Our Encounter with the Yellow-Eyed Penguins in New Zealand

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What is the first thing that comes to mind when someone starts talking about penguins? For me, penguins have always been associated with exotic, cold places. Antarctica, for example, is the destination that comes to mind when someone mentions an opportunity to see penguins.

Yes, there are penguins in Antarctica but they are also located in New Zealand. On the southernmost part of the South Island, you can find the rare yellow-eyed penguins. Some of them prefer the islands that sit between Antarctica, but there are a few that have chosen to make New Zealand their home.

Yellow Eyed Penguin New Zealand

This gives you opportunities to see them right from the beach in a few places along the coast. You can also pay a visit to the Penguin Place Conservation Reserve to learn more about these amazing little birds and have a chance to see them in their natural environment.

Penguin Place began as a conservation project in the 1980s and was founded by the landowner.  When they first bought the land they used it for farming but quickly became fascinated by the yellow-eyed penguins that visited their shores. They started allowing a local tour operator to take groups of people to see the penguins on the reserve.

Yellow Eyed Penguin New Zealand

From there the idea was born to develop their conservation efforts. The conservation effort is now 100% funded by tourism making it the world’s first fully tourism funded conservation project.  This allows them to provide safe and suitable breeding habitat for the penguins, as well as, monitoring and rehabilitation for the sick, starving and injured penguins.

Upon arriving at Penguin Place, we checked in and were introduced to our guide. She took us on an educational journey about the history, life cycles and habits of the yellow-eyed penguins.  After a short tour through their rehabilitation center, where they were housing juvenile penguins from this year’s hatch, we headed out on the bus to the conservation reserve.

yellow eyed penguin New Zealand

This time of the year the penguins are in molt after spending the summer rearing their chicks. When they start to molt, they take to the land for about a month to shed their feathers and grow in new ones. This meant we had a high chance of seeing them but that they may look fuzzy or patchy due to them losing their feathers.

It wasn’t long before we had our first sighting and were able to spend quite a while observing them while they basked in the sunlight and released their feathers. I couldn’t imagine having feathers to molt off. It looks just downright unpleasant.

yellow eyed penguin New Zealand

Despite their patchiness though, they were still really adorable. Seeing a penguin was a first for us and as passionate wildlife observers, we were thrilled to add them to our list of animals we have observed in their natural environment. 

We spent 1.5 hours in the reserve hiking around and observing penguins. We were lucky and saw a total of 4 molting yellow-eyed penguins, 2 tiny blue penguins and 4 New Zealand fur seals.  Definitely a successful day for scouting wildlife on the Otago Peninsula of New Zealand’s South Island.

Yellow eyed penguin New Zealand

Have you ever seen penguins in the wild? Tell us about your experience.

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Disclosure: We were guests of the Penguin Place Conservation Project. However, all opinions are 100% mine. All photos and videos created and owned by Divergent Travelers.


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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

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4 thoughts on “Our Encounter with the Yellow-Eyed Penguins in New Zealand”

  1. What an amazing experience! I have a thing about penguins, so this would be right up mys street! If we ever go back to NZ, I shall be sure to look it up! I’ve been lucky enough to see penguins in the wild a few times – Australia, South Africa, Peru, Galapagos Islands and Antarctica. I don’t think I would ever tire of watching them! ♥

    • This experience was our first time seeing penguins in the wild. It was pretty special and we highly recommend a visit to this rehab center if you’re in New Zealand.

  2. I stumbled upon a beach in NZ where the Yellow Eyed Penguins are not greatly fussed about human presence. As such I was lucky enough to see them walking up their beach to their young. A local guy explained that they always take exactly the same route from the sea to their nest and if a human stands in their way the penguin would just stand and wait for them to move. It was an amazing and totally surreal experience.

    • Hi there! Yes, the yellow eyed penguins are amazing creatures and your experience sounds so cool! Surreal is right! Thank you for sharing. 🙂


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