After a financial downturn and feeling the effects of the Christchurch earthquakes, visitor numbers are returning to normal at the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony.
Colony manager Jason Gaskill said about 4000 more people visited the colony in 2012, showing improvement from about March or April.
Visitor numbers stood about 80,000 for the 2012 year.
"The November to January period is roughly the same as last year overall, but the holiday period from late December through the early part of January is ahead of last year," Mr Gaskill said.
Mr Gaskill said it was encouraging to see visitor numbers returning to pre-recession levels.
"They are getting back to normal after all of the events in the last couple of years," he said.
He linked an increase in visitor numbers to a combination of more promotion of the colony and Tourism Waitaki's promotion of the wider Waitaki District.
A new $200,000 viewing stand was opened in June and had been a sell-out most nights in the summer season.
"Evening viewing, particularly the premium stand, is most popular," he said.
The next step of a redevelopment project, which was proposed as an upgrade to the visitors' centre and retail area, extension of office space and a research centre, would be confirmed in a few months.
He said they were taking a cautious approach, but were quietly optimistic for the future.
"We're just looking at the time frames," he said.
"It will pretty much be down to how things are going to go over the next couple of years."
Over at the Oamaru i-SITE Visitor Centre, 94,873 people came through the doors in 2012.
This was slightly down on the previous year, but early indications from January were promising, manager Tania Pacey said.