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The world’s first combined indoor/outdoor penguin viewing area to open September 23

Maree Mahony - 15/09/06

The New Zealand Penguin Encounter, the world's first combined indoor/outdoor penguin viewing area, will open to the public for the first time on September 23 2006 at the Christchurch International Antarctic Centre.

Little blue penguin
Little blue penguin

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Three years of planning comes to fruition with the opening of the $2.6 million centre, which will house breeding pairs of Little Blue Penguins in a 600 square metre, Banks Peninsula themed encounter. It is believed to be one of the largest tourism-related projects to be built in Australasia this year.

Little Blue Penguins Little Blue Penguins
Little Blue Penguins

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The Penguin Encounter will be accessed on two levels with an above-ground platform to view the centrepiece, its 70,000 litre pool, and will also feature an auditorium with a 3 metre high acrylic viewing window, underwater portholes and a ‘behind the scenes’ tour.

Diagram showing the Penguin Encounter
Diagram showing the Penguin Encounter

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It will be backed up with comprehensive visual and audio-visual displays, covering the penguins’ biology, conservation, threats to their survival and habitat.

International Antarctic Centre Director Richard Benton said that the eighteen penguins are second-chance birds, many with physical disabilities resulting from injuries in the wild, and would not have survived had they been released back into the wild. They include Elvis, a partially blind bird named because she likes to sing to the rest of the penguins. He is hoping that some will breed and their chicks may be released into the wild.

A huge effort has been made to ensure that these birds are housed in the most environmentally suitable setting. "This has included flying in experts from Japan to supervise the final stages of construction, plus extensive consultation with bird experts, the Department of Conservation and local iwi.

"Until August 28 the penguins were looked after at Marineland in Napier. From there they were flown in to take up residence at the new specially constructed facility."

. Richard Benton said that the arrival of the Little Blues is the culmination of five years of planning. "It’s a dream come true to finally have them here. We have brought them in now so that they have two weeks to adjust before the attraction opens to the public and so far they are doing really well.

"As well, the penguins have become very used to their Marineland keeper, Pauline Conayne, so she is staying in Christchurch for four weeks to help them adjust to their new setting and to train our newly appointed Antarctic Rangers.

Marineland keeper Pauline Conayne, left, and Antarctic Ranger Joanne Rapley
Marineland keeper Pauline Conayne, left, and Antarctic Ranger Joanne Rapley

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"The Penguin Encounter would provide visitors with a ‘state of the art’ facility to view the tiniest of 18 species that live in the Southern Hemisphere and highlight the dangers penguins face in the wild," Mr Benton said.

Conservation Minister Chris Carter will officially open the complex, a joint project with Christchurch International Airport, on September 22, and it will be open to the public from the following day.

The International Antarctic Centre attracts over 215,000 visitors annually. It has twice been judged the best attraction in New Zealand with a 35% market share of all visitors to the region who chose to visit a paying attraction.

Opening hours:

9am ­ 5.30pm during winter
9am-7.00pm during summer

Entry fees:

Adults $25,
Children 5-15 $15,
Family pass $65.

Penguin feeding will take place in the auditorium daily at 11am, 1pm and 3pm.

More information: Visit the website.

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