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At low tide at Curio Bay in New Zealand’s deep south, yellow-eyed penguins can be seen waddling across sand and through a fossil forest, heading back to their nests after a fishing trip.
These enterprising penguins nest in the forest and scrub that lines the beach. They’re only found around Curio Bay and Waikawa in the Catlins, and in the sub-Antarctic islands, so a visit to the former offers a rare chance to see them in their natural habitat. It’s an opportunity you shouldn’t miss.
The yellow-eyed penguin, also known as Hoiho, is the world’s rarest species of penguin. There are just 5000 of them still living. Predators include sea lions, shark or barracuda, and the penguins were also a food source for the first Maori people. The forests they live in are increasingly cleared, predators have been introduced that raid their nests, and fishing affects their food source. Consequently the yellow-eyed penguin is a protected bird.
The bird is named for its eye colour and the yellow band around its head that easily distinguishes it from other birds. It’s a very shy creature, so is best viewed from a distance, such as from a platform above the fossil forest. Various companies offer guided tours and can show you the best viewing spots.
Remember, when viewing the birds, keep your distance, talk quietly and move slowly, and don’t stand between the penguins and the sea or their nests. The reserve is a dog-free zone.