During our travels in New Zealand, we were so excited to see animals in the wild. One of the animals that we were looking forward to seeing in their natural habitat was the rare yellow-eyed penguin. We got information that the best place to see those penguins is in Dunedin. We thought that must be the best place to see penguins for free in New Zealand.
So we drove to Otago Peninsula, hoping to see albatrosses and seals as well. We didn’t manage to see any albatrosses or seals because at that time the weather was a bit shitty. Rain, hail, wind at the same time. And we decided not to see the penguins at the Penguin Place because apparently it’s a conservation project and you have to take a tour to see those penguins. We saw a brochure at a guesthouse offering a full-day tour for 120 NZD. That doesn’t sound like natural habitat to us. We checked their website, it says that for an adult ticket you have to pay 49 NZD. Definitely not the place to see penguins for free in New Zealand.
So we missed that penguin-viewing opportunity in Dunedin. The next day, we were driving towards Invercargill from Dunedin. About 180km past Dunedin, we stopped at a lookout called Curio Bay to quickly check out the petrified forest. But there were some people hanging around there that seemed to be waiting for something. At the information board, it said that rare yellow-eyed penguins usually show up there every dusk.
Not long after that, we spotted a penguin which jumped out of the water and walked on the rocks. Another one joined the first one and they both started to tidy their fur. It took a while (the grooming, I mean) before they finally took steady steps jumping from one rock to another towards the bush. One of them walked past a group of people within very close range without hesitation. It was an amazing experience! We’ve also got some videos of them walking along the rocks and grooming.
We were so lucky because we found this place where we could see penguins for free in New Zealand accidentally. And we saw not only one or two, when we left the place there were 6 or 7 penguins around the area.
How to get to the place to see penguins for free in New Zealand
So if you’re wondering where to see penguins for free in New Zealand, head to Curio Bay! If you’re coming from Dunedin, you head to Owaka and then Papatowai. Once you reach Chaslands Hwy, turn left to Niagara-Waikawa Rd, and turn right to Waikawa- Curio Bay Rd. Follow the road until you see the sign Curio Bay ‘Petrified Forest’. Enjoy your penguin-viewing experience! It’s free!
Also, if you are looking for a campervan to rent, these people do some great deals.