For the half-term holiday we based ourselves in Glen Isla that borders the southern edge of the Cairngorms National Park. An ideal location for exploring the local hills, and also handy for cities such as Dundee and Aberdeen when the inevitable wet weather arrives.

Dundee has lots to offer, including the Royal Research Ship (RSS) Discovery, made famous for its Antarctic expeditions in the early 20th century and the explorers Scott and Shackleton. Amongst the many scientific achievements of the expeditions was the discovery of the first emperor penguin colony. Many sculpted penguins now adorn Dundee. The stairwell of the Discovery Point visitor centre evoked the feeling of travelling through frozen landscapes at -60 degrees Celsius. Outside, Lifelike emperor penguins brought back memories of touring New Zealand with my partner in 2010.

On our anticlockwise circuit of South Island, our first penguin opportunity came at Munro Beach. We parked deep in the forest. From here it was just a case of following the signs to the beach… penguins this way, no dogs. Two miles later, in blistering heat, we arrived at the beach. It was empty! The information board, by the beach, advised Fiordland crested penguins can be seen here for nine months of the year while they breed and moult. December was not one of those months.

It was on Stuart Island, just off the bottom of South Island, where I saw my first wild penguin. Having taken advice from the locals we went and sat on the pier late one evening. This gave a clear view back towards the land. Once dark fell, little blue penguins emerged ghost like from the water and scrambled up the rocks and mud banks to their burrows. They are back in the water by first light. At just 30 centimetres they are the world’s smallest penguin.

Our second penguin species caught us by surprise. We were driving back up the east coast and pulled into a picnic area to have lunch. Several yellow-eyed penguin (pictured), thought to be one of the world’s rarest penguins, were stood around the perimeter of the parking area. They were motionless. For a while I thought they might plastic. Perhaps with a slot in their head for a donation and a gift-aid slip. Eventually, one got an itch and let its guard down.

Like RSS Discovery, it feels like it might be time I made the long journey south again. Of course, timed to coincide with the Fiordland crested penguin. A species of bird named after its flamboyant crest, it has made its home along the remotest and most majestic coastline New Zealand has to offer.