Albatrosses, penguins and trees turned to stone  

While heading south from the Banks Peninsula, we passed a few interesting natural history sites that are worthy of mention, although they involved very little walking; the only mainland colony of the Northern Royal Albatross, a colony of the yellow-eyed penguin, one of the rarest penguin species and the petrified remains of a 180 million year old Jurassic forest.


In the first half of the twentieth century, a few Royal Albatross started to nest on the grassy cliff top at Taiaroa Head at the end of the Otago Peninsula. A few enlightened individuals encouraged and protected them and now there is a thriving colony under the close protection of the Royal Albatross Centre. This headland is suited to the albatross as they need the strong winds that regularly blow across the headland to get airborne. Normally, I don't like paying to watch wildlife; it seems much more satisfying to seek it out oneself. However, the opportunity to see these magnificent birds soaring a few metres over your head with their 3m wingspan was too much to resist.


Taiaroa Head


Royal Albatross on Taiaroa Head

Royal albatross soaring on 3m wings

Colony of shags at Taiaroa Head


The Otago Peninsula is home to a number of seabird colonies. Silver gulls and Stewart Island shags nest on the lower slopes of Taiaroa Head and yellow-eyed and blue fairy penguins have small colonies in several of the bays.

You can also pay to visit the penguin nesting areas, but, reverting to type, we chose to go to Sandfly Bay where the rare yellow-eyed penguins can be observed freely from hides in the sand-dunes as they return to their burrows in the early evening from a day of fishing out to sea.

Sandfly Bay - home to a colony of yellow-eyed penguins

Resting on the beach after a long day of fishing

We were fortunate to almost stumble across two penguins at the bottom of the first sand dune we descended to reach the beach - they appeared to be resting after coming ashore and were relatively disdainful of our presence. As we headed to the hide, other birds were scurrying off through the dunes to reach their burrows further inland, while from the hide, we watched three more birds climbing up a narrow penguin trail on a 50m cliff to reach their burrows high above sea-level.

Hurrying home through the sand dunes

Yellow-eyed penguin

Trees turned to stone

Continuing on, we passed through the Catlins region, south of Dunedin, where we called in at Curio Bay. Here on a flat rock platform, only visible at high tide, lie the petrified remains of a forest buried 180 million years ago under the ash of a volcanic eruption and only now exposed by the erosion of the sea. The stoney outlines of trees lay clearly in the surface of the rock and, in some places where trunks or branches had been snapped off vertically, even the age rings of the trees still remain visible; a fascinating site.


Petrified log

Curio Beach rock platform

Cross-section of petrified tree exposing tree rings