Penguins are cute. Watching one work its way across the beach, waddling one step at a time knowing it has a long climb up a steep hill to its nest is downright adorable. Observing this on a beach surrounded by lush green bluffs with fewer than 10 people in sight was awesome. Doing this then walking down the beach and seeing sea lions playing, another penguin heading to a nest, a resting sea lion, and a seal walk across our path made for an incredible night.
On a recent Friday evening, we drove the van out to the Otago Peninsula a few hours before sunset, arriving around 8:30pm. We trekked down Sand Fly Beach (not named for sand flies, a problem on the west coast of the South Island, but because the wind makes the sand fly) and joined a small group sitting on the cold sand watching two yellow-eyed penguins work their way uphill to their young. We’d arrived too late to see them leave the water but enjoyed the experience none-the-less. We had to stay quite far from the penguins, kneeling or sitting down in order to not frighten them. If they’d seen and registered us as humans, the adults would have retreated to the water and their young would have remained hungry in the nest. While we’d have loved to be closer, the well being of these animals is far more important.
After the penguins had climbed far enough up the hill to be nearly invisible to the naked eye, we wandered down the beach to a hide where we could see another penguin approaching its nest, once again up a hill. The sun was threatening to set by this point and our walk back across the beach and up the sand dunes would be difficult in the twilight so we agreed to call it a night. But as we walked across the beach, the clouds turning slowly from pink to gray, Jen stopped and pointed to our right. Hidden between two sand dunes, a fur seal sat, gazing at the ocean. Then it started to move, working its way to the water. No more than 5 feet from us.
We watched until we could no longer see its swimming form, entranced by this sea-loving mammal. An amazing night, one we won’t soon forget.