Sheep, Albatross, and Penguins
Trip Start Jan 13, 2010
26Trip End Mar 10, 2010
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Where I stayed
The Homestead/Te Kaika
We had decided, if the weather was good, to take a detour to Invercargill on our way to Dunedin. It was fine, so we did. No sooner had we taken the road to Invercargill than it began to cloud up and the temperature to fall! By the time we reached the south coast the fog was rolling in off the sea and it was quite chilly.
The bad news about Invercargill was that it looked quite dreary, the good news is that there will be no commercial real estate collapse. There did not appear to be any new buildings downtown since the 1930s. We went in the big department store, it looked frozen in time from the 1950s but the items on sale were modern and some quite stylish.
Our lunch destination had unfortunately gone out of business. We went into a hotel to confirm this and ask for an alternative suggestion
As we turned north to Dunedin the skies began to clear and warm up. We drove through sheep country, which looked just like some parts of England, all the way to Dunedin. We were intrigued by signs for the motorway, as there is next to none here, and there it was - all 2 miles of it!
Our destination was a farm stay on the Otago peninsula just outside Dunedin. The very narrow road from Dunedin twisted and turned along the coast with magnificent vistas opening up before us at every turn. Our accommodation was a spacious two bed-roomed house, complete with kitchen and washing machine, converted from a woolshed! The views over the bay from our living room window were stunning.
The owners of the farm on which we stayed were Maori, or, as with many New Zealanders, part Maori. They had been raised speaking Maori and talked to their children in Maori. Both they and their two children were perfectly bilingual. The father, it transpired had worked with indigenous peoples in Canada.
The Otago peninsula is a delight! Its twisting coastal roads and steep narrow interior roads open up new vistas with every turn
Albatrosses nest within a protected reserve at the head of the peninsula. There are cliffs there which enable the birds to take off when there is sufficient wind. They are such large birds that they find it very difficult to take off without some assistance. Their wingspan is around 10 feet, (3 m), and they weigh around 12 pounds (5kg). They may spend as much as 5 years at sea, never touching land. Indeed, when they do come back to land they sometimes can’t walk because they have forgotten how to use their legs. They leave “home” as chicks by practicing flapping their wings and then waiting for a gust of wind to literally blow them off the cliff. They sleep on the ocean’s surface during the 5 years they are maturing.
As the reserve charges a sum we were not prepared to pay, we contented ourselves with looking for albatross outside the reserve. We were rewarded with the sight you can see in the accompanying photo.
In order to see the blue penguin it is necessary to go at dusk to the beach where they arrive
Suddenly in the bay a large dark shadow could be seen moving swiftly over the water towards us. Our volunteer guide explained that this was a ‘raft’ of penguins, 15 to 20 in number, they travel in numbers for safety. The blue penguin is the smallest of the penguins, about 12 inches high. It became increasingly more difficult to see them as the night grew darker. They assembled on the beach before tackling the tussock grass where we were assembled. They had to cross that to reach the nests. No lights were allowed for fear of frightening the penguins away.
Joan was delighted as one penguins nearly walked over her foot. Unfortunately, it was so dark by then that we could not take any photos but we could see them by the light of the infra red torch/flashlight that the guide was carrrying.
Several more rafts arrived as well as individual penguins. There are about 100 mating pairs at this site. It was now so dark we could not see anything - we left.
After a sumptuous BBQ, (prepared and cooked by John!) we retired to bed
The following day was scheduled for Dunedin exploring. We took the 1 hour sightseeing bus and here’s where the old saying ‘the best laid plans of mice and men aft gang awa’ comes in to play. The bus broke down at a scenic overview and we had to wait 40 minutes for a replacement bus which wasn’t. All it could do was take us back to town where we all lined up for a refund.
Having lost the morning, we headed to Larnach Castle on the peninsula. This ‘castle’, in reality a small mansion, was built by an Australian businessman/politician rogue in the 19th century. He shot himself in Parliament in Auckland after he was ruined by a recession. The house has been restored, as have the gardens which are now one of the most magnificent gardens in New Zealand. The site, at the highest point on the peninsula, is also blessed with vistas out over the bay in several directions.
I should note that everything appears to grow without difficulty in NZ. Gardens overflow with flowers and shrubs. Even roadside curbs have masses of agapanthus or, in some areas, lupins..
Having strolled through and admired the gardens, we took coffee and scones with cream in the garden
We also visited the poorly named Sandfly Bay. This is on the southern side of the peninsula which is undeveloped, presumably because it is exposed to the cold southerly winds which blow almost constantly. Large sand dunes sweep down to the sea from the ridge of the peninsula, and beautiful deserted sand beaches stretch in both directions. Yellow eyed penguins nest in these dunes but we did not see them.
The Otago Peninsula is splendid!