The rugged, steep Otago Peninsula is one of the only few peninsulas on the South Island’s east coast. Although right in front of the city of Dunedin and easily accessible, the peninsula – probably due to its hilly terrain – is only lightly populated.
Driving is on narrow roads, along steep hills, and around impossibly narrow bends. It’s not a place to drive fast. That’s why it it also takes a lot more time than you think to get from one end to the other, no matter if you take the inland or the coastal road.
Thanks to the hilly terrain, the peninsula has amazing views and lots of wild and isolated beaches. It’s also a haven for wildlife: Fur seals live here, as well as the rare yellow-eyed penguins and the world’s only mainland breeding colony of royal albatrosses.
Sandfly beach is a wide beach backed by dunes overgrown with flowers. It’s home to yellow-eyed penguins and supposedly there’s a shelter at the far end of the beach for watching the birds come back ashore but we couldn’t find it. It must have been blown away. That wind…
Not expecting to see any penguins – they usually start coming back in the late afternoon -, we didn’t watch out for them because it was too early. But then first one and a bit later a second one came swimming back, got out of the water, and started waddling to their nest in the dunes.
Some penguins have their nests high up the beach and when they get back from gathering food for their young, they have to go up the steep hill. One hop at a time, with increasingly frequent breaks (that they spend cleaning their feathers), they slowly reach their nest. It’s a huge effort for the smalls birds and it’s crucial they don’t get disturbed by humans. Nevertheless, there are human tracks going up the hill even though there’s nothing there except the penguins’ nests.
From Sandfly beach, a 2-hour walking track leads to a lookout (obviously with amazing views all along the way). We did it the easy way and drove to the other end of the track. Close by, there’s another lookout. The barely discernible track leads through sheep pasture (that makes walking there an obstacle course – guess why) to a platform with fantastic views over the rocks, the coast, and the beaches below.
At the far end of the peninsula is the only mainland royal albatross colony in the world. There are many different kinds of albatrosses, but those here, the royal albatrosses, are the huge ones. A baby bird looks like those oversized teddy bears; way too big but weirdly cute. It’s possible to join a tour and see the birds; the colony is fenced off for protection. We didn’t go on a tour, it was too expensive. One day we’ll regret it and book a tour to the Falklands to see albatrosses there. Won’t be cheaper.
I still wanted to see the albatrosses, of course, and since it was very windy chances were good we’d see them fly. So we stood on the cliffs in that crazy wind, watching the sky and the gulls trying to land (hilarious) but didn’t see any albatrosses. Too bad.