The Monro beach walk is only half the fun of this adventure. The gentle downhill sloping walk through a dense moss-covered forest leads to a beautiful beach. Bookended with huge boulders, the waves roll over the coarse sand.
However, the real magic happens while looking out to sea. While Hector’s dolphins are known to play in the surf, it is the rare Fiordland Crested penguins that nest in beach scrub that brought us here.
And nature did not disappoint. We brought our girls and our patience, put down a blanket, and waited. We enjoy the birdlife and watching the surf as it crashed into the rocks or rolled up the beach. Finally, our perseverance was rewarded. Down the beach, a single penguin swam ashore and waddled across the sand.
Monro Beach walk
The walk itself is flat and easy, and there were few people around when we were there. The moss-covered trees add an air of mystery, while the suspension bridge that crosses the river adds some fun.
Spotting penguins on the beach
When we noticed the penguin in the distance, we moved quickly and quietly and were able to get a few shots while keeping well clear of the bird as per the guideline provided by the Department of Conservation. Clearly, not bringing my strongest zoom lens to the beach was a bad choice.
By the time I was close enough to get a decent photo with the zoom lens I had, the penguin was already making its way to a hidden nest in the bush.
Note: I was still keeping a huge distance and taking extreme caution not to disturb the birds.
Getting to the Monro Beach walk
Located between Haast and Franz Josef on the South Island, you will spot the Monro Beach trailhead about 5 km north of Knights Point Lookout, just after you cross the Moeraki River.
From here, it’s a nearly 5km return walk through a coastal forest. The walk is easy, although slightly downhill leading to the beach; therefore, uphill on the way back. Allocate about 90 minutes for walking, plus beach time.
We waited about 2 hours before a penguin to emerged from the water and waddled across the beach.
The Monro Beach walk is one of many recommended stops on any west coast South Island road trip.
Know before doing the Monro Beach walk
- The dense forest leaves little room for the warm sun, so you may want to bring a jacket, regardless of the weather.
- Bring insect repellent.
- Leave only footprints. Be sure to carry out any rubbish with you.
- I can’t say this enough times; these are rare and vulnerable birds, and humans are one of their biggest threats. If you see the penguins, keep your distance. Walk away with only a great story to tell if you don’t have a zoom lens.
- If you enjoy this walk, don’t miss the nearby Ship Creek: Kahikatea Swamp forest walk.
- Still want more? Download the DOC pamphlet on Haast regional walks.
Fiordland Crested penguin facts
Important: If you do see Fiordland Crested Penguins on the beach, keep your distance and do not disturb these rare birds.
- Endemic to New Zealand, the Fiordland Crested penguin (Māori name Tawaki) is one of the world’s rarest penguins according to the NZ Department of Conservation.
- Although Fiordland penguins mate for life, the mating pairs separate for most of the year. The females return to Monro Beach annually and seek out their mate from the prior years.
- Interestingly, the females lay two white eggs then the male incubates them for 30-35 days. Sadly, the Fiordland Crested penguin will only raise one chick each season, so if both hatch, one of the chicks dies of starvation.
- The best time of year to see these penguins is nesting season from July to November. In addition to the Monro Beach walk, Fiordland Crested penguins can be spotted at Milford Sound and Jackson Bay.
- Tawaki are one of nine species of penguin that breed in New Zealand, although only three breeds on the South Island: Tawaki, Yellow-eyed penguin (hoiho) and Little Blue penguin (kororā).
Read next: 18 Places to See Penguins in New Zealand
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Have you done the Monro Beach walk?
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My husband and i wll be in Haast right after Christmas (26/12), which is when the penguin season is over. When did you guys go there? Cheers
We were there in early to mid-October.
Hello! I will be visiting New Zealand in September and I just wonder do I have to pay to enter the Monro Beach walk / Monro Beach? And is there any parking near the entrance? Thank You! 🙂
This was a completely free destination, as are most of the natural sites in New Zealand. We were really lucky to see a penguin. We sat and waited for about two hours, so if you are here for limited time, there are other places on the South Island where you will have better odds. It really depends on where you are traveling. Regardless, if you are headed to the South Island you are in for some of the World’s most spectacular natural scenery.
What time of day did the penguins come to shore?
Love the shot of the bridge. The penguins are awesome.
I have never seen a penguin in the wild, only in the zoo.
I would probably wait 2-4 hours to see one.
As long as I could read a book while waiting 🙂
The problem of reading a book, is that you would miss it. They waddle so quietly from beach to bush and then they are gone.
SJ @ Chasing the Donkey
Ohhhh man, these ittle ones are just so damn sweet, I have only seen them at Taronga Zoo in Sydney. I’d love to see them in the wild. Big thanks for joining us for #SundayTraveler.
Penguins! Seeing them would just make my day, or my week! Such amazing creatures!
I’ve seen a few crested penguins before but always in captivity, I’d just love to see them evolve freely!
That was interesting and no I have never seen one before they are great looking characters very cute heheh!
Adelina // Pack Me To
Ohhh I would love to be able to see penguins in real life in the wild. They’re too adorable. Even with your old camera, you still managed to get quite a decent shot.
The old camera, is still a good piece of equipment, but I do have a better zoom now. However in saying that, I still would need to carry a lot more camera weight to get the shot I would have wanted.
Rhonda, Seeing these penguins are now firmly planted on my list! How cute are they?
I can also see where they get their names too. Too cute.
Have a terrific day. 🙂
I know, aren’t they adorable. For some reason they remind me of Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Not in specie, but in the desire to want one, as they are so cute.
How awesome! What a wonderful adventure. I’ve never seen one in real life, but those are beautiful birds.
L. Diane Wolfe
That’s a long time to wait, but at least it was in a beautiful location.
Wildlife is worth the wait, yet I don’t always have enough patience. I guess that is why I am more of a street and landscape photographer. I only have to wait for the sun, which I can time.
Love the eyebrows the penguins have. We waited for the familiar waddle in the south island of N.Z. too. Penguins are adorable.
Did you see them when you waited. I thought it was totally worth the wait, but I am not sure about the rest of the family.
I think maybe I have. We hiked the Milford Track in Fiordland National Park which included 13 miles through the rainforest on the last day, ending at Sandfly Point. We spent the night at Milford Sound and went on a boat ride the next day where some penguins were pointed out to us. I think that was the right area, so maybe they were Fiordland Crested penguins.
At Sandfly Point you probably saw yellow-eyed penguins (hoiho), which are also extremely rare and very cool to see. And hiking the Milford Track, what a really special experience that must have been. However, on your boat trip, you may have seen the Fiordland Crested penguin. How exciting.
Wow, great capture on the last photo, they are very funny and stately looking at the same time, I would love to capture them in a photograph
I agree, I only wish it was my shot. I couldn’t get nearly that close with the camera equipment I have. It’s a trade off, as you know – I don’t want to lug the giant zoom lens, so on special moments like this, I miss that amazing shot.
It looks spectacular.
Alex J. Cavanaugh
Rainforests and penguins – what an amazing country you live in!! Photos are incredible, Rhonda. Mate for life – is that common for penguins?
Yes, according to some quick research I just did, most species of penguin mate for life. And yes, New Zealand is an amazing place to live.