Lonely Planet Writer

World's smallest penguins get VIP underpass in New Zealand town

A New Zealand town has built a special underpass to protect a colony of small blue penguins from the dangers of traffic. The new tunnel will also protect them from prying tourists anxious to have holiday snaps taken in their company.

Little Blue Penguins
Little Blue Penguins now have their own tunnel.   Image by Getty Images

The Guardian reports that the right-of-way was constructed to make life easier and safer for the birds as they commute between their nesting place and the sea at Oamaru Harbour, Otago, which is located on the east coast of the South Island. Waterways and power lines were diverted to facilitate the building of the 80-foot-long (25 m) underpass, according to Good News Network. The penguins, also called fairy penguins or little penguins, are typically only one foot or 30 cm tall, weighing in at 2 lb (1 Kg) which makes them the smallest of their species on the globe.

 Little Blue Penguins have a distinctive forward stoop.
Little Blue Penguins have a distinctive forward stoop. Image by Getty Images

Their numbers have been hit by pollution from human development, though they are thriving in Australia, New Zealand and as far away as Chile. The general manager of Tourism Waitaki Limited, Jason Gaskill, explained that the tunnel became possible with the backing of the Waitaki District Council. There was further support from businesses who offered advice, materials and labour so that the project could be completed. The tunnel underneath the road was the brainchild of marine biologist Philippa Agnew, a researcher at Oamaru’s Blue Penguin Colony.  The colony’s general manager Jason Gaskill told CNN that everyone from the town council, to the tourism body and private enterprise got together to build the tunnel. “I would say that the project itself has caught the imagination of a lot of people – the local community included,” he told the network.


The blue penguins have an average life span of ten years and have a distinct way of walking with a forward stoop.