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The Highlight of 2012

Moeraki to Shag Point.

An hour’s drive to the south of Oamaru, about halfway to Dunedin, make a turn for Moeraki, and you’ll definitely experience something totally out of the ordinary. What happened to us here was totally unexpected, and I must say one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had. We took the barren road through great scenery, lush green hills with hundreds of sheep and cows lazily grazing with the wild ocean right beneath their grazing grounds, making the whole picture completely stunning. At the end of the roads there is an abandoned lighthouse.

You' ll also see a couple of more empty houses with like hundreds of rabbits grazing in front of them. The moment anybody approaches they stamp their feet to the ground and they all make a run for their nearest exit, usually a big hole in the ground. Obviously, the rabbit plague has hit New Zealand just as hard as it has hit Australia. They’re cute and their presence is not at all their fault, but they multiply at a rate so large that there is just no way New Zealanders can get rid of them.

The Lighthouse was once home to a couple who started taking care of the local marine sea life, and especially the yellow-eyed penguin. The yellow-eyed penguin is threatened by extinction, only about 1000 still existed in the wild before they started their rescue program, but now their numbers have risen to about 1300. These people fenced in areas where the penguin could be safe from hazards such as dogs and humans.

They cared for sick and wounded ones, and build nesting sites for them. They are no longer there, but there is still a foundation which is perpetuating their work, and so today visitors can take a walk down a path and actually get to see these wonderful creatures from a certain distance. If however, you’re a smartass, you don’t follow the beaten track, but you take the alternate route signed Fishermen, you actually get down to an unfenced beach area where you actually get really close to both penguins and different kinds of seals.

That’s what we did, and that’s what we don’t regret. We were like 4 meters away from fur seals, 2 meters away from yellow-eyed penguins. Since I managed not to run after them to cuddle them, they all stayed, and did not feel threatened at all. For the first time in my entire life I truly regretted not having invested time and money in proper photography training. Mette Brandt, where are you when I need you?

Any way, we got to see fur seals fighting, playing and sleeping, yellow-eyed penguins feeding their chicks, resting and walking around. We learned from some locals that the point is to keep a short distance at all times, no yelling or shouting and whatever you do, never to come between the animals and the sea. The sea is their escape route, and if it is cut off they can get frightened to the point where they have to defend themselves and they might attack.

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