You really are spoiled for choice when it comes to wildlife adventures in Dunedin, however we chose to visit the Royal Albatross Centre because it’s the only place in the world where you can see these amazing birds from the mainland.
What we did
We made a booking and, as we had a rental car, we drove ourselves out there. Getting there without a car would be tricky. It’s a 32km drive from the city, and a 3.5km walk from the nearest bus stop on the peninsula. We booked on the tour and while it was quite expensive at $100 for a family of five, all proceeds go to maintaining wildlife on the peninsula so it is for a good cause.
How it went
We arrived in time for our session, but of course the kids took one look at the café and decided they were starving and could no longer go on without being fed instantly.
Our tour time was easily rescheduled and so we sat down to a leisurely lunch before meeting the rest of our tour group.
The tour starts in small auditorium where we were given a short talk then shown a video on the lifestyle and habits of the Royal Albatross which was both interesting and educational. We learned that while they mate for life, they only nest every second year which means every other year they roam the Antarctic regions unencumbered. Perhaps that’s where the saying ‘free as a bird’ comes from.
We then headed up the pathway to the lookout, with fabulous views back down the harbour towards Dunedin. Once in the lookout our guide showed us to the viewing window to see “all the Albatross”.
At this stage I have to admit to being rather underwhelmed. What we did see were three Albatross sitting on their nests.
“So”, I asked. “How many Albatross do you have at this colony?” Turns out there were 30 pairs nesting there, it’s just that the other 27 had chosen to nest on the other side of the hill, out of our view.
At this point I remembered the bit in the talk where the guide told us that each nesting pair swap duties every five days. Some quick maths made me realise if there were 30 birds nesting, then there must be another 30 out feeding. If they swap every 5 days, then on any given day there would be around 6 birds returning from sea. Fingers crossed at least one of them chooses to return during the 30 minutes we had in the lookout.
We weren’t disappointed. Within a few minutes we saw our first Royal Albatross gliding majestically around the head of the peninsula. Then we saw another, and another and before long there were a total of four birds wheeling in the skies above our heads. Magic.
There are binoculars in the lookout which kept the kids entertained for a while, along with the Albatross toys that were not only the real size of an adult and chick, but also the real weight.
Our 30 minutes was over too soon – I could have stood and watched those birds fly over the stunning backdrop of the harbour for hours.
What I’d recommend
Book your session – even if you only do so on the morning of your trip. Session times fill up in the late afternoon with people who are also there for the evening Penguin show.
Pay for the tour. While you can see Albatross for free from a wooden platform overlooking the ocean, it’s often cold and very windy which won’t impress the kids much at all. While I thought the cost of the tour was steep, it’s the only way to guarantee your long drive out there isn’t in vain.
There isn’t much there, or on the way there, to stop at for lunch, and the location doesn’t really lend itself to a picnic, so you may just have to bite the bullet and buy lunch at the café. The food is good and not too expensive given the isolated location but the hot drinks are frightfully expensive.
What to take
A really good camera. My camera on my phone just didn’t cut it.
Your credit card for the café, but I’d steer clear of the gift shop. It was full of the usual souvenirs with very little Albatross-related trinkets for the kids to collect.
A rental car. Getting there and back on public transport would involve a 7km round trip walk from the nearest bus stop.
This experience was chosen and paid for by my family and I without any input from the experience organisers.