A walk on the wild side at New Zealand's Lake Moeraki
27 Aug 2012
A walk on the wild side is all in a day’s work at Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki where hosts Gerry McSweeney and Anne Saunders share their passion for New Zealand’s natural environment.
It’s August and balmy spring days on the South Island’s West Coast are bringing out local wildlife species such as the rare tawaki / Fiordland crested penguin and New Zealand fur seal that are regular encounters on the daily guided Wilderness Seacoast Walk.
Spring is breeding season for these treasured species but McSweeney - a respected New Zealand ecologist - says the coast’s consistently mild climate means that wildlife is always on hand.
This photo series - taken by McSweeney on a mid-August walk just a few days ago - shows spring is well on the way.
Since founding their Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki more than two decades ago, McSweeney and Saunders have been involved in helping protect the local environment, including the tawaki penguin population.
The lodge is surrounded by World Heritage protected coastal rainforests - a bird watcher’s paradise of lush vegetation and abundant native bird species including kaka, kea, fernbird, falcon, pigeon, and bellbird.
Active guests can participate in guided wilderness sea coast and rainforest walks, river and lake canoe safaris, or make their own contribution to nurturing the environment with weed pulling sessions and coastal clean-ups.
Wilderness Seacoast Walk
The seacoast walking route passes along one of the wildest and most dynamic and beautiful sections of the Moeraki coastline.
It is only possible to traverse the shore during low tide, but the spectacular views and sense of true wilderness - on pristine beaches and removed from other human contact - are a rewarding experience.
Tawaki or Fiordland crested penguin - found only in the south west corner of New Zealand’s South Island - is the second rarest (after the Galapagos penguin) of the 17 penguin species found in the world.
During incubation (July to early December) the male tawaki penguins can be spotted sitting almost motionless on the eggs.
The male penguin, who also prepares the nest, is designed for the incubation role with a special flap of bare skin for keeping the eggs warm, and devotion to duty means three weeks without leaving the nest for food or water.
Once the penguin chicks hatch, both parents are kept busy catching fish to feed their fast growing young. By November the chicks will venture out to the beach and into the sea to learn to swim and fish before disappearing out to sea around mid-December.
After the breeding season finishes, tawaki will spend many months out in the open ocean, only returning for two weeks to moult beneath the rainforest.
NZ fur seals
A local population of up to 1000 New Zealand fur seals is the only place in the country where seals can be found resting on sand rather than rocks.
The sand is a favourite place for juveniles to congregate once they have left the protection of their mothers at nearby breeding colonies.
Each spring for the past 23 years, an elephant seal - the largest member of the seal species - has also visited spending two months on the beach while it moults and grows new fur before disappearing again - probably into the Sub-Antarctic Southern Ocean.
Background: Wilderness Lodges
Getting back to nature doesn’t mean you have to rough it in New Zealand.
The Wilderness Lodges at Moeraki on the West Coast of the South Island and at Arthur’s Pass in the heart of the Southern Alps are at the forefront of nature tourism, combining luxury accommodation and cuisine, with guided nature tours and conservation projects.
Ecologist Dr Gerry McSweeney and his wife Anne Saunders developed their first Wilderness Lodge at Lake Moeraki in South Westland in 1989.
Both lodges show that eco-tourism can contribute to the economy and also protect the environment through nature conservation programmes.
The high-country scenery and mountain ecology of Arthur's Pass contrasts with ancient rainforests, seals and penguins at Lake Moeraki, 370km away.
Wilderness Lodge Arthur’s Pass was named in CNN’s 2012 list of the 10 top eco-friendly hotels in the world "where high-class hospitality blends with profound environmental sensitivity".
Cyberspace promotes West Coast birding opportunities
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