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Love penguins? Here's where you can view these cute creatures in their natural habitat

Winged intrigue

Love penguins? Here's where you can view these cute creatures in their natural habitat
There are 18 different types of penguins in the world and New Zealand is home to seven of them

The New Zealand coastline is somewhere between 15,000km and 18,000km long, making it one of the longest in the world. While a lot of this rugged coast in inhabitable for humans, it is the perfect environment for one of New Zealand's favourite creatures — penguins. In fact, penguins love the New Zealand environment so much that it is one of the only places in the world to host major populations of these adorable creatures.


While there are almost 10,000 different species of birds, there are only 18 different types of penguins, seven of which can be found in New Zealand — making it one of the best places in the world to see these birds in their natural habitat. The species of penguins that call New Zealand their home are the Yellow-Eyed, Fiordland Crested, White-Flippered, Erect-Crested, Snares, Rockhopper, and Little Blue. The majority live in and around islands off New Zealand's coast, but three of these rare penguins breed on the mainland. Here's where you can see them in their natural habitat.


Little Blue Penguin (Korora)

litte blue

The Little Blue penguin is exactly as its name suggests, little. Standing at 35cm, they are the smallest of the penguin species and weigh around 1kg. They are commonly found in New Zealand coastal waters. The Blue Penguin colony in Oamaru, on the east coast of the South Island, 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. During the summer, there can be as many as 200 running up the beach. There is nothing quite like seeing the little blues scurry up the beach, an adorable sight. Christchurch's Akaroa Harbour is home to their own unique Korora. In Canterbury, the little penguin has a characteristically broad white band at the front of the flipper, but is regarded as being the same species.


Curious facts about Blue Penguins

- Blue penguins are the smallest penguins in the world at just 35-43cm tall.
- Penguins travel 15-75km at sea each day. 
- Long-term partnerships are the norm, but 'divorce' is not uncommon. 
- Chicks will often return to within a few metres of where they were raised and once settled in an area never move away. 
- Blue penguins only come ashore under the cover of darkness. 


Fiordland Crested Penguin (Tawaki)

fiordland crested

The Fiordland Crested penguin sports a cool yellow hairdo, making it stand out from the crowd. Only found in New Zealand, these penguins frequent southern coastal waters and can be seen around the Catlins, Stewart Island, and of course, Fiordland. At only 60cm-tall, they can be hard to spot. But on a boat tour of Milford or Doubtful Sounds, they can often be seen on the rocks. The Tawaki, like the Korora, is one of three penguin species that breed on the New Zealand mainland.


Curious facts about Fiordland Crested penguins

- Tawaki are monogamous and often mate for life.
- Though the pairs separate when not breeding, females return each year to the same beach in search of their mate from the previous season.
- The Fiordland Crested Penguin is one of only two penguins that breed during the winter, the other being the Emperor penguin.
- Tawaki lays two eggs during breeding season but cannot raise more than one chick per season. The first egg is thought to be a back-up of sorts in case the second egg does not survive.
- They are the only one of the crested penguins that is easily viewed in New Zealand as the other crested species require travellers to undertake a sub-antarctic voyage. 


Yellow-Eyed Penguin (Hoiho)

yellow eyed penguin

Unique to New Zealand the yellow-eyed penguin, is thought to be one of the world's rarest penguin species. Hoiho is an endangered species and rely on both marine and land environments to survive. They are shy, and unlike other penguins do not breed in colonies. Yellow-eyed penguins seek out private nests and carefully hide their eggs from predators. On New Zealand's South Island, around the Otago Peninsula and North Otago, a huge amount of work has into providing nesting sites and shelter for the penguins to help them breed. Penguin Place in Dunedin take visitors through a unique system of covered trenches and into viewing specially designed hides allowing access to the breeding grounds of these shy penguins.


Curious facts about Yellow-Eyed penguins
- In New Zealand The Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust was set up to help the penguin survive.
- The yellow-eyed penguin is one of the larger species of penguin with adult individuals reaching 75cm in height.
- With an estimated wild population of less than 4,000 individuals the yellow-eyed penguin is the rarest penguin in the world.
- There are no yellow-eyed penguins in captivity.
- Hoiho chicks are covered in thick, brown fluffy down, which begins to shed once their juvenile plumage develops.

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  • Image: Chris Stephenson, Paul Sorrell
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