Penguins?” she looks at us incredulously. “You went to see the penguins?” (kind of a mix between ‘why would you do that?’ and ‘is that a thing?’)
“Where are you from?”
I hear the words as I am putting on my second scarf, bundling up to leave this lone bar in a small town in southern New Zealand.
It turns out to be a boisterous Kiwi woman and her very intoxicated friend.
“Canada? Why are you cold then?” (referring to the scarves) “You should be used to this.”
I like these two. They are sassy and out for a bit of fun for the night and you can tell they don’t see too many tourists hanging out in their local pub.
We start chatting a bit. It’s cozy. There’s a fire crackling, slot machines buzzing on the other side of the hall, a bar lined with taps in front of us, a family of 12 (5 kids included) visiting to our left and locals playing pool to our right.
Having picked out my partner and I’s obvious foreignness, this lady and her mate waited for us to finish our fish n’ chips and then took their chance. They sip their beers as they rattle off questions until their curiosity is satisfied: “What brought you here? Do you like New Zealand? How long will you stay?”
“Yes, I love New Zealand, this place is beautiful,” I say, knowing that Kiwis absolutely love to hear this. It’s true, so I happily oblige.
“We were in awe of the penguins earlier today,” I add - thinking this was more obvious kudos to a local.
“Penguins?” she looks at us incredulously. “You went to see the penguins?” (kind of a mix between ‘why would you do that?’ and ‘is that a thing?’)
The 60-something year old woman proceeds to tell us that she has never gone to see them herself, despite having grown up in this very town, a mere 15 minute drive away from their habitat. Their stunningly beautiful habitat on rocky banks, facing the Southern Ocean, water so clear and blue that it is mesmerizing as it forms into waves and crashes against the orange-coloured sandy beach.
This blows my mind for a minute, because I on the complete opposite end of the spectrum have been itching to see these waddling beauties since my very first time in New Zealand, eons ago. It was the leading factor in booking a flight down to Dunedin to explore the southern tip of the South Island for an extra long weekend in the winter.
The rare yellow eyed penguins, a unique breed to New Zealand, don’t exist anywhere else on earth! And they are so freaking cute. And also endangered. And did I mention cute?
We had the pleasure of watching them make their way home after a long day of swimming, and looking for food. They took their time getting out of the water and then waddled adorably up the banks to their little hideaways all along the ridge.
Being able to witness this nightly routine felt so special, like you’re getting a glimpse into a living story and you can watch, but only for a page.
My partner urges our curious new friend to go and check it out. It’s apparent now that she was not avoiding it for any particular reason - it’s like she’s always known they were there but she just never really got around to it.
We say our goodbyes and head out into the crisp air, feeling happy that we drove the extra 20km up the road to find this place and got to observe some of the area’s characters.
As we drive back toward our little cozy cottage rental, I think about that woman and the penguins and feel glad that she considered our request for her to go and see them.
At the same time, I realise we are all guilty of doing this - taking for granted some of the amazing things around us and forgetting to explore our own backyard. I’ve seen more of New Zealand than most Kiwis, but there is so much of Canada I have yet to see.
Most other travelers I’ve met are like that too - eager to get to a new and exotic place, assuming when it comes to the homeland that they’ll ‘get around to it eventually’ - maybe when old and gray. And locals are the same on the flip side - they don’t really feel the urge to explore new places every weekend and are somewhat amused when they hear we are heading somewhere random ‘to see the penguins’.
I saw a social media post the other day that said something like, “I don’t call it a ‘bucket list’, I call it my ‘still alive list’, because while I’m still alive, I’m going to see and do it all.” And I love that concept. Whether you’re 20, 35, 62 or 97, you should do it because you’re still alive.
...Did I mention they were really cute?
Author - Meghan Advent
Meg is one of the co-creators of Travelher and lives and breathes travel. She currently works for an e-commerce travel company in New Zealand and often sells herself on cruises, motorhome trips and other exciting adventures. Meg misses her family back in Canada and wishes someone would invent the teleport already.