Construction started on Oamaru penguin tunnel

Construction started on Oamaru penguin tunnel

Oamaru is rolling out the red carpet for its population of little blue penguins.

It's actually more of a 25m tunnel and will be the country's first wildlife underpass.

As roading projects go, this one's a little different.

Construction is underway along Oamaru's waterfront on a unique underpass, aimed at creating a safe passageway for the local blue penguins.

"Yes this is a first for us, and from what I've heard, it might be a first for New Zealand. But it's certainly something we've enjoyed being a part of," says SouthRoads contract manager Jordan Renalson.

Oamaru's blue penguins head out to sea before first light, returning ashore at dusk along the same route.

"Well they're pretty set in their ways; they're pretty determined. So when they come ashore to a specific area, they'll continue to do that," says scientist Philippa Agnew.

But their nighttime movements have become increasingly difficult, as the birds negotiate the busy road beside the blue penguin colony.

"With that brings this conflict around particularly the traffic - people who are wanting to stop and see them, people who are wanting to actually leave the place, and they've all got to wait for the penguins," says Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher.

One resident even acted as a "penguin crossing guard", to try and keep the shy birds safe as visitors left the nightly viewings.

But with the penguins refusing to change their course, the centre asked for the council's help to build the wildlife underpass.

"How to get the penguins to their nests without that interference and potentially destruction from cars," says Ms Agnew.

Power, water and other services were relocated, so the tunnel could be sited along the penguins' usual route.

Local companies also donated labour and materials to the project, which should be open for Oamaru's smallest tourism stars early next month.