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New Zealand: Royal Tiki Tour with Royal Albatross Centre Delivers All the Birds

Royal Albatross Centre, Dunedin, New Zealand

Taking the Royal Tiki Tour with the Royal Albatross Centre is one of the best decisions we made for our trip to New Zealand. The Royal Albatross Centre allows visitors to see the only mainland colony of nesting royal albatross in the world while also providing the opportunity to learn about the equally endangered red-billed gulls and see little blue penguins returning home in the evening.

The Royal Abatrosses

What you see at the Royal Albatross Centre will be dictated by where the birds build their nests. We were lucky enough to see albatrosses engage in a mating dance in an effort to woo a potential mate. A third albatross attempted to join, but he was younger and soon left the area. There were other albatrosses nesting within view. Fortunately, the wind was up, so we also got to see the albatrosses in the air. They glide through the skies in a way that is very different from other birds. (Our Monarch Cruise the next day gave us a different view of the albatrosses, their nesting area, and their flight.)

The Red-Billed Gulls

Red-Billed Gull and chick at the Royal Albatross Centre

While the red-billed gulls are as endangered as the royal albatrosses, you wouldn’t know it from a visit to the Royal Albatross Centre as they appear to outnumber the royal albatrosses by the dozens. According to our guide, the gulls’ droppings indicate that the krill they normally feed on are getting harder to come by. The droppings are getting whiter and losing their pink hue. As the oceans warm, the krill dive deeper than the gulls can.

The Little Blue Penguins

Little blue penguins, also called korora in New Zealand, are the smallest penguins in the world. Their dusk return to the Royal Albatross Centre is quite the spectacle. After a day of foraging for food, a raft of penguins can be spotted off shore headed toward the beach. The casual observer may not realize what they are seeing. The shadow of the swimming penguins could be accompanied by the “Jaws” theme as they get closer to shore. The shadow drifts ever inward until it reaches the gentle swells and waves of the shore area.

There, the penguins’ white bellies reflect the dusky light as they leap up out of the water and tumble over each other to reach the shore. The raft swarms out of the water racing toward the rocky outcrop and home.

On reaching the rocks, they hop, jump, waddle, slip, and trip their way to the foot of the path that leads to their burrows up the hill. For being so small, blue penguins are pretty good climbers. (The guide at Tiritiri Matangi says that they have been seen at the top of the island.) A significant portion of the first arrivals stand at the foot of the path waiting for the next raft pf penguins to come in.

Some of the penguins head to the rocks to their left as they come ashore. A couple of others turned around and went back into the water where the waves rolled them until they got out a little way into calmer surf.

When the penguins have found each other and all the rafts are in, they head to their burrows where they squabble, grunt, purr, chirrup, growl, and chitter to each other. The lighting that the Royal Albatross Centre has set up allows people to see the penguins in low light. Because of their sensitive eyes, it’s important for visitors to turn off the flash on their cameras and hide the red light that sometimes comes on for focusing (or as an anti-red eye).

The Tiki Tour

As part of the Tiki Tour, which included transportation, we had a meal of fish and chips, which was tasty. We didn’t save enough time to go into the gift shop with any diligence, but we still found some magnets to take home. There were OCHO chocolate bars with single source beans and New Zealand inspired flavors, made in Dunedin, that looked good. I thought I would find them elsewhere. I did at the airport but had I known, I would have bought them at the Royal Albatross Centre.

We wanted to support the Royal Albatross Centre and its programs. Jenya made an amazing little blue penguin plushie. His name is Franklin Penguin. $5 from his adoption fees will go to the Royal albatross centre.

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