Similar to Pancake Rocks on the West Coast, we’d heard about the Moeraki Boulders many times over the years, and were excited to finally have the opportunity to see them close up. We chose the Moeraki Village Holiday Park to stay for a couple of nights. We needed to get some washing done – of clothes and ourselves!
What an impressive location, amazing views of Moeraki Harbour, and fabulously friendly hosts.
The office had heaps of helpful information – including the tide times for seeing the famous boulders, and where to hopefully watch yellow eyed penguins.
Astounded By Yellow Eyed Penguins
I was immensely eager to see these rare and endangered creatures. They’re the second rarest penguins in the world; unrelated to other penguin species apparently. As you can see, there was limited opportunities to do this. I set the alarm to rise early the following morning, before dawn, giving myself one hour to walk to the lighthouse on Monday 19th April.
Access to see the penguins isn’t open until 7.30 am, so I set off at 6.35 am. I realised a short walk from the campervan I’d forgotten my cash donation so had to return swiftly. Barry hadn’t been keen on the early start and managed to sleep through my departure easily! Not long into the walk, I wondered what on earth I was doing – and by the end, I doubted I’d see anything at all as I missed the sunrise and didn’t arrive at the gate until 7.40 am. Regardless of that, the sunrise shots mostly made up for my reticence:
The road meandered around sealed and gravel roads, up and down hills, seemingly with no end in sight. I was dearly wishing I’d forced Barry to come in the campervan! I decided I’d be contacting him to come and pick me up and not waling all the way back to the campsite. At 7.25 am the sun rose above the Pacific Ocean and by 7.35 am I saw the Lighthouse at the end of the road at last:
Kātiki Historic Reserve
By 7.38 am, I’d arrived at Kātiki Historic Reserve, and the gate was open. There were no cars in the car park and no other people around. It was still a bit of a walk to get to the beach, and I was beginning to despair that I’d left it too late.
Overcome With Emotion
Walking a little further along, as I approached the viewpoint, I was overcome with emotion to spot a yellow-eyed penguin. Soon to become two. Sniffing the air, checking for predators, chatting loudly to each other. It’s indescribable how special this moment was to me. Worth every lost minute of sleep and step walked.
I sat down quietly at the top of the viewpoint, watching the spectacle unfold.
There were seals on the headland and the beach, camouflaged cleverly amongst the seaweed. The calls of the penguins echoed into the clear morning air. I was mesmerised. And surprisingly thankful to be alone.
Eventually, three penguins waddled down the headland and tentatively, slowly, went into the ocean together.
I took a video as they approached the sea but stupidly stopped it to take a photo. In the split second after I’d looked down at my phone, they’d all ducked under a wave and disappeared.
A solo penguin then appeared and jumped clumsily down the headland and out for the day. At this point I wished Barry was here too, as he’d have been able to take some far better photos than I did. It’s not easy with my iPhone 8 to adequately capture the bright yellow stripes on these adorable adult penguins.
This time I stayed focused and witnessed the diving down disappearance of the solo penguin and got a video to share with you. It was incredible. You can hear how delighted I was! In the meantime, another solitary figure had emerged on the opposite headland.
The new solitary juvenile (I knew he was young as he didn’t have the bright yellow stripe along his eyes) was tentatively waddling down towards the water. He had such a long way to go and appeared hesitant.
I was videoing him when this happened:
Bless him/her! For ease, I’ll refer to ‘it’ as him. He literally fell head over heels. Later it transpired to be fortuitous that I’d videoed the spectacle – I’ll explain why further on.
He shook himself off and looked like he was going to carry on, then changed his mind. Maybe he was injured, I thought? I watched and waited. By this time, I’d messaged Barry to say if he was awake to drive to the Lighthouse and pick me up. I didn’t think there would be any penguins left for him to photograph, but I said there was one still around.
It was a hot and sunny day. Barry came to pick me up and managed to quietly get some awesome shots of the little fella (see his slideshow at the end – but not yet!) He headed slowly back up the headland rather than out to sea, which I thought was strange.
Eventually, he lay down for a rest, and we left quietly, passing the Lighthouse and depositing our money on the way. I was concerned about the poor penguin but wasn’t sure if it was a problem that he was still out in the sun.
We returned to the campsite and had breakfast. I was starving! A while later, as I was doing our washing, I got chatting to a woman who said she’d been to the reserve but missed the sunrise, stating she’d seen a single penguin around 11 am. I was mortified. That poor wee penguin was still out in the sunshine. It didn’t feel right. I went and chatted to Barry, and we both agreed we needed to take positive action.
So I called the DOC helpline, having not known about the Penguin Rescue service. I got passed around a few departments before a helpful woman called Kate asked me to email her the video of the penguin toppling down the headland. The file was far too large, so in the end, I WhattsApp’d it to her. She eventually informed me that she’d handed over to Penguin Rescue. She later called me to say that he’d been found, still outside, and was underweight, so they’d taken him in.
I was so thankful I’d taken the video, and the poor wee penguin was being cared for. What a wonderful organisation.
I contacted them a week later via their website to see if he was doing okay. I received a reply not long after from Rosalie, the Penguin Rescue Sanctuary and Trust Manager, who told me they’d discovered he had avian malaria and an infection, so he had been on antibiotics. They were keeping him another week or so to make sure. What a salutary lesson in following your instinct. I knew he shouldn’t have been still out on such a hot day. Penguins are meant to go to sea during the day, leaving at dawn, and then don’t return till dusk. Or they stay in their burrow during daylight hours.
Hopefully he’ll do okay when they return him.
How Can You Help?
I thought it may be helpful to share here ways YOU can help, as I had no idea until recently what to do.
Be sensitive to these gorgeous creatures. Keep your distance. Be quiet. And pay at least $5 to visit if you go to the reserve.
I’ve copied and pasted the following information directly from the Penguin Rescue website, there are even ways you can help save these penguins if you don’t live in NZ:
- BEACH SEARCHES; A pleasant walk along any of the local beaches can include searching for penguins that may be in distress. If you are concerned, contact Penguin Rescue 0211710832 immediately. Your intervention could save a penguins life
- DONATE; A donation to penguin rescue helps to fund projects that work towards the mission of providing sanctuary for penguins
- LEARN; Learn about what is happening to penguins in New Zealand and abroad. Penguin Rescue has plenty to read here.
- ADVOCATE; Write to your local member of parliament and/or newspaper advocating for marine reserves to help protect penguins. If you live abroad, get in touch with organisations that advocate for penguin conservation.
Impressed By The Moeraki Boulders – The Stonehenge of New Zealand
Later that day, we drove to the Moeraki Boulders car park. There’s a café and gift shop there, and a short walk down to the beach. Although we could’ve walked from the campsite, it’s a long way and I’d done way over the recommended 10,000 already!
These incredible structures originally started forming in ancient sea floor sediments around 60 million years ago, and the largest boulders are estimated to have taken about 4 million years to get to their current size.
Access to the beach from here is by a gold coin donation, which we didn’t mind at all. It’s great that someone is keeping a watchful eye on these giant rocks.
We’d heard differing stories about them and were pleased to find them even better than we’d imagined. What we hadn’t heard was the Maori and scientist’s explanations:
We did agree they would’ve looked even more astounding before being buried half deep in the sand. Though others continue to appear, so some are larger than others.
The largest boulders weigh seven tonnes and are two meters across. I counted 51 of them – though included guessing how many the broken ones were. Despite the low tourist numbers, there still seemed to be crowds of people milling around, several standing on the boulders, which I found thoughtless. Some were doing yoga poses (the tree) and having their ‘Instagram hashtag Moeraki’ photos taken. Or young kids were jumping off them. What looked like three generations of a family were standing together on one yahoo-ing as someone took their photo for the family album. I guess they’ve been around for millions of years, so they’re fairly robust. And it would be a travesty if visitors could only see them via a fenced-off area.
In 1971, concern was noted (understandably!) that senseless people were carving their names into the boulders. And rock collectors were using explosives. Thankfully they were then given legal protection as a scientific reserve. As they’re still standing and we didn’t see any evidence of name carving or explosives, it looks like that’s helped preserve them. Although some look as though they’ve been blown up, it’s just nature doing her thing in actuality.
We walked back up through the reserve path, where Barry got some fabulous photos from above (in his slide show at the end). We then Sat in the van for a while, waiting for fewer people and the dusk light to begin. Barry returned via the cafè walkway where he met a professional photographer from Auckland waiting for sunset shots. One of the classic New Zealand calendar images.
A Walk Around Moeraki
We’d been told about a nearby restaurant called Fleurs Place and recommended to visit. Apparently, it’s really famous! Sadly though, it was shut on the day we visited – though, to be honest, it’s not somewhere we’d go to. The prices are way out of our budget! It’s only open Thursday to Sunday, and our last night was a Monday. Looking inside, there’s a door signed by visitors. Impressively, The Topp Twins (world famous in NZ) names were on there.
We had a short walk around the headland, where there were lots of lounging seals and numerous shags hanging out. We did enjoy our brief stay in Moeraki. It has a lovely feel to it.
Heading North Up The East Coast
From Moeraki, we travelled northwards to a free camp spot at All Day Bay on Tuesday 20th April, spending a couple of nights there while I caught up with work.
In the next post, we’ll reveal the ‘vanished world’ we never knew existed …
Despite failing to capture the adult yellow-eyed penguins, Barry got some awesome shots of the of the poorly juvenile (when we didn’t know he was sick!). Some superb seal images too. And magnificent Moeraki Boulders of course.
Click on the first image to start the slideshow …