Parade of penguins and a glorious geopark: Waitaki Tourism

Parade of penguins

You don’t have travel to Antarctica to spot a penguin.

Just head to the Ōamaru Blue Penguin Colony, says the Colony’s Science & Environmental Manager, Dr Philippa Agnew. There, you can be captivated by the nightly arrival of up to 400 Little Blue Penguins (Kororā) from the sea to their nests, in a former quarry in the Ōamaru Harbour.

“The Colony is only five minutes from the township of Ōamaru, and was established in the early 1990s following successful efforts to protect the penguins,” Philippa explains. “Visitors to the Colony can either visit during the day to see inside some penguin nests or attend the main attraction in the evening and watch the penguins waddle up a gentle slope into the colony and head off to their nests.

“A special treat is then seeing the activity as the penguins interact with each other; feeding their chicks, nest building, and calling to each other.” Weekly monitoring of the penguins, since the colony’s establishment, has documented the steady growth of the population, from 33 breeding pairs in 1994 to 270 in 2022.

“The growth is the result of hard work from our organisation, to reduce predation by introduced mammals, create penguin habitat, and reduce any disturbance to the penguins. Visitors contribute to this important work as the research and conservation work carried out by the colony is all fully funded by ticket revenue,” adds Philippa.

Glorious geopark

The Waitaki District is a diverse region with a range of interesting landscapes, culture, heritage, wildlife, hiking and biking opportunities, and food and drink.

All of these experiences are unified together within the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark, an area so special that the geopark is aspiring to achieve UNESCO status and is only one step away, explains Tourism Waitaki General Manager Philippa Agnew.

“The Waitaki region has diverse geology, and many interesting and varying geological features form a ‘trail’ for you to see and explore,” she says.

“The Te Kaihīnaki/Moeraki Boulders are massive rock spheres eroding from a coastal outcrop. At Ōmarāmā, there are the eroding badlands of clay cliffs, while near Duntroon are the huge limestone hummocks of Elephant Rocks.

“There are fossils in the limestone and other rocks and the challenge is to find them. “In situ” fossils – the partial remains of whales – can be seen in the limestone at Anatini and Waipata/Earthquakes near Duntroon.

“These are stunning unique geological sites that take the viewer’s imagination back through time.” Phillippa says that the importance of geosites is that they allow the exploration of volcanic remnants and the discovery of the past inhabitants of these places, from microscopic diatoms to giant prehistoric penguins.

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