When we got the official Visa acceptance notification and realized we’d have an additional six months in New Zealand, we knew our mission: see as many penguins as possible. We had tried with no luck at some of the popular viewing areas earlier in the year, but this time we weren’t taking chances. So, we booked a tour with the best company to see the iconic, adorable Little Blue Penguins and crossed our fingers that weather would cooperate when we planned to be in Akaroa (about 1.5 hours from Christchurch).
Why We Picked the Pohatu Penguins Tour in Akaroa
Before going to New Zealand, we had researched the best ways to see penguins in nature and Pohatu Penguins in Akaroa came up again and again. Unfortunately, when we thought we’d only have three months in the country, it wasn’t practical to get to that area before the season ended. But now we had a ton of flexibility, and it turned out late November was a perfect time to see them.
We also loved that Pohatu Penguins was working to help the Little Blues, and their well-being was always the priority. Our goal was to see penguins in their natural environment, but what made this tour extra special was that Pohatu Penguins looked after some nesting boxes where they could give an up-close peek without upsetting the birds.
Highlights of Our Little Blue Penguin Tour
Before the tour, we got settled into a small cabin at the local campground and wandered around town. It is a unique, beautiful place with a french influence. And they are definitely proud of their famous Little Blue Penguins!
Since the penguins are most active around twilight, the tour began later in the day. But, since it was a bit of a trek to get to the penguin colony, we left with enough time to stop and enjoy the views along the way. The Akaroa peninsula is a stunning place and taking the tour allowed us to see vantage points not usually accessible to visitors.
Once we arrived at the main tour location, we were pleasantly surprised by a chance to meet the local sheep and even get to bottle feed some of the very hungry babies! Honestly, I would have paid just to do this, so it was a huge highlight that made us so happy.
After wrapping up in some warmer camo jackets, we started off to see the Little Blues. As we walked, we started to notice adorable little nesting boxes along the hillside – like a mini penguin Hobbiton! Then, we were all told to be very quiet and still so our extremely knowledgeable guide could give us a peek inside one.
Each time we stopped at a nesting box, we crouched down and held our breath as we awaited an up-close look at one of the most adorable creatures on the planet. It was magical. And we loved that we got to get such an intimate look without harming the penguins at all. So many activities involving animals don’t do enough to protect the wildlife. We didn’t want a zoo-ified experience. We wanted to observe nature as naturally as possible. Pohatu Penguins did a beautiful job at providing that opportunity!
After getting to glimpse the Blues in their boxes, we went out further to use our binoculars and observe them at sea. Twilight is around the time they make their way in for the day, so we could see them in groups (‘rafts’) swimming back to shore. We even saw a few waddling back to their nests at the end of the tour!
At the end of this absolutely unforgettable wildlife experience, we got back in the van and our guide carefully winded back and forth up the steep road and over the mountains to return us to our car. Some other guests stayed the night in order to go kayaking to see even more wildlife the next day. However, it was a tad bit cold and rainy for us to do that during that time of year. (Next time!)
Final Thoughts on Seeing Little Blue Penguins in New Zealand
There are many places to see penguins in New Zealand. During our time there, we saw a rare Fjordland Crested Penguin swimming in front of our boat when touring Doubtful Sound, a Yellow-Eyed Penguin walking along the beach below us in Oamaru, and even (we think!) a Little Blue swimming next to a dock we watched the sunset at in Dunedin. Others we talked to had them walking right past them on beaches when they went at the exact right time.
HOWEVER, that all really comes down to luck and being in the right place at the right time. Some of those places, especially where the penguins are most likely to nest, are only accessible by paying a fee. Otherwise, they are often too far away to see clearly. So, if you want the best chance possible to see penguins up-close in New Zealand, you’ll want to book a tour. And even on some tours, it isn’t guaranteed to see the penguins.
We chose Pohatu Penguins because it was guaranteed to see a penguin up-close at this time of year (September to Mid-December) since this is the organization that takes care of them and tends to their nesting boxes. We HIGHLY recommend it!
Read more about our New Zealand adventures, here.