Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Otago Peninsula

The Otago Peninsula, just outside of Dunedin, New Zealand, is a stunning spot to visit for any animal lover. The farmers and whalers there, for generations, had destroyed the forestation. It happened that the forestation was needed, though, to support the Yellow-eyed Penguins that have always lived there. When the forestation was destroyed, the penguins left. And so did all the animals that needed the penguins for survival.

About a decade ago, some farmers along the coast began to leave their lands closest to the coast for regrowing the natural forestation on the peninsula. When that happened, the penguins returned to their natural habitat. And the sea lions followed. Most recently, the whales have too. (There are no more whalers there.)

When I was there, we were so close to a yellow-eyed penguin that we could have touched him. He walked right up to where we stood, took a good look at us (we were obviously the oddity, not him) and started making his way up the hill to where we could see his mate waiting for him in the regrown forestation. We saw 5 penguins that day (though this breed is not very sociable). And we saw lots of seals and sea lions. In fact, the sea lions blocked the footpath, where they lay sunbathing. We had to make our way quietly around them.

I loved the way the place is being conducted. Though we were able to get close to the animals for a good look, the natural condition is well maintained. The tourists who are taken there are kept to a very limited number, and the place is well sheltered from the problems that often go along with a tourist boom.

Tours are hosted by Elms Wildlife Tours. No other company has permission to bring tourist to the peninsula. This has worked wonderfully to preserve the natural habitat of the wildlife there, which is what enables those few tourists who go to see so much of that wildlife.

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