Penguin kisses

Trip Start Sep 23, 2004
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Trip End Ongoing


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Monday, January 8, 2007

We headed into Dunedin to board the Taieri Gorge Railway, which was to take us into remote and nearly uninhabited areas of Central Otago. The old diesel train clanked and rattled its way out of the city, through pretty rolling hills. It was attractive, but not the spectacular scenery I'd been expecting, until we rounded a corner and the New Zealand landscape did one of its characteristic amazing transformations. Suddenly we were between the rocky walls of the gorge, and the river we had been following got narrower and churned beneath us. The pleasant hills and gallops had made way for something more wild and rugged. The train stopped, and we climbed out to walk over one of the viaducts, the river far below us. The train puffed towards us, and we boarded again to head deeper into the gorge. Next came the characteristic weather change; the skies brightened and flat grey gave way to remarkable long white clouds. We reached Pukerangi and then turned round to make our way back to Dunedin.
 
In the afternoon, we joined the Elm Wildlife tour out to the Otago Peninsula. It was my second time on this trip, and it proved to be as enthralling as the first. The journey through the peninsula revealed many birds, from elegant shags to comical pukeko and jewel-like kingfishers. We parked at the top of a steep hill leading down to the beaches where, hopefully, we would encounter some of New Zealand's rarer wildlife. First sighting was a one-year old Hooker's sea lion, still looking rather pup-like as he lazed on the sand. Not far away, a slightly indignant little blue penguin peered out of its hole at us, and two more sea lions collapsed on the beach, energising themselves to spar briefly before it all became too much effort and they collapsed again on the sand.
 
Farther up the beach, the yellow-eyed penguins were making their way up the hills to their nests. Two pairs of chicks, giant brown fluff-balls, waited high on the hillside. The first pair farewelled their parent as it went down to the beach to hunt; the next pair enthusiastically greeting their parent who had returned with a gullet full of fish. Dinner was withheld, however, until the chicks had got their daily exercise; they had to chase their parent up the hill before they were given their meal of regurgitated fish. Back down on the beach, a mated pair exchanged penguin kisses, preening the feathers around the other's eyes. 
 
Another stiff climb and a stiffer descent took us round to the fur seal colony. A tiny pup was suckling from its mother, others lazed about, and a large male looked at us sternly and grunted, letting us know that there would be trouble if we dared to go down the cliff and set foot on his turf.
 
Our last stop was the albatross sanctuary at Taiaroa Head. The weather was not in our favour for an albatross sighting- ironically there was not enough wind for the albatrosses to come near land. We saw a few flapping about in the distance; more entertaining were the Stewart Island shags zipping in and out of their cliff-side colony, and the spoonbill poking about in the rock pools below.  
 
After all this sightseeing, a rest day seemed in order, and we spent the next day meandering round Dunedin and sipping wine in the Octagon.
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