We have little blue penguin visitors!

Super exciting news... we've got penguins at our house!

The other night while sitting on the couch watching TV, Joe and I heard the most unusual noise outside. We paused the program and stopped to listen. What on earth is that? 

We opened the door and to our surprise, there was a little blue penguin hiding under the garden box! Joe crouched down to get a closer look and the brave little penguin emerged. My bird-nerdiness went off the charts!

We decided to call him Jimmy.

Little Blue Penguins are known to live along New Zealand's coastline, but having lived on the coast for a while, I was starting to doubt their existence. 

They're the world's smallest penguin, standing at about 25cm and weighing about 1 kilo of blue cuteness. Adult birds come ashore between May and June to prepare nests and waddle up to 1.5 km from the sea, and climb 300 m to find the perfect nest site. 'Nest Hunters International' - Let's hope our place makes the cut, because I would just die if we get baby penguins waddling around the property! 

The next evening at about the same time we heard the squawking again, but this time twice the noise.  We opened the door to find two penguins on the steps! 

Looks like Jimmy the penguin has taken a lover. Meet Roxanne.

Once again I exploded with penguin excitement - not only because they were so cute, but because only in New Zealand (and maybe Australia) do you get penguins on your door step!

Earlier this year, we paid money to see penguins on the South Island, and here they were outside my house!

They didn't seem to be bothered by our presence and just continued to go about their business. Since that night, my ears have been perked for penguin noises, but we haven't seem them again. Hopefully they've found a suitable spot to nest and we'll be seeing more of Jimmy and Roxanne in the future! I'll keep you posted!

 

You can learn more about the Little Blue Penguin at through the New Zealand Department of Conservation

24 Hours in Dundein

It's time for this New Zealand road trip to come to a close. After a day of kayaking Milford Sound, we spent the night in Te Anau and then headed to Dunedin. Dunedin became a part of the itinerary, as it provided the cheapest and closest airport with transfers to Auckland, but I'd been hoping to go there to see penguins! So we decided to make the most of our 24 hours in Dunedin before heading of to Auckland to start the next leg of our journey (the vacation part!!)

In the evening we headed out for a little Mexican food and a walk around the city. Dunedin's architecture reminds me so much of my time in Edinburgh, Scotland, and it's no wonder as it's a Scottish settlement and the name 'Dunedin' is Gaelic for 'Edinburgh'.

I wish we'd had more time to explore the city and the architecture, but we had to pack in as much as we could in our short time, and my top priority was PENGUINS!

In the morning we woke up and headed to Penguin Place. It's a private conservation dedicated to helping the endangered yellow-eyed penguin survive. Tours are a little pricey, but it all goes to funding the conservation, so it's worth it. I must admit the tour was not what I expected... I had in my mind that I'd see a bunch of cute little penguins running on the beach - not the case. Apparently the yellow-eyed penguins are very shy, so we very quietly viewed them from hidden underground trenches, as not to disturb them while they sat on their eggs. As we walked through the trenches we could see the penguins hiding in their houses as they waited for their mates to return with food.

Once we emerged from the trenches, we were treated to stunning views of the ocean and the beach, and had the chance to see some fur seals sun bathing in the grass.

This guy was really showing off for the cameras...

We also spotted some little blue penguins hiding out in their homes. The blue penguin is the world's smallest penguin and stands just over 25cm tall. They forage for food for up to 25km offshore and 70km from the colony each day just to bring home food for their partners. How sweet!

After the penguin tour, we decided to squeeze in one more attraction and a bit of lunch before our afternoon flight from Dunedin to Auckland. We stopped at Larnach Castle and Gardens, New Zealand's only castle.

OK, so maybe it's also New Zealand's tiniest 'castle' as well, but it was a beautiful day and the gardens and views from the top of the hill were absolutely gorgeous.

Around the garden were little nods to Alice in Wonderland. My personal favorite was this tree - it's right out of a fairy tale! Apparently Alice has some connections to New Zealand...

"I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth!  How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downwards!  The antipathies I think…  but I shall have to ask them what the name of the country is, you know.  Please Ma’am, is this New Zealand?" - ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll

My other favorite part of the garden were the succulents. There were wonderful textures, patterns and colors overflowing from the flower beds. New iphone background - check!

We also enjoyed a delicious lunch and tea in the Larnach Castle Dining Room. The rich wooden interior walls, arched ceilings and waitresses dressed in kilts definitely made me feel like I was back in Scotland.

Finally it was time to head to the airport, but not be before driving up the steepest street in the world! The photo doesn't even do it justice, but driving up this road was terrifying. I felt like the car was going to slide backward at any minute. What a pain it must be for the people living on that street to have all the silly tourists speeding up Baldwin street. It's definitely a Dunedin 'must do'.

All of this road tripping had us feeling exhausted and in need of a vacation. Time to say goodbye to New Zealand for the week and 'bula' to Fiji!

Cape Kidnappers is for Bird Nerds

During Gabrielle's visit in New Zealand, we were determined to keep her short 2-week trip exciting while Joe was at work. With only one car, we could only venture far enough that we could make it back to pick him up from work in the afternoons. In the mornings, we'd drive through the vineyards and orchards to his workplace, grab a coffee, check in with mom and dad via café internet, and do a little adventure research before we settled on an activity for the day. After a second failed attempt at hiking Cape Kidnappers due to the tides, Gabrielle and I settled for an on-land tour of Cape Kidnappers, which turned out to be a pretty fun and informative time...