenty.  You never feel claustrophobic, not even in the cities which are tiny when you compare their population and size to those in Europe.  Also everyone we’ve met is very chatty and extremely polite.

With the turn of the wheel, or a few hundred footsteps you are completely alone and can be as isolated as you wish  – like we were today, just us and one lazing sea-lion on a beach that stretched for miles.  There are lots of unsealed roads off the beaten track and impromptu tramps, which are still navigable in our hi-top camper, so we just treat ourselves now and again and see what will be at the end of the track, will it be a beach, stream, mountain view, forest you just never know and this is one of the charms of NZ.

Well we do have a sort of plan, on our first night in NZ at the YMCA and a coach driver advised us not to go to a couple of places as they we’re over hyped and made some other suggestions, he then said – which sounds pretty obvious really, I don’t know why so many people drive anti-clockwise around NZ as they always have another car in between them and the coast and he’s right.  We followed his advice and are travelling clockwise, that is our only guide and also we know when we have to give Bertha back in Auckland other than that it is up to us.

We’re just using an atlas of NZ maps, which doesn’t contain any tourist literature so we’re not persuaded to see “the largest pyramid in the southern hemisphere” or such other promotions which offer very little to us.  It’s quite amusing actually as there is very little detail so we do stop off at the roadside information to check out what’s on the area etc.  I never fail to be amused at the not very bright marketing terms promoters use in publicising a place or product, and NZ is up there with some of this jargon.

Yes, you could probably save a bit of money and ensure you attended all the events you wanted to but hey, we just want to experience NZ and not waste too much time planning, having said that I was totally miffed to miss the Bluegrass festival (by one blasted day) in Waikawa.

Anyway, this is how we landed at Curio Bay and why we stayed a few nights, having the time of our life. I never thought I’d sit on a deserted beach for hours on end, hiding so as not to disturb the nesting penguins, in freezing winds without murmuring a sigh of complaint and furthermore doing the same the next evening and feeling total exhilarated and privileged to have done so.

Thank you NZ (and the penguins, seals, and dolphins of Curio Bay)

Filed in: South Island
Tagged with:

Comments (3)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. May Blog Carnival | Dandenong Ranges Nature Photography | May 7, 2012
  1. Terry says:

    Thank you for the penguin shots! If it weren’t for the penguins it could be Scotland in these photos.

  2. Craig says:

    Glad you like them, it is very Scottish down in these parts

Back to Top