Penguin colony concerns

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Waitaki Tourism Association chairman and tour operator Ralph Davies believes tourists who watch blue penguins come ashore in Oamaru free of charge should not be promoting it.

As well as having reservations about people advertising the fact the birds can be viewed for free along Waterfront Rd, rather than paying the $28 entry fee to the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, he shared Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher’s concerns about the safety of those who line the road each night.

Mr Davies operates Penguins Crossing, which leads tours of the penguin colony, Bushy Beach, where yellow-eyed penguins can be viewed, and the Oamaru township.

He believed he was in a better position than most to comment on the penguin colony.

“It’s something which has been a bit of an issue there, people viewing the penguins on Waterfront Rd. It does seem to have got worse from a safety perspective.

“Unfortunately, the volunteers are not always there. I don’t know what their traffic-management skills are, but as the mayor has said it’s a potential safety issue.”

Mr Davies said he often had to drive his bus around tourists lining Waterfront Rd and said people seemed to have the impression he was driving dangerously and threatening the lives of tourists and penguins.

“People are often quite irate because they perceive we are driving without care and they shake their fists and hit the bus, that kind of thing.”

He believed the issue would be easily solved if people paid the entry fee to watch the penguins in a safer environment.

While he said he did not have a problem with people viewing the penguins coming ashore without paying, he was adamant it should not be advertised on social media or by local accommodation operators, who he claims have been telling people where to go to get a free look.

“There’s two issues there,” Mr Davies said.

“People are viewing them for free and I don’t have an issue with that, but I do have an issue with them promoting it.

“It’s the biggest tourism attraction in Oamaru and without it, we would struggle to survive. The tourism association believes they should be paying to see them … it’s not a large amount of money.”

Mr Davies said the suggestion that fees were too high, made by P. D. R. Lindsay in a letter published in the Oamaru Mail on Wednesday, was “ludicrous”.

“Why should they not invest in our tourism industry? People are investing in a facility that is a huge conservation project.”

He didn’t think viewing penguins for free would threaten the colony from a financial viability point of view.

“I don’t think it’s a real threat.

“To me, it’s more about education and promoting going into the colony itself.”