New Zealanders call themselves “Kiwis.” We hoped to spot a different kiwi, the avian variety – the Stewart Island brown kiwi — and, while we were out looking at birds on Stewart Island, seeing a blue penguin was also high on our list.
Blue penguins are the smallest species of penguins in the world at 40 cm. (16 inches). They’re fast swimmers and can dive to depths of over 50 meters (164 feet) in their hunt for food. We’d already watched the water in hopes of spotting the penguins with no luck. We found out from a guide that some penguins nest in the rocks by Oban’s harbor. By day it looked an unlikely place to see the little birds.
One evening just after the sky darkened, we crept up – ever so quietly — to the edge of the harbor near the nesting place. There we found a group of giggling and chatting folks waiting to see the penguins. One little penguin swam in and climbed the rock; got spooked by the noise; and that was it.
Well, we had seen a blue penguin, but it wasn’t the sighting we had hoped for. Two nights later we passed the harbor at dusk. Our cousin suggested we try again. We crept up to the overlook again. No gigglers this time. Quietly, we waited and watched. Within minutes, we saw four little blue penguins swimming quickly through the water and hopping up onto the rocks. What a sight! In almost total darkness, we snapped a few photos as mementos — proof that we really HAD seen the elusive blue penguins.
We saw evidence of the Stewart Island brown kiwis on our first day from a road sign indicating kiwis WERE on the island. But where?
A guide told us to climb the hill to a playing field when it was dark. If we waited quietly – and patiently – we might see one. We did as directed and climbed the hill quietly at almost 11pm. Instead of kiwis, we saw tourists weaving through the woods noisily with high-powered flashlights (torches) searching for kiwis. We knew our chances of seeing a kiwi were doomed. Any kiwis that may have been there were certainly not going to come out now. We turned around and started back down the hill when we looked up and saw an amazing sight. Not a kiwi, but the Milky Way! We realized we were very far from ambient light resulting in a night sky absolutely brilliant with countless stars.
The hunt was over. Blue penguins – check. Milky Way – check. The kiwis still on our list for another day.