One of Dunedin’s must see attractions: Royal Albatross Centre

Worldwide, albatross were once hunted for their feathers, which were then used to make hats. They have the biggest wingspan of any bird, reaching up to 3.5m (11.5ft) and the larger albatross species can spend up to five years at sea.

Tora (in Māori) live over 60 years, they mate for life and sadly some do not find another if their partner dies. In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the killing of a “harmless albatross” dooms the ship’s crew.

3-metre wing span
3-metre wing span

While in Dunedin, traveling in a NZ RentaCar and staying in some fabulous cottage accommodation, I visit the award-winning Royal Albatross Centre – for a 90 minute tour. Very handy from my Ngaio Cottage base on the peninsula.

Known as Pukekura  in Maori, Taiaroa Head is the place for albatross viewing, interactive marine conservation displays, and historical tours of Taiaroa Head and is one of the local must-visit places.

In Dunedin, New Zealand, it’s owned and operated by the Otago Peninsula Trust, a charitable trust, whose objective is the protection and enhancement of the Otago Peninsula – the only mainland place in the world to view Northern Royal Albatross in their natural habitat. This site is ideal as its very windy – giving them good flying conditions.

The first record of a nest and egg here was in 1920 but because of predators (cats, rats, stoats, ferrets) and interference by people, it wasn’t until 1938 that the first chick was successfully fledged. In 2007 the 500th chick hatched – well done to their guardians. A 7-month old chick weighs about 11kg while its parents are only 8 or 9! No wonder they need to fly at speeds of around 120 ks to get out to sea, find food and get back to feed the quickly growing chick.

This is my 3rd time here and for the first time I understand why we can only see them from behind glass: it seems they are very noise sensitive so keeping us invisible and quiet ensures they’re not disturbed by our “ohhs and ahhs” of delight!

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Worldwide all 22 species of albatross  are in trouble; eight are critically endangered, nine are classed as vulnerable and the remaining five are likely to become endangered, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Sadly the birds are inadvertently caught by fishing boats that use baited long lines and it’s estimated that this kills more than 100,000 albatrosses a year – about one every  five minutes.

More of my Dunedin  stories to come will be about  penguins,  boat trips,  settlers museum, heritage city walks, the Taieri Gorge train, Chinese gardensbutterfly house and the Orokonui eco-sanctuary and more, adding to those already written. (Sign up to get them as emails as soon as they’re published – top right on this page)

Otago Peninsula: ‘finest example of eco-tourism’

Dunedin, New Zealand: setting the scene for a series of blogs about attractions in the area including ‘the peninsula’, the ‘ finest example of eco-tourism.’

dunedin rainbow IMG_20140123_163041

Otago Peninsula was a volcano some 10 or 13 million years ago – give or take a week or two.

65 thousand years ago it became an island when sea levels rose and, more recently, now a  peninsula, Captain Cook and the hardy self-sufficient pioneers fought battles along  the notorious 2000 kilometres coastline which is now scattered with shipwrecks.

With an annual rainfall of 700/800 millimetres and mists that roll in from the sea it now has 5% of the area covered in bush: mainly broadleaf trees and kanaka.

  • Neville Peat a local nature writer based in Broad Bay says the area is a ‘kind of supermarket for marine life, souped up by currents and adjacent deep-water canyons. The accolades continue.
  • Botanist and environmentalist David Bellamy said the peninsula is ‘the finest example of ecotourism in the world’   while Mark Carwardine,  zoologist and outspoken conservationist, writer, TV and radio presenter, wildlife photographer, columnist,  best-selling author, a wildlife tour operator calls New Zealand a “wildlife hotspot”.

He says it’s one of the best places in the world to see great wildlife and recently he was on a whirlwind tour, searching for our equivalent to Africa’s ‘big five’, the New Zealand ‘small five’ endangered species: hector’s dolphinkeakiwituatarayellow-eyed penguin .. all found on or around this amazing outcrop of land.

This area is not just a day trip from Dunedin but a place to base yourself – a destination in its own right.

So watch this space (make it easy by signing up for email updates on the top right-hand corner of this page) for stories about albatross, penguins, castle,  boat trips, fur seals, settlers museum, bus stops, birds, gardens, fabulous cottage accommodation, heritage city walks, the Taieri Gorge train, Chinese gardens, butterfly house and the Orokonui ecosanctuary and more!

The New Zealand rental car company I used in Dunedin  was the  New Zealand Rent A Car  (branches all over NZ)

NZ Rent A Car outside my accommodation at the sables
NZ Rent A Car outside my accommodation at the Stables, Larnach Castle


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