Four spots to see penguins in Oamaru for free

Oamaru Blue Penguins Colony brings you close to the world’s smallest penguins in New Zealand. They offer day-viewings for 10nzd and 30nzd for the evening viewings. By far, all visitors whom I’ve met and spoken to said the evening time slot is the best.

“Forget the day tour, just go at night,” they recommended.

However, if you’re a backpacker who wants to save money, here are four spots to hunt for your penguins for free. Patience and luck are required for your free and successful penguin viewing.

Spot the penguin location 1:

Introduced by the Oamaru Backpackers which I stayed at, this spot is on a breakwater on the side of Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony.

  1. Walk/cycle/drive towards Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony.
  2. Instead of going towards the registration desk, turn left to face Portside Restaurant & Bar – there will be a tiny bridge.
  3. To the left of the bridge is a hard-to-spot unpaved path down to the beach. Look hard.
  4. Down the path and turn right, you’ll see a breakwater. Climb up.
  5. On your right, you’ll see a tall gate. There’s a large rock which you can stand tiptoe and look over the fence. There should be a couple of people there attempting to spot penguins too.

Spot the penguin location 2:

This spot is easily accessible daily, at the start of the harbour, the tip of Wansbeck Street. You’ll see a steampunk-inspired playground to your right, facing the harbour. To the left, there are boxes for the penguins to come home to. I was told to go around 8-9pm as that’s the time the blue penguins are done with feeding in the ocean.

There are few people there as it is quite a secret location. Me and an elderly couple heard some sounds and spotted one penguin on a rock, calling out to the others in the ocean. We caught glimpses of some penguins rustling through bushes and into the boxes.

Spot the penguin location 3:

A backpacker saw many individual penguins coming home here. She shared with me that it was around evening time. The location is the brick walls of old buildings of Victorian Street. The buildings have holes under, where returning penguins trot through grass patches and slip in unnoticed. I was not that lucky, but then again I didn’t hang around long enough. It was a cold, freezing night!

Spot the penguin location 4:

This fourth spot is hard work! Without a car, of course. Bushy Beach is located on a upslope up Bushy Beach Road and with a killer sunset view. Borrowed a bicycle from Oamaru Backpackers at no charge (they are so kind, aren’t they!) but I had to push it up the inclined roads. My thighs died that night.

Tip: Bring a pair of binoculars! The little things are so far away sometimes, and close by if you’re lucky. We spotted seals lazing on the sand, and I was lucky to catch a speck of penguin through the binoculars of fellow penguin hunter. The sunset took my breath away.


Image by: Birding NZ

Anna lives to explore. She loves digging toes into warm sand, diving, hugging trees, eating with locals, yoga and meditation. She enjoys stuffing her face with good food and prancing through back alleys of urban spaces. Some say Anna lives carelessly, she says "live wild, live carefree."