The Little (White-flippered) Penguins
of Pohatu/Flea Bay, Banks Peninsular, New Zealand
I thoroughly recommend a visit to the colony at Pohatu/Flea Bay, southeast of Akaroa, on the Banks Peninsular, New Zealand. The colony is on farmland that belongs to Shireen and Francis Helps. They offer guided walks around the beautiful Flea Bay to show visitors the Little (White-flippered) Penguins that can be seen between late August and December. To book contact the Akaroa Information Centre, Telephone: (03) 304 860

It is the largest penguin colony on the mainland of New Zealand, and the second largest in Australasia. In 2000 a census at Pohatu/Flea Bay showed 717 breeding pairs. In 2004 this had risen to 893 breeding pairs (thus bucking the trend as virtually all the other colonies are decreasing).

Shireen and Francis have spent the last 14 years conserving the penguins on their land at Pohatu/Flea Bay. They have positioned more than 100 breeding boxes, to augment the natural burrows, and there is a line of more than 90 traps to contain cats and stoats (and a by-catch of rats and hedgehogs) - all can inflict serious damage to the colony. They trap about 20 cats each year and in 2004 they caught an incredible 64 stoats.

The drive to the farm needs a four-wheel drive, or Shireen will come to meet you in the town by appointment. It is a scenic drive down to the bay and, from a vantage point, you can stop to ‘scope the large rafts of penguins gathering in the bay (from approx 1900hrs). Shireen took us along a trail where we checked a number of the boxes, seeing adults and large chicks. By keeping still and quiet you can watch penguins clambering onto the rocks below to start the climb of the slopes to the burrows. There is a hide also, where you will see small groups coming from the water onto the rocks.

It is a marvellous experience. Shireen is so enthusiastic about penguins, the colony, and preserving it for the future. We saw also Yellow-eyed Penguin but there may be only five birds in the area.

Shireen’s website is http://www.pohatu.co.nz