A South Island tourism company is celebrating four years sponsoring the revitalisation of a penguin previously thought to be on the edge of extinction.

Southern Discoveries, which leads tours around Queenstown and Milford Sound, has sponsored the Tawaki Project since 2015, when it was estimated that only nine breeding tawaki pairs remained in the entire Fiordland region.

Southern Discoveries offers a range of cruises, kayaking, and underwater observatory visits in Milford Sound.

The tawaki is one of three penguin species native to the New Zealand mainland. It is the least studied species due to breeding occurring in less accessible regions.

After an expedition of Harrison Cove, part of Milford Sound where Southern Discoveries operates kayaking tours and New Zealand's only floating underwater observatory, seventeen active nests were discovered. The location was deemed to be an active breeding spot excellent for study.

"Our Southern Discoveries team organised a recce trip to Harrison Cove for Dr Thomas Mattern, Scientific Director at the NZ Penguin Initiative and leader of the Tawaki Project, to assess the area," said Wolfgang Hainzl, manager of the Southern Discoveries Milford Sound operation. "Within an hour of searching the area, we found the nests.

"Research began at Harrison Cove and it has since concluded that the local population of tawaki in Milford Sound is estimated to be around 180 breeding pairs, twenty times more than the original estimate, which is fantastic news."

Other key findings showed that the breeding conditions are highly beneficial for the penguins, with unusually high birth survival rates compared to numerous locations around New Zealand. The ability to work at Harrison Cove has boosted public awareness through social media engagement and workers being able to directly engage with site visitors.

"We are determined to improve conservation efforts of New Zealand's enigmatic tawaki penguin through extensive studying of their ecology," said Dr Mattern.