Home from the sea – Pukekura’s kororā little blue penguins

The famous little blue penguin – may be the world’s smallest penguin but it’s also renowned for making a grand entrance.

Tiny, cute and social, the kororā – or little blue penguin – may be the world’s smallest penguin but it’s also renowned for making a grand entrance.  

One of the most accessible places to witness little blue penguin community life in its natural habitat is on the picturesque Otago Peninsula. And, in this special place on the outskirts of New Zealand’s southern city of Dunedin, the kororā is just one of a wide range of endemic wildlife to be found on any one day or night.

Every evening hundreds of the tiny penguins participate in one of nature’s most compelling spectacles as they scurry up the beach to their cliff-face burrows after a day at sea. Visitors are delighted by their ringside views as penguins pop out of the sea, mingle with the neighbours, find their landside partners and chicks, then b¬¬ustle home. Unlike their albatross neighbours and reclusive yellow-eyed penguin cousins, the kororā penguins are a very sociable set. 

Tours on Pilots Beach

Tours of the Kororā Little Blue Penguin colony on Pilots Beach are a recent addition to the range of unique wildlife conservation tours operating in the area and have been greeted with applause from locals and visitors. It is now considered to be a must-do attraction when visiting Dunedin alongside iconic wildlife experiences like the Royal Albatross Centre. 

The increased financial support from visitors to the area has provided the penguin population with the chance to flourish thanks to the increased level of predator control, revegetation projects and the construction of nest-boxes required to successfully raise their young free from harm. In the past two years penguin numbers have dramatically increased to close to 200 breeding pairs.

A viewing platform and boardwalk at Pilots Beach provides the most natural way to view the little penguin without disturbing them. Tours run daily out of the Royal Albatross Centre and take people from all over the world on to the nature reserve to see the shy, but noisy penguins. 

Pukekura Māori settlement

Pukekura was a significant Māori settlement or pā located on Taiaroa Head, the headland that rises over Pilots Beach. From the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century, the pā was home to the Kai Tahu tribe. For the manawhenua (people of the land), Takiharuru (Pilots Beach) is a sacred and special place. Chief Karetai, local paramount chief and signatory to the Treaty of Waitangi, lived out his final years on the headland overlooking the beach, and his descendants maintain a strong link to the land.

The local Māori have special relationships with all species considered to be tāoka (treasured), with particular interests towards albatross, whales, sharks and of course penguins. In the spirit of rangatirataka (cultural leadership) this area is shared with visitors as a pathway towards regenerating the land, protecting the local wildlife and providing a sustainable environment for locals.

Pukekura is an unmissable wildlife paradise. The headland is home to colonies of little blue penguins, royal albatross, seals and nine types of nesting birds. There are more than 20 species spotted around the area:

  • Native/endemic species - spotted shag, royal spoonbill, little shag, New Zealand fur seal, oystercatcher, red-billed gull, northern royal albatross, black-backed gull, sooty shearwater, fantail, Stewart Island shag, little blue penguin, paradise shelduck, oystercatcher, welcome swallow, wax eye, grey warbler
  • Introduced species - little owl, starling, blackbird, hedge sparrow, skylark, song thrush
  • Visitor species - Australian gannet, giant petrel, New Zealand white-capped albatross, Buller’s mollymawk, Australasian harrier, yellow-eyed penguin, white-faced heron, white-fronted tern, New Zealand sea lion, elephant seal.

Travel Tips
Air New Zealand has daily flights to Dunedin. The Royal Albatross Centre, a 45-minute drive to Taiaroa Head, offers 60 and 90-minute tours. For an all-day tour that departs from Dunedin – and also offers the opportunity to see Hooker’s sea lions and blue penguins – try Elm Wildlife Tours. A university town with rich Scottish heritage, Dunedin is known for its impressive historic architecture and buzzy nightlife.