In which we see the elusive Yellow-Eyed Penguins

May 2, 2013 in New Zealand, Oceania, Travelogue

Family Travel New Zealand

Hairdressers always know the best things.

I have a love-hate relationship with getting a haircut on the road. I’ve found some of the best hairdressers… but I’ve also found some of the worst, and I’m a little picky about my hair. It has to be a “no-nonsense” cut that will wash and air dry well because that’s about all I have time for, and no, I do NOT travel with a flat iron (to the great shock of one hairdresser!)

The one thing that is always a win with hairdressers is the intel they provide on their area. Inevitably they suggest the best hidden spots to eat, and little local shops to check out.

Yesterday, in addition to giving me a great hair cut, and civilizing the two younger boys in advance of our trip to High Peak Station next week, this hairdresser, unknowingly, made our entire trip to New Zealand.

Ezra has a bit of a thing for penguins,

I might have mentioned that before. When he was 7, his first proper 3 paragraph essay was on penguins, and he’s been hooked ever since. The Blue Penguins were a bit disappointing to him, as they’re small and not very “penguin-y” His absolute favourite penguin, since forever, is the Yellow-Eyed Penguin. You know, the ones with the cool yellow feathers sprouting from around their eyes? They only live in this sub-Antarctic region and we’ve been looking for them for the entire time we’ve been on the south island, to no avail.

“So have you seen the penguins?” She asked

“We stopped into the Blue Penguin operation down on the point last month when we were through here, but it was crazy expensive… we ended up seeing a Blue Penguin in the wild down near Dunedin, out on the peninsula… but we haven’t seen the Yellow-Eyed, and we’ve been watching… I just can’t see paying the pirates who set up shop to extort a buck for the wildlife.”

She laughed and leaned in conspiratorially: “You don’t have to pay anyone, that’s just nonsense… and there is a colony of the Yellow-Eyed right outside of town… just follow up Tyne road, make a bend to the left and follow the signs to Bushy Beach. When we were school kids we made huts for them and went out there to watch them all the time.”

I nearly leapt out of my chair to hug her.

Family Travel New Zealand

We had a fantastic day.

From haircuts to running errands, to finding two winter jackets for a total of seven bucks at a resale shop with an over cheerful attendant. Tony surprised me with a, much needed, visit to a fantastic old chiropractor who gave me some new leads to track down in my ongoing battle with migraines. We ate lunch out without the kids (shh! Don’t tell!) and we found cheese making supplies.

It would have been a great day even without the penguins.

Hannah tripped into the electric fence for the sheep as she tumbled out of the side of the van. The boys laughed as they adjusted their rain hoods and we trudged off in a solid drip to the path down towards the beach. There are big signs forbidding beach access after 3 p.m. and pointing us towards the viewing hut, high up on a cliff and out of the way. These penguins are shy!

We felt rather like penguins, huddled in the cold and wet, standing close together for warmth, but bouncing a little with excitement.

There they were: surfing into shore on the cold waves and bouncing up onto their little webbed feet to waddle off towards their burrows at the base of the cliff. The kids laughed as we watched them run up and down the beach and slide on their bellies. There is something about seeing wildlife in the wild, and finding it on your own, instead of paying the pirates that makes it all the more worthwhile. Of course it’s not like this beach is a big secret, but it’s not on the tour routes either. The sky was grey, the water was icy looking, rain dripped from our ears and our noses, we were shivering beneath our rain slickers, but we were in the presence of the elusive Yellow-Eyed Penguins; nothing else mattered. It was one of those family moments that makes all of the hard stuff worthwhile.

Ezra got his penguins. It was the one big hope I had for him whilst we were in New Zealand, and here we are, further north than I expected to find them, with a hairdresser to thank for the epic moment of our southern journey, thus far.

Family Travel New Zealand