Pohatu Penguins is a family-run business with a long-standing history of protecting the Korora (Little Penguin) in Pohatu bay on the family farm.

When Shireen and Francis Helps first began their conservation work the penguins faced massive challenges that threatened their very existence. These challenges included predation via introduced predators such as rats, hedgehogs, cats, ferrets and stoats. Gill net fishing, unsupervised dogs and other human disturbances were also a significant part of the decrease. The colonies around the Banks Peninsula declined at an alarming rate and most disappeared altogether.

Through predator trapping, monitoring, penguin rehabilitation and creating awareness over the years the Pohatu penguin colony stabilized - and it has grown over time to become the largest colony of Little penguins on mainland New Zealand.

In addition to their penguin conservation efforts the Helps family has also for many years protected native forests and other endemic species and were part of the group that has advocated for Pohatu bay to become a marine reserve.

Their dedication is an inspiring example of what can be achieved by grass roots conservation efforts. The couple has won many awards for their work in penguin and habitat conservation and also helped found the award-winning Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust and Wildside Project.

In 2020, The “Helps Pohatu Conservation Trust” was formed to help us increasing conservation work and research projects.

To this day, the family and the Pohatu penguins team continue the conservation efforts which are fully self-funded via Pohatu Penguins’ tours so when purchasing a tour, you help our Little Korora!

To find out more about all of the conservation work click
here.

Shireen and Francis Helps - Pohatu penguins
Pohatu/Flea bay penguin colony
Pohatu team

 

As a business and a team, we are all committed to:

 
  • Continue protecting Little penguins at Pohatu and the wider Banks Peninsula through predator control, rehabilitation of injured birds and weekly monitoring of the colony
 
  • Continue to advocate for the protection of New Zealand native species through our tours and outreach with schools and communities
 
  • Continue to support Governmental and Regional advocacy for a better New Zealand for now and future generation such as the Tiaki promise 
 
  • Continue to be involved in our community and support local events 
 
  • Continue to advocate for regenerative farming principles and sustainable fibers
 
  • Continue to work with the Department of Conservation and advocate for a regenerative tourism promoting good practices around wildlife with the SMART program
 
  • Continue to strengthen our relationship with our local Runanga
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Meet the team

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Shireen 

Owner and founder of the business. I am a fourth generation farmer on Banks peninsula and when I grew up penguins were in every bay. When my husband and I moved to Pohatu there were heaps of penguins, but as the years rolled on we discovered that the populations were dropping all around the peninsula and that we were lucky to have some left. We decided to do something. A quick look around the hills and we realized that the main reason for the population decrease was the introduction of land predators such as ferrets and stoats. We began the laborious job of trapping. Many traps are set high above the hills in thick bush – it’s not an easy job! After a few years of diligent trapping and other conservation efforts we saw the penguin colony double. Along with predation, human disturbances can also disturb and impact the penguins. In order to minimize human disturbances we began running penguin tours so that we may show people these beautiful creatures, but in a controlled environment to minimize impact. And to these day these tours also directly fund the much needed revenue to continue our conservation work.

 

Slowly the business grew and activities have been added on. I believe that there is now an option for all to enjoy and I truly hope that joining our tours will enable you to experience the love we have for the place, and the wildlife that call Pohatu home!

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Averil

I am Shireen’s niece and I have been lucky enough to spend pretty much all my childhood holidays at Pohatu/Flea bay.

Animal lover, I very soon showed interest in helping and taking care of the penguins! One day Shireen offered me to start working with her; it was just the two of us at first which was really enriching as we were growing the business and a lot had to be done!

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Ben

Born in France, I always love to look at birds and watch their behaviour. After my study in conservation and eco-tourism. I spent a lot of time with different birdwatchers and scientists allowing me to increase my knowledge about these animals. I love to go outside with my camera and shoot the wildlife that surrounds us. I am a traveler who found a home in beautiful New Zealand. Here can practice my two specials skills: birding and kayaking.

 
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Joey

Mother of two and daughter of Francis and Shireen Helps, 5th generation, Akaroa. Growing up in Flea Bay as a child I have always had a special relationship with little penguins. As a child I learned to sleep to the sound of their calls as several pairs were nesting underneath the floorboards of my bedroom. Frequently after a very bad sea storm, our kitchen would act as a recovery ward for injured of under nourished penguins.

I am very proud of the conservation work that both my parents have done over the years to insure the survival of this special little bird and I am happy to share their story and my beautiful home with everyone on our tours!

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Kevin

I am another French frog that has been trapped inside the Akaroa volcano.

After my environmental studies in France the call of the travel was in me! I arrived in New Zealand in January 2009 with a working holiday visa and 3 words of English.

When I discovered Pohatu/Flea bay, I thought I reached heaven. Shireen took me on a kayaking trip straight away on a still sea. We went into every single sea-cave we could find - what a place! Overtime love found its place and Averil’s charm was the last thing that made me decide on staying. What else could I ask for? A stunning isolated area where I could kayak, help the environment and surrounding wildlife.

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Geraldine

Originally from the Loire Valley in France, I travelled in different parts of the world - mainly islands! - before I set foot in New Zealand in 2009. It was meant to be for a year... It has now been over 10 years! Being passionate about nature, wildlife, conservation and feeling happy when surrounded by sea and mountains I naturally fell in love with this stunning country... Meeting my (now) husband was definitely what held me in NZ for ever 🙂 Mum of two children who are also keen nature and animal lovers, I share my time between guiding with the enthusiastic team at Pohatu Penguins, helping to restore our beautiful area and family time. I am looking forward to sharing with you the great stories of Banks Peninsula...

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Sue

I trained as a tour guide in Tasmania Australia, also and island with distinctive wildlife, in 2012.
With a love of the outdoors, I developed a respect and appreciation for native wildlife. My bird knowledge expanded after extensive training in bird identification, and as many marine birds are the same between Tasmania and New Zealand, it’s wonderful to be able to use and refine this knowledge here in Canterbury and the Bank Peninsula at Flea Bay.
I’ve traveled to several English speaking counties, but New Zealand captured my interest and my heart. Now I’m surrounded by French, without the cost of an airfare !
I’m passionate about New Zealand, and have been taking people around greater Canterbury and Christchurch for the past 4 years before joining the Pohatu Team. Although I had been to Akoroa many times, I’d never explored the hidden gem over the hill at Flea Bay. It’s a truly spectacular place.
I look forward to sharing it’s charming features with you.

Pohatu penguins awards and Certifications

Department of Conservation

Pohatu penguins was one of the first operator to apply and receive a concession from the Department of Conservation allowing them to interact with wildlife.
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SMART certification

Standing for Sustainable Marine Mammal Actions in Recreation and Tourism, it is a voluntary program aiming at promoting good behaviour around marine mammals.
Find more information on http://www.doc.govt.nz/smartoperator
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Outdoors mark/Skills Active

Pohatu Penguins is safety certified through OutdoorsMark. We are Adventure Activity Safety Certified for sea-kayaking and a Premium Safety Operator for all other tours.
For more information visitwww.skillsactive.org.nz
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Qualmark award
Silver Award

A Silver Award is evidence of a sophisticated tourism business that consistently exceeds visitor expectations. Proactive leadership and management ensure that a culture of high performance is evident throughout the entire business. The business will have a real focus on continuously improving their economic, social and environmental performance to ensure the tourism product they deliver is a genuine, constantly improving sustainable experience.
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Community service award for conservation

For the protection of penguins and other biodiversity.
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Aoraki conservation award for penguin conservation

Finalist
Winner
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Balance heritage restoration award

For balancing farming with conservation.

Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence

Pohatu penguins has been awarded certificates of Excellence since 2014.

New Zealand Tourism Guide Gold Membership

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The Visitor Solutions Environmental Leadership Award

Pohatu penguins was nominated for this award in 2016 for its contribution and dedication to save the Little penguins around Banks Peninsula.
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NZI Sustainable Business Network award 2018

The Awards recognise and celebrate success in sustainability.  
In 2018 Pohatu penguins was a finalist in 2 categories:
- Restoring Nature and
- Communicating for Change
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Customer Feedback

Hear it from the people that came on the tour.

Evening penguin tour:

Much more than viewing penguins - a look at how one family can make a difference in the natural world
Personal tour of a special locations where little penguins are being protected in their natural environment. The family who started and maintain the habitat have a fascinating story of how a few people can make an impact to protect a vulnerable species. Be prepared for spectacular views while being driven along one-lane mountain roads. Rain/weather gear provided for the evening stroll to visit the penguin breeding boxes and penguins coming to shore at the end of the day. Not sure what the viewing would be in other seasons.
An Akaroa must do!
Went there with a friend and all of her family that were visiting from the US and everyone absolutely loved the experience. The place is stunning and what they have done for the penguins is very impressive. Saw lots of little blue penguins, a yellow eyed penguin and lots of farm animals. It was great to see all the conservation work they do such as trapping of invasive species, setting up nest boxes and rehabilitation of injured/sick penguins. The guide (Kevin) provided great science-based information all in a charming and educational way! Totally recommend it!
This is the second time I have been and both time's I have loved it - 100% recommend
It is incredible the work you do to help protect the penguins and increase their numbers, allowing us the privilege to view them in the wild. It is the second time I have been and look forward to visiting again when I next get back to Akaroa. I would highly recommend this experience.
 
 
   

Sea-kayaking safari:

Thank you for the amazing experience we encountered on our tour. This is definitely one of the picks for a real NZ experience. Thank you Kevin and the team for letting us partake at such a late time of year. Well worth it and comes highly recommended. Had a really amazing time with the Pohatu team! We did the sea-kayaking and could enjoy the bay, the cliffs, the penguins resting on the rocks and the seal swimming close to us!
Then we did the Evening penguin tour with a close encounter with the White flippered penguin, especially with Marco (penguin in care at the time). it was amazing to see these cute penguins so close!
I had so many questions (maybe too many) but my guide, answered everything!
Great views on Akaroa during the way, and really interesting to see the penguins coming back to the bay during the sunset!
Highlight of our cruise
Our Kayaking Safari at the Pohatu Penguin Habitat, Flea Bay was such a fantastic experience, I would recommend it to anyone visiting Akaroa. Our cruise ship arrived in port and tendered, the weather was appalling and the tenders were late arriving to shore, but Kevin was patiently waiting with a large sign at the end of the wharf. (...) Benoit took us on a wonderful scenic drive to the Habitat, stopping at viewpoints and informing us about the area. He is a really wonderful enthusiastic tour guide. We arrived at the Habitat and were given full instructions and necessary clothing and equipment for the Kayaking tour. (...) As soon as we set out in the kayaks a seal swam over for a nosy, and our tour continued for around 1.5 hours in the bay and we saw lots of seals, birds and penguins. Benoit continued to give lots of information about the habitats and was always mindful of our safety. The sea was rough out of the bay and there was some swell, and even though we were inexperienced kayakers we always felt extremely safe. We were the only people Kayaking in the bay, and it was a wonderful experience. Once back on shore we even had the privilege of seeing an adult penguin and two babies in a nesting box that Benoit showed to us. It really was a wonderful half day, and a highlight of our cruise.
 

Pohatu package:

A fantastic adventure and a perfect start if you want to explore NZ. Unbelievable beautiful views from cliffs, a great bush walk, tree ferns, waterfalls, birds, the sheep farm and on top the fantastic penguin tour, I would give a 6th stars.
The overnight stay is an incredible experience!
This is eco-tourism at its best! The overnight stay with Pohatu Penguins is totally worth experiencing and the family and staff who run this operation should be commended (and they have been, by the NZ government) for all their efforts to provide sanctuary and education about the little blue penguins that make their home on their farm. The money they raise from their tours and overnight stays are what pay for all the conservation efforts (no help from the government) and they do tremendous work.
The overnight stay includes a bit of a scenic driving tour from Akaroa to Flea’s Bay where the farm is located. We stopped a few times to take in the views of Akaroa and Banks Peninsula, the Akaroa Head scenic reserve (this involved a short walk), and to view some weta. My guide for the drive was Luke, who was very informative about the area and the conservation work that he does with Pohatu. Then he dropped me off to complete a short hike to the cabin where I would be staying. The trail is on the family’s property and includes two waterfalls. The track itself reminded me a bit of the Milford Track in terms of some of the vegetation I saw. It’s also a bit of a slippery track in some places so good hiking shoes and even trekking poles are essential. Towards the end, the track opens up into farmland and sheep graze right beside you (sort of, they’re skittish) as you make your way to your cabin. The farm also has its own little beach where I encountered a seal resting and oyster catchers creating a ruckus. I had breakfast at that little beach in the morning before kayaking (additional option to the overnight stay, dependent on weather).
In the evening, I joined the last penguin tour group that was driven in and we were given a very educational talk about the little blue penguins and the conversation efforts to help them. We viewed penguins up close from the nests that were built to protect them and we viewed them along the shoreline as they were coming in from the water. The whole thing lasted until it got too dark to see without lights.
The cabin I stayed in had electricity (I think one of them runs on solar power) and I had it all to myself. It was equipped with a stove, microwave, small fridge, and dishes. You have to bring your own meals. The shower and toilets were located a short distance away. Sheep and penguins sleep all around you outside. The surrounds were very quiet until 2am in the morning when I was awoken by loud squawking. Turns out it was the penguins nesting next to and underneath my cabin who were calling out to their mates! Once I found that out the next day, I didn’t even mind being woken up by them. How often can you say you stayed in a cabin above rare little blue penguins?
I ate breakfast on the beach (my own private beach that morning) and then we went kayaking. Ben was our guide, very cool, obviously loves his job and the area. We spotted more penguins on the rocks surrounding the bay and also some seals. No Hector’s dolphins, unfortunately. If you’ve never kayaked before, trying it here at Flea Bay is not a bad way to go, it was actually very easy and the waters do most of the work for you. My only regret is that I didn’t bring my waterproof camera so I could take some pictures while out on the water. If you don’t kayak or the weather doesn’t cooperate, then you can just relax until it’s time to head back to the main office in Akaroa.
Overall, enough good things can’t be said about the experience and if I ever make my way back to New Zealand, I would definitely book an overnight trip here again.
 

2 hour Nature tour:

Environmental Penguin Expedition
Akaroa is a wonderful place; you can have fun just walking on the wharf. If you want more than fun and really want to learn about New Zealand, and want to see penguins up close, feeding, swimming, living, go on this wonderful tour. We also saw dolphins, fed sheep, had an excellent guide passionate about her family's commitment to New Zealand land and sea. Just the drive over the top of the hills overlooking the sea, coves, and bays is worth the price of this excursion.
A very special conservancy experience!
We found this opportunity on Trip Advisor as an alternative to a big cruise-ship run shore excursion, and could not have been more pleased! We were picked up in a 4WD van by the conservancy owners' daughter and, along with about six others, drove up and over the peninsula top to Flea Bay. She was very knowledgeable and friendly. When we got to her parent's home, she called out for the sheep to come - and come they did! We fed the sheep, and then got to watch as she hand fed whole herring to the rescued baby blue and white-tipped penguins. They have about 1600 breeding pair of penguins in the area and have built hundreds of penguin nesting boxes to aid in their reestablishment. There were some molting adults in boxes to view also. She also explained the need to eradicate invasive predatory mammals such as weasels and possums and showed us traps. Also on site is part of a larger walking trail and cabins for hikers who schedule overnight accommodations.
 

Full Scenic Nature Safari:

 
We took a half day tour with Kevin as our guide. He was really fun to be around with. Always excited and bubbly! The conservation work they do is truly impressive and is a must if you are traveling there. We got really up close with the penguins which was a pleasant surprise. There was so much we learnt from him with regards to the wildlife in Akaroa as well as the rich history behind this little town. Would truly recommended this tour! thank you guys! A wonderful Eco cultural experience in Akaroa
From the careful nurturing of baby penguins, to the sweeping gorgeous scenery and the amazing fresh baked treats with tea, this was an unforgettable experience which was surmounted by the selfless and dedicated work of this environmental group. Would highly recommend this tour!

And many more on Tripadvisor: TripAdvisor