Who knew that New Zealand had their very own royals? As in the mighty Northern Royal Albatross or “toroa.” Had you fooled for a minute, didn’t I?
Although I’m writing about birds, there is no doubt that the albatross is a royally, spectacular creature. An Otago wonder, if you will. Located on the cliffs of Taiaroa Head, the end and most eastern point of the Otago Peninsula, sits an albatross rookery and the Royal Albatross Centre. This Centre was created to protect the only mainland breeding colony of northern royal albatross and provides guided tours to minimise the potential human impact on the vulnerable aves. Besides participating in a tour, the only other way to catch a glimpse of the northern royal albatross is to wait and watch from the lookout point next to the Royal Albatross Centre. My twitching paid off with just one photo of an albatross in mid flight. Hmmmm.
The albatross is the largest seabird in the world, bigger then any pelican or gull. With a wingspan over 3 metres the albatross spends the majority of their life at sea. An albatross may fly up to 200 000 kilometres a year. Yes, that is TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND. However the northern royal albatross species, though spending very little time on land and in sight of humans, is baring the brunt of our pollution. Fish hooks, plastic, fishing nets, oil spills and general rubbish are adversely affecting albatross numbers. The northern royal albatross population is so low it’s classified as endangered. Also hindering numbers is that albatross only reproduce every two years, and just one chick at a time. Not great news for such a spectacular creature.
Kaz and I visited Taiaroa Head on a dark and windy afternoon. Looking over the safety railing we could see the cliffs were rugged and unforgiving, while the sea below churned with elaborately knotted weed. Waiting patiently in the gale force winds, we were rewarded with sightings of several albatross floating effortlessly on the winds above. As you can see from the photo below, the albatross, even from a distance, rules the skyline with that huge wingspan and conspicuous beak.
Taiaroa Head is well worth the visit, as is the scenic drive along the Peninsula. Not only did we get to see New Zealand’s answer to the royal family, but we also sighted wild New Zealand fur seals below the cliffs at Pilots Beach. But after such an educational post, it pays to know the Tross is also a dance move. Try YouTubing it. Or just get out on the dance floor and flap your arms. It’s a bit fancy.