1835 Wellers whaling station ssTaiaroa Head was one of New Zealand's earliest settlements. Oral tradition tells of five successively arriving peoples: Te Kahui Tipua followed by Te Rapuwai - some middens on the Peninsula have been identified with them - then Waitaha who arrived from the North Island in the 15th Century and Kati Mamoe in the late 16th Century. Kai Tahu became established in the area about a hundred years later. Pukekura pa, a fortress, was built on Taiaroa Head about 1650 by Kai Tahu. Nearby villages date from that time.
Captain James Cook's ship 'Endeavour' was off the coast in February 1770. Sealers used the Otago Harbour from about 1809, anchoring off what is now known as Weller's Rock.
In 1831 the Weller brothers established their whaling station there; it grew to be the largest in New Zealand. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed on the headland in June 1840. Scottish migrant ships arrived in 1848 then in 1862 Otago's gold rush commenced, bringing hundreds of ships. A lighthouse was built on Taiaroa Head in 1864. The Crimea War brought a perceived threat of a Russian invasion in the late 1880s,at which time the fortifications were established which were also used during the two world wars. Through the tenacity and diligence of ornithologist Dr Lance Richdale, the albatross colony became established on the headland and in 1939 it was designated a Wildlife Reserve.
The Royal Albatross
Breeding Cycle ssThe breeding birds arrive at Taiaroa Head in September. They nest during early November and within the following three weeks an egg is laid – one only per pair, each two years. The parents share incubation duty in spells of two to eight days over a period of 80 days. The chicks hatch from late January to early February. The parents take turns at guarding the chick for the first 35 days to protect it from predators. It is fed on demand for the first 20 days, later the frequency of meals decreases to three or four times a week. Meal quantity can be up to 2 kg of squid and octopus per day in winter. From early August the chick is fed less and in September, when fully fledged, the chick tests its outstretched wings and eventually takes off with the aid of a strong wind. The young albatross will spend the next three to five years at sea,nevertouching land during that time. Many then return to this unique headland to start another generation of Royals of Taiaroa. Nearly a year after their arrival at Taiaroa Head, the chicks’ parents finally leave the colony to spend a year at sea before returning to breed again.
First Visitor Centre ssIn 1967 the Otago Peninsula Trust, a charitable trust, was established for the purpose of protecting and enhancing peninsula flora and fauna. The first albatross observatory was built on the headland and a converted Otago Harbour Board cottage was used as the visitor centre.
In 1983 The Richdale Albatross Observatory was opened for albatross viewing. By 1986 a new access tunnel was built across the top of the headland from outside the colony to allow access into the underground tunnels and gun pit. Displays were set up in the underground magazine areas and the new facility opened to guided groups in 1987. In 1989 HRH Princess Anne opened the Royal Albatross Centre.
Today Pukekura Taiaroa Head is a successful Wildlife Reserve, managed by the Department of Conservation. In addition to approximately 200 albatross, it is also home to over 20 other wildlife species, including some 4,000 red-billed gulls and colonies of Spotted Shag, the rare Stewart Island Shag, Royal Spoonbills and hundreds of Southern Fur Seals.