Some of the world’s most rare penguins are putting on a show for delighted visitors to New Zealand’s Milford Sound.
Visitors and guides aboard Southern Discoveries’ Encounter Nature Cruises have spotted the rare Fiordland Crested Penguin or ‘Tawaki’ over the past fortnight on cruises through the sound.
Southern Discoveries Nature Guide Dave Newman said he was thrilled to see the iconic Fiordland Crested Penguins back in Milford Sound again for the nesting season and was encouraged by the number of birds spotted.
“There’s more penguins this year than we saw last year, which is really positive for the colony and great for our guests as there are only up to 3000 breeding pairs in existence,” he said.
Visitors have a good chance of viewing the ‘wildlife show’ over the coming months aboard an Encounter Nature Cruise as it comes close to the colony in Penguin Cove on its way to the entrance of Milford Sound. The aptly named cove is where the penguins make their homes during the breeding season from July to November, and again between January and March to moult.
“We’ll expect to see the penguins here until November when their chicks are ready to head out to sea,” said Mr Newman.
“There’s a real buzz when we first start seeing the penguins. They’re a very special bird as they’re so rare, we’re so lucky to be able to see them. New Zealand is visited by 13 of the world’s 18 penguin species, and of those only three breed on the mainland.
“They come ashore and work their way into the thick rainforest, building nests in natural cases or hollowed out trees and forming colonies of up to ten pairs.
“We’re happy to talk to our guests about awareness, respect and education about the environment and wildlife on our Encounter Nature Cruises as they’re key factors in ensuring that the Fiordland Crested Penguin population and all others survive in New Zealand.”
Mr Newman said penguins seen from the cruises in Milford Sound were often on the exposed rocky shorelines inside the fiord or sometimes spotted on calm days swimming around on the surface of the water in small groups.
“It’s an amazing sight either way that even locals get excited about,” he said.
Mr Newman said cruises were also seeing a lot of Bottlenose Dophins around the boats at the moment.
“They love to play around the bows of our catamarans as well as our Encounter Nature Cruise boat, the Lady Bowen, or swim behind or beside the boats,” he said.
“It’s quite possibly one of the most joyous sights for visitors, many of whom have never seen a dolphin in real life, and they never cease to amaze us locals. The periodic visits by dolphins can be the highlight of anybody’s day.
“For keen photographers, a good photo of a dolphin launching itself out of the water – and there’s some serious luck involved here -- is like getting a special trophy!”
Southern Discoveries encourages “gentle viewing” of any wildlife encountered on its cruises. Using the smaller Encounter Nature Cruise boat they are able to get close to penguins and other wildlife without disturbing them, as well as cruising close to the rock faces of the fiord to view flora and fauna.
Mr Newman said a Southern Discoveries kayaking trip into Harrisons Cove was another great way to get really close to wildlife at water level.
“We see penguins and dolphins in this cove all the time and from your kayak you can see straight through the crystal clear water, even spotting starfish lying beneath you.”
Southern Discoveries is an active supporter of wildlife and conservation programmes and will be participating in this year’s New Zealand Conservation Week running from September 9 to 16.
Conservation Week raises awareness on the benefits of conservation and New Zealand’s national parks. Southern Discoveries is a business sponsor of the conservation-themed street flags which will hang in the streets of Te Anau.
The company is also a key partner in a major Sinbad Sanctuary conservation project in Milford Sound for which it has won an environment award.