A university student from Rotorua has returned from a volunteering trip of a lifetime full of passion to continue helping marine birds in the future.

Rotorua's Kymbali Dender travelled to Port Elizabeth, South Africa recently, where she volunteered in the Penguin and Marine Bird Project at SANCCOB Port Elizabeth, run through Khaya Projects.

She applied for the project because she was interested in doing a volunteer programme and decided this was the one for her because she loves penguins.

Kymbali helped with rescuing, cleaning up the birds, treatment and taking care of them.

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While in South Africa, Kymbali worked during the week at SANCCOB's rehabilitation centre which had penguins and cape gannets.

Kymbali says it is like a hospital, and has an ICU area, a rehabilitation area where the birds get stronger and a homestead where the birds live until they can be released into the wild.

She says some of the marine birds which came in needed medication and surgery.

They had half-days on Fridays and the weekends off so they could explore and sight-see in South Africa, she says.

Penguins in the rehab stage of their recovery which are building up their swimming strength. Photo / Supplied
Penguins in the rehab stage of their recovery which are building up their swimming strength. Photo / Supplied

"The highlight would definitely be working with the penguins - getting to hold them, feed them, make them better and release them, and see how far they have come."

Kymbali says she stayed at a house with many other volunteers from around the world, there volunteering for other projects.

The most volunteers staying at the house at one time was 30.

She says they would go on trips in the weekends, including visiting Hogsback, a village in the Amathole Mountains, and abseiling down waterfalls.

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The most challenging thing was getting used to living in a house with that many people, and with not everyone speaking a lot of English, she says.

"I would love to do the trip again and definitely recommend it to other people."

Kymbali is currently a first-year student at Victoria University in Wellington, studying marine biology.

She says this experience working with marine birds in South Africa has cemented her interest and passion in working closely with marine life after study.

Kymbali says the trip has definitely made her want to work with and help penguins in the future, rather than just studying them.

She will be heading back to Wellington to continue her studies soon.

Kymbali Dender tube feeding a penguin Darrows, which is like an energy drink to help build their strength up after an injury. Photo / Supplied
Kymbali Dender tube feeding a penguin Darrows, which is like an energy drink to help build their strength up after an injury. Photo / Supplied