Dancing in the Dark

We never miss an opportunity to see penguins, but it’s a tricky business, this penguin watching business. They don’t always show up, kind of like the swim-with-whales excursion tours. No guarantees. So when the penguin folks off Diamond Island in Bicheno gave us a show time of 9:15 pm we were more than a little surprised. How do they manage that? We know several cruisers who have hardly seen any. We’ve been lucky enough to see a few of the little blue or fairy penguins from our boat.

We followed instructions and lined up at the penguin bus shelter at the appointed time and sure enough the bus pulled up and we piled in with 12 other penguin loving souls. The ride was short while the sun set, leaving us stumbling around in the dark. There was a kind of orientation by a well-meaning but unintelligible young Asian woman whose instructions, as near as I could make out, were basically to not do anything. Her yellow-beam flashlight would be the only light permissible. Nicely developed pathways were marked with the occasional solar garden path light, allowing just enough light to see some of the garden we were walking through. Burrows were scattered over the area, some were above ground boxes and some were below. Several had those chubby Baby-Huey like chicks anxiously waiting for their meal.

The flock started with about 45 penguins but the Park Service found it to be unsustainable with the losses due to cats and dogs. Capitalism to the rescue! After teaming up with private ownership they constructed a refuge for the penguins and now support about 600. I believe them. I’d have to say that it smells like 6000, and every night at dusk about 50-100 wobble up the beach to feed the chicks. I guess there’s a few slackers among them, just like anywhere.

It turns out that you’re supposed to hold still with your feet spread apart and if they should so desire, just let the Little Blue cuties walk through or around you. In a little bit of Asian humor I think she said sometimes they give you a little peck or even a little surprise. Cheeky.

Our guide played the only permissible light source over the outside rocks where all the Little Blue Penguins were lined up…just thinking about it. They were very shy and I’m pretty sure at first they just sent in three of the least popular. After they made it waddling up the beach to pass by us, the rest came in dribs and drabs. They quickly dispersed into their borrows to feed their huge and seemingly ungrateful lazy chicks.

They don’t trust their guests to know how to turn off their flash so with no photography allowed the kind penguin folks emailed some of their photos so you’d have something to look at. Even though these are not our photos, they are exactly what we saw.


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2 Responses to Dancing in the Dark

  1. Jean

    One of my most treasured memories is of going to an island off Argentina on the way to the Antarctic that was home only to penguins. We had to stay on a narrow path while the penguins walked all around us to feed their babies in burrows. One did bite my friend and several walked over my shoes. An amazing experience. Jean

  2. nancy smith

    Oh Jack what can I say, you are a hoot and so opposites from mate Marce in some and many respects. Keep writing and tell us like it is! You go Baby!


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