Banks Track to Penguin Cottage
Friday morning was our chance to make thanksgiving calls to our children, since it was still Thursday in North America.. Being a day ahead while the sun is shining on both continents feels like traveling to a different planet entirely.
For the afternoon, Terry had arranged for a walk on the Banks Track and a night at Penguin Cottage on the Helps Farm, where a blue penguin restoration project is under way.
The van shuttle to the walk was breathtaking, as the road climbed vertically up the ancient volcanic rim overlooking Akiaroa Bay on the Banks Peninsula. The Bay is itself an ancient caldera that broke open to allow the sea in.
The Banks Track walk was a splendid descent through a deep gorge of luxurious vegetation -- tree ferns and towering beech trees and an ancient tortora tree rising like a redwood above the canopy. Clear waters splashed down to a series of ever more splendid waterfalls before the valley opened up to sheep pastures speckled with tall purple foxgloves.
Penguin Cottage sits at the head of Flea Bay. The farm runs evening guided tours to spot the penguins returning to their burrows at dusk. Yes, these penguins live in burrows. Actually, most of these penguins live in wooden boxes set out to create artificial burrows, reduce territorial conflicts, and improve breeding success.
After a lecture on the restoration project, our group guide carefully opened a few of the boxes to check on the chicks. Then we all hiked to a blind to watch the rafts of tiny penguins assemble on the bay, until a few leaders hopped up onto the rocky bank and started up the hill to their burrows.
That was our cue to leave in order to get out of the way of the returning penguins.