Whenever New Zealand is mentioned as a tourist destination, Milford Sound, Queenstown, bungy jumpy are some that immediately come to mind. There is a not so well-known destination that should be on everyone’s list. Taiaroa Head, a short distance from Dunedin.
Taiaroa Head is alive with wildlife species, many of them rarely found nesting seabirds. The jewel in the crown is the Northern Royal Albatross. To view this majestic seabird flying at speeds up to 120 kilometres per hour is an invigorating sight; one that should not be missed.
The Lonely Planet publication 1000 Ultimate Sights features the Royal Albatross Centre alongside the Taj Mahal and Grand Canyon. “Here at one of New Zealand’s hottest attractions the draw card is the birdlife. Taiaroa Head is the site of the world’s only mainland royal albatross breeding ground, where you can observe the spectacle of the albatrosses with wingspans of up to three metres coming in to land like a succession of 747s.”
The Royal Albatross Centre is located on the tip of the Otago Peninsula, about a 45-minute drive from Dunedin. It is owned by the Otago Peninsula Trust, a charitable trust formed in 1967 for the protection of the local natural environment. The Nature Reserve on Taiaroa Head is managed by the Department of Conservation. The centre offers guided tours, has an informative exhibition, the Albatross Café and souvenir shop.
Taiaroa Head is also famous in New Zealand history. From a small Maori camp in the 1300s it was later enlarged to a fortified pa. In 1864 a lighthouse was built at the heads, which is the entrance to Otago harbour. It was also the site of a defence base in WWII. Today, Taiaroa Head is a Nature Reserve and iconic wildlife attraction
The breeding birds arrive at Taiaroa Head in September. The nest is built during early November and within the following three weeks an egg is laid. Albatross lay a single egg every two years. The parents share incubation duty in spells of two to eight days over a period of 80 days. The chicks hatch from late January to early February. The parents then take turns at guarding the chick for the first 35 days to protect it from predators. Unfortunately the predators such as rats were all ‘imported’ by the Europeans. It is fed on demand for the first 20 days, later the frequency of meals decreases to three or four times a week. Meal quantity can be up to two kilogrammes of squid and octopus per day in winter. From early August the chick is fed less and in September, when fully fledged, the chick tests its outstretched wings and eventually takes off with the aid of a strong wind. The young albatross will spend the next three to five years at sea; many then return to this unique headland to start another generation of Royals of Taiaroa. Nearly 12 months after their arrival at Taiaroa Head, the chicks’ parents finally leave the colony to spend a year at sea before returning to breed again.
Taiaroa Head it is also home to over 20 wildlife species, including some 4,000 red-billed gulls and colonies of Spotted Shag, the rare Stewart Island Shag, Royal Spoonbills and hundreds of Southern Fur Seals.
The Otago Peninsula offers appealing accommodation and for those who enjoy nature an excellent alternative than staying in Dunedin city.