Tawaki penguin are back

If you happen to be on the West Coast in the next month or two, keep a close eye out for the world's third rarest penguins - Tawaki.

Tawaki the rainforest penguin

Tawaki, or the Fiordland Crested Penguin (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus), are unique among penguins.

Tawaki breed in temperate rainforest, only in the southwest corner of New Zealand. During the July to December breeding season they are most easily seen along the Lake Moeraki coastline.

They build their nests beneath logs and boulders. These will be deep in the forest, often hundreds of metres inland and up steep hillsides. Adults must negotiate the pounding surf, wild beaches and dense undergrowth as they make their way between the Tasman Sea and their rainforest nests.

Tawaki Facts

  • Tawaki are the world’s only penguin to breed in temperate rainforest.
  • They stand 60cm tall (2 ft) and weigh approx. 4kg.
  • Females lay two eggs each year but only one chick is ever fed. This chick grows quickly while the other generally won’t survive more than a few days.
  • The breeding season runs between July and early December. Outside of this period tawaki are at sea, fishing and sleeping on the surface of the ocean.
  • The main threats to tawaki are domestic dogs, introduced stoats (weasel family) and disturbance.

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Tawaki Conservation

For 32 years Wilderness Lodge has worked to conserve Tawaki. They campaigned to establish and enforce a Wildlife Refuge for the penguins to stop people taking dogs into the colonies where they would attack and kill penguins.

Since 1998 they have championed an extensive aerial pest control programme by the Conservation Department on the Lake Moeraki coastline to control predatory rats and stoats that also kill penguin chicks. The latest landscape scale aerial pest control programme was completed on 27 August 2022. It covered the 50,000 hectares between the Haast River and the Paringa River in perfect conditions and it has resulted in a massive reduction in rat, possum and stoat numbers. The timing of this work is perfect for the coming native bird breeding season.

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Guided Penguin Trips

Since 1989 Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki has taken guests to see tawaki under a special license from the Department of Conservation. Their guides are experts in penguin ecology and delighted in sharing this once in a lifetime experience with guests. Hike through lush rainforest to a wilderness beach then sit quietly as penguins emerge from the surf and make their way across the beach and into the rainforest. Guided penguin trips last about 3 hours, include light refreshments and require a low to moderate level of fitness. Group sizes are always kept small.

Their daily guided penguin trips are carefully managed to avoid disturbance. Small groups sit quietly and discreetly while penguins come & go naturally across the beach.

Each trip spends around 2 hours at our Viewing Hide. As part of our trips they monitor penguin numbers with around 80 trips per season. Over the last 26 years since pest control started here, penguin movements across the beach have shown a small but significant increase growing from an average of 8 to 24 penguins seen on each trip (see Graph).

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This is an encouraging result from this long term monitoring and Tawaki breeding success here is in stark contrast to the catastrophic decline in the Hoiho/Yellow Eyed penguin population on the south-eastern South Island coastline.

More information