Penguin Safari at Pohatu Marine Reserve

After finally scratching our wine tasting itch, the winds died down and we booked a wildlife kayak tour. Pohatu Penguins had a personal connection with the family that keeps after the Pohatu Marine Reserve and we had the unique opportunity to observe a penguin up-close incubating an egg, witness rafting penguins in the open sea, and had quite the welcoming party. 

Brand new baby lambs and sheep happily greeted our van and ran right up to us! They would jump on us and adorably suckle on our exposed ankles. After playing with and feeding all the babies, we headed to the shed to get ready for kayaking. The swell was 4 meters the day prior, but a calm flat water in Flea Bay awaited us.

Almost immediately our guide spotted a couple penguins peeking out from behind a rock. It wasn’t the closest we had been to a penguin but it was the clearest shot I had for a photograph in broad daylight. Shortly after we ran into another penguin scurrying up the rock to get out of the water, but having a bit of a struggle. 

We spotted two more penguins hiding high up in a crack in the mouth of a cave. Kayaking to the opening of Flea Bay brought us to open ocean and 1 meter swells. We spotted some albatross, a shag, a solo penguin, and over the radio heard a whaling ship had possibly spotted a blue whale. We hung out in the large swell while I shot through a 400mm lens and fought back seasick urges. The whale was heading the wrong direction, disappointed we turned around and headed back down the side of the bay we hadn’t yet explored for some up close encounters with the resident fur seals. 

Tiny babies were still suckling, adults were basking in the sun, and one unlucky fellow looked like he had been hit badly with a propeller. Warning graphic content below. My heart ached for the poor guy.

After saying a little prayer for him we paddled across the bay back toward our landing sight. Along the way 3 rafts of penguins surrounded our boats, flirting with one another (or so our guide said so) and socializing. It was unbelievable to see them interacting in the wild and I snapped some of my favorite shots of the trip so far.

Needless to say it was a very fruitful hour of kayaking and some of the best wildlife photos I have had on this trip. We headed back to our side of the caldera, grabbed some fish and chips (highly mediocre according to Oli’s refined British tastebuds), and then stopped for celebratory cocktails at Harbar, a beach bar that sits right on the edge of the water on the beach, to watch the sunset over the sail boats.