The penguins were a highlight during a trip to Valdes Peninsula in Argentina.
The penguins were a highlight during a trip to Valdes Peninsula in Argentina. Megan Sheehan

TRAVEL: Human-like penguis are a joy to watch

WE'VE all been there; those times in life when reality doesn't quite live up to the lofty expectations you had about something.

And then there are moments when something proves to be just as good or even better than you anticipated.

The day I first came face to face with a real, live, wild penguin in Argentina recently was fortunately in the latter category.

I have had a fondness for penguins since childhood. The dapper tuxedo, the comical gait, the intelligent-looking beady eyes - they are just too easy to anthropomorphise.

I was prepared to be underwhelmed but it turned out they were an absolute joy to watch in action.

Seeing them going about their daily business was endlessly engaging; preening, doing some maintenance on the burrow, playing in the water, "talking'' to each other, stretching, snoozing, fighting, sitting on eggs or even coming over to have a curious look right back at you. And better yet, watching it all play out at only arm's length away.

It was all I could do to resist the urge to snatch one up and tuck it into my jacket to keep.

There are a lot of sites in South America where you can view different species of penguins but one of the best would have to be the Valdes Peninsular in Argentina.

The UNESCO World Heritage site offers a lot of bang for your wildlife buck with not only colonies of Magellanic penguins but whales, sea lions and elephant seals to be found in the bays and guanacos, maras and rhea in the Patagonian Steppe between them. And unlike some places, the animals didn't seem hard to actually find. The first afternoon we arrived there we stopped the car on a shelf of rock and opened the door to be greeted with numerous whales passing by right on cue.

Even some of the rocky shelves themselves turned out to be interesting, comprised of layer upon layer of fossilised shells.

Among some of the other main sites in Argentina where you stand a good chance of having a close encounter of the penguin kind are Punta Tombo, Cabo Virgenes, Monte Leon National Park and Ushuaia.



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