Curio Bay

With Nugget Point, Curio Bay is the other location in the Catlins that impressed me much. It didn’t look like much, at first: fields and cows, a beach, rocks… a costly small museum that promised wonders (spoiler alert: it’s nice but not worth the money since you’ll learn everything on the signs outside), a small regenerating forest devoid of birds (OK, there were a few Dunnocks (Prunella modularis) and Song thrushes (Turdus philomelos) in there, all songbirds imported from Europe by the early settlers), a petrified forest… I was actually pretty excited about the latter, because it’s a story about dinosaurs and I like dinosaurs, but when I got to the shore, I didn’t find it very exciting.

Curio Bay is also a known Yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) colony… well it’s a small colony, with only 3 pairs this year, but every individual counts for this rare and declining endemic species. I waited with other tourists behind the rope that indicated the no-go zone, on the rocky shelf that the birds have to cross to go to their breeding ground in the bushes. It came.

One penguin. Shy at first, we saw it hesitate as it walked towards the vegetation, then backed away towards the waves to finally cross the whole shelf and disappear among the trees.

Yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes)

Yellow-eyed penguin

Yellow-eyed penguin

What an encounter! The penguin stayed quite far away, but it was so cute! We’ll talk more about Yellow-eyed penguins later, so I’ll leave you with these few images for now. Afterwards, the small crowd scattered, and I walked among the stumps and trees of rock… and this petrified forest grew on me.

About 180 million years ago, there was a low-canopy forest at Curio Bay, which was then part of the Gondwana supercontinent (Zealandia had not split from Australia yet). Several floods came, carrying volcanic debris, and fell the forest. Over the years, as organic matter decayed, minerals took its place and wood “turned” to rock.

Souvenir hunters have taken their toll on the forest, but as I walked among what was left, I felt like I walked back in history.

As I left to explore further, magic happened and a stunning sunset coloured the sky. I remember thinking something like “wow, it’s almost as beautiful as a Finnish sunset”. It was really that beautiful.

The penguin shelf getting flooded by the rising tide

I was lucky to come back to Curio Bay a few days later with Heritage Expeditions, before the beginning of our trip to the Subantarctic Islands. Then we saw the other specialty of the area, the Hector’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori). I had caught glimpses of these rare cetaceans on my first visit, but then we saw them through the waves as they rode them. Amazing, but too short for me to capture that. Oh well, sometimes it’s good to keep the camera down and live the moment in earnest.

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