Day 1 in the Catlins
January 13, 2014

With an early start – Dannie and I said goodbye to our families and started our expedition of a lifetime. We flew from Auckland to Dunedin with Air NZ – stoked with our cookietime cookies and the choice weather. From the get-go we met a Year 13 girl called Justice from Aorere College heading down to Otago University for a week of science – we had only just made it on the plane and we had already got the opportunity to communicate our expedition and share our passion which was awesome!

We arrived safely at Dunedin Airport (as Dannie mentioned – only in New Zealand would you see a tractor just beside the runway), and met up with Mel Young from DoC. Mel was great, and drove us into Dunedin with the DoC ute where we had some time to sight-see in town whilst waiting for Lisa Argilla, a vet from Wellington Zoo to join us. We realised that this was indeed happening and that we were about to set off to the Catlins. We had time to visit Toitū Otago Settlers Museum (and taking the opportunity to dress up in 1800’s gear whilst there), the train station, and having a general wander around town. I took the opportunity to give Dannie her beanie knitted by my 91 year old grandma who knitted us both one for our trip – my Grandma was right – we need them down here!

We then met up with Lisa in town, and made the drive down to the Catlins. We passed the biggest river in New Zealand – the Clutha, and were treated to some amazing Southland coastline. We reached Nugget Point house – a beautiful bach-style place (that reminded me of my own) which was the original Lighthouse keeper’s place. Since I was riding shotgun, the duty was mine to open the gate to the lighthouse which everyone despises – apparently I passed the first test by successfully being able to open this gate which was a relief! The afternoon was spent settling in, discussing safety briefings and plans for the week. We met Johanna, a 19 year old German volunteer for DoC who was lovely.

The evening provided time to enjoy the beautiful views from the DoC house and the late-setting sun. The opportunity that this expedition provides started to sink in – how lucky we are! After dinner we set out on our first introduction to yellow-eyed penguins – a trip to the hide viewing point at Roaring Bay. We were greeted with other visitors who had been there counting the penguins – together we reached the count of 16 penguins! Having only expected to see one (if we were lucky), both Dannie and I were amazed that we got treated to such a sight on our first night – the bay was beautiful and the penguins were surfing waves in, and cooling down from a day’s exercise on the beach, ready to head up to their nests (if they were breeders). At about 10.20pm it got dark (not yet used to the late-setting sun here), and since then we have just been gearing up for tomorrow’s adventures.

Overall Mel, Lisa, and Johanna have provided a wealth of information and great company – Dannie and I have had a great first day. Mel was telling us stories of past experiences with the penguins and about field work in general which she tells so well, you can really feel the passion of these people who work so closely with the environment. As a student looking to get into this field – that’s exactly the kind of thing I want to hear – that the passion that you have doesn’t go away. So far it’s been great to feed off the enthusiasm of everyone else – and I’m sure it will continue!

From the sounds of it – tomorrow brings our first up close and personal encounter with the yellow-eyed penguins – we’re off to Penguin Bay to learn the ropes of finding nests and monitoring all adults and chicks at each nest site. We’ll update you with news to follow – but so far what a great start and we’re both excited to see what tomorrow has in store for us – it sounds like there’ll be some stories to share.

Samantha Collings

Samantha Collings

BLAKE DOC Ambassador 2014