Tuesday, 25 April marks World Penguin Day and nowhere celebrates penguins quite like New Zealand where you’ll find more penguin species – and more ways to see them – than anywhere else in the world.
Welcome to ‘the penguin kingdom’ where, with their cartoon good looks, cute antics, cool disposition and celebrated ‘happy feet’, there’s plenty to celebrate.
At Auckland’s Kelly Tarlton’s SEA LIFE Aquarium, a same sex pair of king penguins are celebrating World Penguin Day with their surrogate foster chick. Dubbed Thelma and Louise, the mothers’ doting love for their joyful bundle testifies to the character of these majestic birds and the strong family bond which is important to penguins. The 24-year old mothers share their home with fellow king and Gentoo penguins in Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic penguin enclosure.
For the record, penguins are a group of aquatic, flightless birds. They live almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere, with just one species (the Galapagos) found north of the equator. So, if you want to see penguins, New Zealand’s pretty much your best bet.
- New Zealand is one of few accessible lands with penguin populations.
- There are only 18 different penguin species with seven found in New Zealand – yellow-eyed, Fiordland crested / tawaki, little blue, white-flippered, erect-crested, Snares, and rockhopper.
- Three of these rare penguin species breed on the New Zealand mainland and there are a variety of places and ways view penguins in their natural habitat.
Korora / Little Blue Penguin
The little blue penguin is exactly as it name suggests, little. The smallest penguin species at 35cm (13 inches) the korora weighs around 1kg (2 pounds) and is common in New Zealand coastal waters. The Blue Penguin colony in Oamaru, on the South Island’s east coast, is an ideal spot to watch these little guys making their nightly pilgrimage from the sea, over the rocks, through their underpass tunnel and into their nests.
- Blue penguins are the world’s smallest penguins (35-43cm tall).
- Blue penguins travel 15–75 km at sea each day, and only come ashore under cover of darkness.
- Chicks often return to where they were raised and never move away.
- Related to the blue penguin, the Canterbury white flippered penguin lives around Banks Peninsula, near Christchurch.
Tawaki / Fiordland Crested Penguin
The Fiordland crested penguin stands out from the crowd with its super cool yellow hairstyle. Only found in New Zealand, these penguins frequent southern coastal waters and can be seen around the Catlins (on the Otago / Southland coast), Stewart Island and in Fiordland. Cruise Milford or Doubtful Sound with Real Journeys and you may spot one on the rocks.
- Tawaki are monogamous and often mate for life.
- Tawaki is one of only two penguin species that breed during the winter, the other being the emperor penguin.
- Tawaki lay two eggs during breeding season but only raise one chick per season. The first egg may be an insurance against failure of the second egg.
Hoiho / Yellow-eyed Penguin
Unique to New Zealand, the yellow-eyed (hoiho) penguin is one of the world's rarest penguin species. This species relies on both marine and land environments to survive. On New Zealand’s South Island, around the Otago Peninsula and North Otago, a huge amount of work has gone into providing nesting sites and shelter to help breeding. Penguin Place has special hideaways where humans can have a close-up on penguin life.
- The yellow-eyed is one of the larger penguin species with adults reaching 75cm in height.
- With an estimated wild population of than 4000 individuals, the yellow-eyed penguin is the world’s rarest penguin.
- There are no yellow-eyed penguins in captivity.
Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium, Auckland– Meet the southern royals, Antarctica’s king and Gentoo penguins in their icy domain. There’s an exclusive on-the-ice-guided encounter experience where guests go behind the barrier to meet the locals and pose for photos with them.
Kelly Tarltons Penguin Encounter
Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony - The Blue Penguin colony in Oamaru is an ideal spot to watch these little guys make their daily pilgrimage from the water, up over the sand and into their holes for the night. They even have their own underpass to protect them from the road above.
Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony
Penguin Place - Penguin Place in Dunedin takes visitors through a unique system of covered trenches and into specially designed viewing hides, allowing close-up access to the breeding grounds of the yellow-eyed penguin.
Penguin Place Dunedin
Real Journeys – Fiordland crested penguins can be hard to spot but on a boat tour of Milford or Doubtful Sounds, they can be seen sunning themselves on the rocks.
Sub-Antarctic – For those who are serious about penguins, a trip with Heritage Expeditions will visit the sub-Antarctic islands south of New Zealand including Snares, home to the Snares penguin.