Visitors and guides aboard Southern Discoveries' Encounter Nature Cruises have spotted the rare Fiordland crested penguin, or tawaki, this month.
Nature guide Dave Newman says he's thrilled to see the Fiordland crested penguins back in Milford Sound again for the nesting season and encouraged by the number of birds spotted.
"There's more penguins this year than we saw last year, which is really positive for the colony and great for our guests as there are only up to 3000 breeding pairs in existence," he says.
Visitors have a good chance of viewing the "wildlife show" over the coming months aboard an Encounter Nature Cruise as it comes close to the colony in Penguin Cove on its way to the entrance of Milford Sound. The aptly named cove is where the penguins live during the breeding season from July to November, and again between January and March to moult. "We'll expect to see the penguins here until November when their chicks are ready to head out to sea," says Newman.
"There's a real buzz when we first start seeing the penguins. They're a very special bird as they're so rare, we're so lucky to be able to see them. They come ashore and work their way into the thick rainforest, building nests in natural cases or hollowed out trees and forming colonies of up to 10 years."
Penguins seen from the cruises in Milford Sound are often on the exposed rocky shorelines inside the fiord or sometimes spotted on calm days swimming around on the surface of the water in small groups.
Cruisers were also seeing a lot of bottlenose dolphins around the boats.
"They love to play around the bows of our catamarans as well as our Encounter Nature Cruise boat, the Lady Bowen, or swim behind or beside the boats," he says.
A Southern Discoveries kayaking trip into Harrisons Cove is another great way to get really close to wildlife at water level.
“We see penguins and dolphins in this cove all the time and from your kayak you can see straight through the crystal clear water, even spotting starfish lying beneath you,” says Newman.