New Zealand Roadtrip 4: to Dunedin and the yellow-eyed penguin


To penguins, every and each
Here is a lesson to learn and to teach
After a day fishin’
The mating fruition
Starts off down at the beach

 
Synopsis: I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. On sabbatical to dance back from the verge of burnout, I’m having adventures and working in out-of-the-way places. We’re touring after a month-long assignment an hour outside of quake-stricken Christchurch, in New Zealand’s South Island. We’ll be back home, Good Lord willing and Missouri River behaves, in a day and a half.

 
The ferry brought us from Oban on Stewart Island to Bluff as the sun set; we stayed the night at the outskirts of town.
We drove the next morning from to Dunedin, coming in from the south, and plotted our departure day moves. The airport sits thirty kilometers from the city center; we checked with the rental car office about dropping the Hyundai off early.
In the city center we enquired at the I-Site for penguin viewing, and booked a guided tour on the Otago Peninsula.
With plenty of time, we set out using the low-detail map from the tourist center, but having no directions to Penguin Place. In Portobello, faced with a Y intersection, we made the mistake and took the literal high road. The name Highcliff Road should have tipped me off.
I think the world of Kiwis but hold low opinions of their roads. Highcliff Road, winding sharply high above steep drop-offs, would have been bad enough. Younger men with no trauma experience might find the drive exhilarating; I found it terrifying. With loose gravel, grossly inadequate lane width, and no barriers, I soon found myself straddling the white line, until it gave out and, without the option of turning around, I continued on asphalt narrower than the infamous Oil Strip of the Nebraska Sandhills. At one point I faced an oncoming Mercedes, with a driver either overconfident from untreated mania or just careless because he had the inside lane. With my outside wheels on the ten-centimeter shoulder, I cleared his rearview mirror by millimeters.
We finally descended to sea level. At Penguin World we met eleven other tourists from New Zealand and Asia. We got a look in the penguin hospital, and we went out to the viewing area to see the wild yellow-eyed penguins.
At this time of year, when the short days limit the amount of time the aquatic birds can spend fishing, they leave land early in the morning, eat all day, and return in the evening. We walked the trail through the replanted native bush, and saw a little blue penguin (the smallest species) in its burrow and not looking well. Without moving, we saw two fur seals lounging on the dune grass, and the yellow-eyed penguins coming onto the beach with the waves.
Our guide discussed the seasonal mate selection process of penguins, and called the gathering in the surf a “beach party.” First three, then six stood on the beach just at the high edge of the waves, representing one percent of the earth’s total of yellow-eyed penguins.
Penguins mate monogamously but divorce; the rate runs much higher in the emperor penguins in Antartica, which maintain closer contact because of the cold. The yellow-eyed penguins spend less time together and have a lower divorce rate. They sometimes form same-sex unions.
I suppose there’s a lesson about human behavior, but I’m not sure what it is.

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2 Responses to “New Zealand Roadtrip 4: to Dunedin and the yellow-eyed penguin”

  1. AussieAlaskan Says:

    G’day, again! Glad you are seeing a bit of NZ. But…are you going to get on your way home as planned with the volcanic ash causing so much trouble? All the best, anyway! AussieAlaskan

    • walkaboutdoc Says:

      We got through the volcanic ash though we had 11 hours of turbulence in a 12 hour flight. Now we’re home and as soon as I’m not jetlagged I’ll probably post about it.

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