|Royal Albatross at Taiaroa Heads, Dunedin|
The Royal Albatross Centre is on the historic headland at the entrance to Dunedin Harbour. Here, on the steep, wind-swept slopes, is the world's only mainland colony of Royal albatross. I had booked a tour of the site before we left home. This started in the Visitor Centre with a talk and slide show about these fantastic birds.
I was stunned to learn that the young birds don't practise flying. One day, they get up off the nest, spread their long, long wings, lumber down the hill and take off - then don't return to land for five years!
From the observatory further up the slope we could see five albatross nests on the flattened grass. One mother was fussing over her fluffy chick. The other nests had solitary young birds waiting patiently for their parents to return with food.
It was amazing to see albatross flying so close to us. You don't appreciate just how big their wing spans are until you see one coming towards you, literally floating on the wind. The birds can lock their shoulder joints so they become like fixed wing aircraft, skimming the waves and riding the winds, expending less energy than if they were paddling on the sea's surface. They are truly masterpieces of aerodynamic engineering.