Royal albatross print: Gregory Mathews
Much of the Otago peninsula's land is under the auspices of the Otago Peninsula Trust and is maintained as a sanctuary for wildlife. Many species of seabirds and waders, in particular, may be found around the tidal inlets, including spoonbills, plovers, and herons. The rare Stewart Island Shag nests below the nature reserve viewing area, giving visitors on a guided tour an excellent opportunity to view year-round activity. Southern fur seals can be seen at Pilots Beach, or often young pups can be seen from the cliff tops on the eastern side of the Headland, playing in rockpools or sleeping in the sun. This remarkable abundance of wildlife is drawn to the area by the Southern Ocean's cold currents which rise above the continental shelf, providing a rich and constant food source.
Taiaroa Head provides the only mainland colony of albatross in the world. The return of first Royal Albatross, the world's largest seabird, to its Taiaroa Head breeding ground is greeted by every church bell in the Dunedin City area. The Yellow-eyed penguin reserve is also on the Otago Peninsular.
A number of walkways give access to the many breathtaking views and sheer cliff faces on the peninsula.
The Taiaroa Head, Pukekura, was visited by Maori around 700 years ago for seasonal food gathering. They eventually built a fortified village, Pa, on the headland.
From the early days of European settlement, signalmen and pilots were based at Taiaroa Head. In 1864 the lighthouse was built and lighthouse keepers joined the growing community. In 1885, as a result of the threat of war between Britain and Russia over the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the construction of Fort Taiaroa began. The addition of barracks and militiamen meant that by the turn of the century there were over 100 people living permanently at Taiaroa Head.