One of the most amazing things I have done since arriving in New Zealand was visiting a seal colony on the southern most point of the North Island. Cape Palliser is about 2 hours from Wellington and it is well worth the drive. The road is long and deserted so be sure to fill up on gas and bring some snacks. Also, drive cautiously, as many of the bridges are only built for one car at a time.
Once the road reaches the shoreline the views are stunning. When we went, in March, the air was cool and the winds were strong. The waves were the highest I’ve ever scene without a hurricane or storm present. They were so long and massive you couldn’t help but to think of a tsunami. It was really amazing when the wind would blow the top part of the wave back making it appear the wave was rushing out to sea instead of crashing to the shoreline.
The beaches are mostly rocky shoreline, but there are a few patches of dark, black sand. Look closely at the sand and you may just see a fur seal bathing in the sun! Approaching Ngawi is a spectacular sight. The town is set on the edge of a small mountain range and the shoreline curves in making it picture perfect.
Just past the town is the lighthouse. You have to drive over a part of the road that is right in the middle of a stream. I’m not sure why they don’t build a small bridge over this area, but there is a sign and a meter stick warning you that if the water is too high not to cross.
You can climb up to the lighthouse and I’m sure the views are fantastic. It was already quite late when we arrived so we decided to skip the lighthouse and just admire the seals.
Just in front of the lighthouse is a great place to see the seals up close. Walk to the beach, but don’t get to close. At first you may not notice the seals because they blend into the rocks perfectly, but once you’ve see a couple they become easier to spot. They will surprise you by finding sunny places to lounge far from the shore in grassy areas.
The seals are Kekeno or New Zealand fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) and are only found in New Zealand. The colony at Cape Palliser is the largest seal colony in New Zealand. Once these beautiful sea animals were hunted for their fur and meat, but sealing was banned in 1894. The seals were further protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1978. These protective acts were badly needed since the seals were hunted to near extinction. In one year it is said that 80,000 seal furs were gathered in New Zealand. Now the population is about 100,000.
Fur Seals will attack – so don’t come between them and the water or their pups!
Random Seal Facts:
Seal have sharp teeth and many Zealanders have been bitten.
The population of the New Zealand seal fell to levels under 10% of the original numbers.
The Mäori name for fur seal, kekeno, means ‘look-arounds’.
Large sharks and orca whales are the main predators of New Zealand Fur Seals.
Unlike most seals the kekenu do not have a layer of blubber for warmth, but they have 2 layers of fur.
You can see the kekenu’s ears, unlike other types of seals.
The seal can stay under water for up to 11 minutes, although usually only dive for 1-2 minutes.
The seal lives an average of 16 years and has 10 pups, one every year after the age of 6.