Curio Bay is situated in The Catlins area on the southeast edge of New Zealand’s south island. It’s about a 20 minute drive from the Waipohatu Waterfall Loop, our walk from hell, remember? Curio Bay is, just like Porpoise Bay a little further down the road, best known for the petrified forest it contains. We weren’t there for the fossilised remains of some ancient forest though. We wanted to spot yellow-eyed penguins!
Yellow-Eyed Penguins at Curio Bay
The penguin parade at Curio Bay takes place around dusk, when the resident colony of YEPs (short for yellow-eyed penguins) come out of the water for the night. Unfortunately we arrived a little late to the party thanks to the muddy Waipohatu Waterfall Loop. While walking the short path from the car park to the shoreline, it was about 18:00 by then, we noticed most people were already leaving. Brecht arrived just in time to see 2 yellow-eyed penguins disappear in the bushes. I only saw the one penguin that was still on the rocky shore (which is actually a tidal shelf covered in petrified stumps). He seemed to be waiting for his friend. We hung out for quite some time, watching him wiggle and hop around. Eventually we gave up on his friend emerging out of the sea, and walked back to our campervan, seeking shelter from the icy winds.
You should know yellow-eyed penguins, also known as hoihos, are one of the rarest penguins in the world. Normally they’re pretty timid birds, but at Curio Bay they’ve gotten used to a bunch of weird tall animals snapping tons of pictures of them. You can come as close to the penguins as you like, there’s no fencing, but signs suggest keeping a safe distance of 10 meters. Give them space and don’t disturb their habits. We were glad to see that people seem to heed that advice. Apart from yellow-eyed penguins you can spot Hector’s dolphins and New Zealand fur seals at Curio Bay as well, but we didn’t.
Practical info on Curio Bay
Depending on where you’re coming from, you might have to take some unsealed roads to get to Curio Bay. We took a left from the Southern Scenic Route (SH92 between Balclutha and Invercargill), just followed the sign, and didn’t encounter any dirt roads. The road between Curio Bay and Otara however is supposed to be mostly unsealed. The car park at Curio Bay is near the road. From there it’s a short walk to the shoreline. Access is free.
Sadly we arrived a tad late at Curio Bay to fully enjoy the penguin parade, but at least we did see one YEP hopping around between the petrified stumps. We have great memories, just no great photo to make you jealous. You’ll have to take our word for it, it’s definitely worth a visit if you love wildlife!
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