Mar 14, 2009


Forgive us our absence! We are currently on holiday in the North Island of our beautiful country, but will be home before we know it. Merl is up here for work, so this time we all decided to tag along and catch up with friends and family living in the capital.

But this post is not about Wellington - that will wait for another time! This is all about our trip to the Albatross Colony that is just out of our home town. This was another of those brilliant home-educating 'school trips', organised by one of the other home edding parents in town - like our trip last year to the Aquarium.

The kids started off in the 'education room' had a wonderful introduction to the birds who live/visit/nest on the headland (from left, the Yellow Eyed Penguin, the Spotted Shag, the Stewart Island Shag, the Little Blue Penguin, the Red-billed Gull and the Northern Royal Albatross). We discussed which were endangered, which were declining but not currently at risk and which were doing just fine at the moment. The Albatross and the Yellow Eyed Penguins are the endangered ones, and are hence the ones which everyone wants to see the most.

After this intro, the kids were split into two groups, as the observation room for the Albatross has a limited capacity. We were in the first group so proceeded to huff and puff our way up a fairly steep hill to the observation room. Miss2 made a valiant effort to walk all by herself, but at one point was making two steps forward and one back, so I carried her most of the way.

It was worth it.

Here is a parent and their chick - the only one of my Albatross photos to turn out okay. Three nesting sites are visible from the observation room, and we were fortunate enough to see two parents feeding chicks while we were there, and super-lucky to be in the right place at the right time to see one of them take off to fly out in search of more food. The parents share the feeding of their chick - often leaving it alone for a day or more while they go looking for food. The chicks are huge, but as a species they are not well adapted to deal with ground-dwelling predators like dogs - explaining why this site is the only mainland nesting site of Albatross in the world. All other nesting sites are on remote islands.

After returning to the education room, and spending some time looking at the information around the place
-about plastic pollution and how Albatross often mistake it for food - feeding it to their young and sometimes poisoning and starving them to death as a consequence,
- playing with a set of scales and a model real-weight chick to see how the rangers weigh them to check on their progress
- looking at a world map to show the different Albatross species and their distribution around the globe
- etc
we were joined by the other half of our group and took a walk down the hill to Pilots Beach. Again, Miss2 needed to be carried quite a lot of the way, which in my increasingly ungainly pregnant state was getting to be quite a mission. Thankfully one of the other Mums, whose kids are older, offered to carry her back up the hill! 2 year olds are a substantial weight (especially our two year olds), but the push chair would not have been suitable for the terrain so we were left with few options...

Still, again it was worth it!

This is a fur seal, sunning itself on the beach. If we were insane we could have gone right up to it and touched it. As with all wild animals, however, seals need a good deal of respect. They may look like awkward lumps while on the land - but they can still move fast, and they are heavy. They're not usually agressive - just playful - but humans generally don't like to play the games that adolescent male seals play with each other! So we gave this one a good 3 to 5 metres space and made sure not to get in the way of its escape route to sea. It responded by serenely ignoring more than 40 curious human intruders to its beach. Very civilised.

Human access is only allowed to about 1/2 the beach so that the seals and sea lions (which have only just started to visit again, after an absence of some years) have some space to lie about unmolested.

No sea lions were there that day - but I remember them from when I was a kid. Sea lions are huge. And not to be trifled with. (like the Dread Pirate Roberts...)

Along this same beach there are heaps of Little Blue Penguin burrows, which the penguins return to at dusk. We didn't see any penguins this trip, but I have seen them in the past, and they are very very cute. Again, though, it's important not to get in their way - not because they'll jump you, but because they'll just stay in the water and wait for you to go away, leaving their chicks going hungry in the burrows, while the parents get colder and tireder in the water.

After slogging it back up the hill to the Albatross Centre (with Miss2, thankfully, being perfectly content to be carried by this other, wonderful Mum), we met for a brief re-cap in the 'education room' and then sat and nattered over lunch. The nattering was good, as I got to meet some new people (or rather, I, being the new person, got to meet some of the old hands), and got to know better some I had only met once or twice.

Just to top off a wonderful day, I saw one of the Albatross flying around over the car-park when I went out to get our lunch from the car. Brilliant. In all the times I've been out to the colony over the years (but, admittedly have always been too cheap to pay the fee to see the nesting sites) I have never seen one flying. And that day I got to see it twice.



Catherine (Alecat Music) said...

Just as you said: MAGNIFICENT!!

Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful adventure. I hope you enjoy the rest of your vacation in the north. :)


home handymum said...

Thanks! We've had a great time so far - especially since my in-laws have a wii...

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