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Penguin Tracking

On Opening Day our friends at the Tawaki Project came up to check out the new McDougall's Chondola... read about their adventure tracking penguins at Cardrona here!

Last Saturday saw many firsts up at the Cardrona Alpine Resort. Not only did New Zealand’s only cabin-style ski lift, McDougall’s Express Chondola, carry its first passengers up the hill. But Cardrona also happened to be the location where the 2017 penguin tracking season for the Tawaki Project kicked off.

The Tawaki Project studies the ecology of New Zealand penguins & has been particularly active the past few years to learn more about the Fiordland penguin or tawaki. This elusive & little-known penguin lives & breeds along the south-western coastlines of the South Island & with no more than 7,000 breeding pairs, tawaki is the third rarest penguin species in the world.

The Fiordland Penguin or Tawaki in its forest habitat in Milford Sound

Tawaki are also the penguin species that breeds closest to Cardrona. Harrison Cove in Milford Sound is only 90 km (as the crow flies) from the ski slopes & also one of the main study sites of the Tawaki Project.

One of the aims of the project is to determine where the penguins go when at sea, how deep they dive & what they eat. For this, some of the penguins are equipped with small GPS loggers that record the bird’s position every 2 minutes.

Cardrona Alpine Resort's mascot Pengi is a tawaki penguin. For that reason, it was decided to auction off the first ride of the new Chondola on TradeMe with the proceeds going towards the Tawaki Project. A whopping $1080 were raised that allow the purchase of further GPS loggers!

Pengi approves - Cardrona supporting the Tawaki Project

And to celebrate the occasion, the Tawaki team were invited to be on the first Chondola ride & the opportunity to test their new equipment. They fitted one of their GPS loggers on mascot Pengi to follow his movements on the Cardrona slopes during the first day of the 2017 season.

Tawaki Project scientist Ursula Ellenberg getting her gloves off to fit a GPS logger to Pengi.

It turned out, Pengi was quite active. His first trip up the hill was on board the Chondola’s maiden voyage which took Pengi to the top station 1.25 km from the lift entrance.

Up there it took Pengi 25 minutes to realise he had left his snowboard at the bottom, after which the mascot took another Chondola down to get back to his equipment.

First penguin tracks of the 2017 season; Pengi certainly made the most of the first day.

During the rest of the day, Pengi rode the both Chondola & Learner Conveyor several times. He accumulated a total of 8.75 km in Chondola rides uphill (7 rides) & 8.9 km on the board back down (4 times down Weston’s Trail & Footrot Flats, once down Racecourse), as well as 1.26 km on the magic carpet (7 rides) & 1.88 km on the Beginner’s Area.

Oh, & for those interested in more stats: Pengi’s average speed up in the Chondola was 10.1 km/h, while down the hill the penguin managed to reach an average 21.7 km/h – a new speed record for a New Zealand penguin!

If you want to find out more about the Tawaki Project, visit their website ( or like their Facebook page (

If you want to support their work, you can do so at

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