Dunedin, South Island New Zealand
05.11.2010 - 05.11.2010 5 °C
I had lost everyone I had been travelling with now! We all managed to stay a different number of nights in Queenstown, all doing different things. I was doing the tour rather slower than most, spending extra days here and there and stopping at places in between major stops. So other than Maxx, who I had only spoken to briefly on the bus to Queenstown, I knew nobody..
Luckily, I happened to join THE BEST group of people, the warmest, the funniest, you could imagine. I instantly felt at home and was very happy. Let’s see, there was Sylvia from Germany, Poul from Denmark, ‘young’ Joe young from Oz, Maxx from Taiwan, and Suze from England. Beautiful Suze bless her, I instantly loved her to pieces. When the words ‘Gordon Bennett’ left her mouth over breakfast in the hostel in Dunedin, not only did I nearly spit out my coffee but realised I had met my soulmate!
The Scottish settlement of Dunedin, on the South-East coast of the South Island, was apparently started as an area of REFUGE AWAY FROM THE DAMN ENGLISH!!! And very Scottish it is too! There is a little Scottish castle, the only one in NZ, Edinburgh-like architecture, and even a statue of Robert Burns in the centre square of the town! Sadly, this University town seemed to also have inherited the Scottish weather. We froze our asses off on that wildlife tour! I joined Poul and the two Dutch girls on what we thought would be a couple of hours penguin spotting on the coast. This actually ended up lasting a nipple-hardening 6 hours, finishing after 9pm brrrrrrrrrr and brrrrrrrrrr again! Well worth it though, it was bloody amazing.
Our guide, the penguin man, certainly knew his penguins! He was obsessed with them, every detail, he even looked a bit like them! First though to see Royal Albatross, the only colony in the world that is based on a mainland rather than an offshore island. These HUGE seabirds, with a wingspan of up to 3.3m, love to glide in strong winds. The conditions today were perfect, we nearly got blown away in the gusts. I told you, Scottish weather. Poul absolutely loved the albatross. Here started his constant ‘wow wow wow’s’ that made me giggle.
On the way to the beach for penguin spotting, we were lucky enough to see paradise shelducks with ducklings, oyster catchers, pukeko, kingfisher, SHAGS and the Australasian harrier, the native bird of prey. The beautiful penguin beach is well away from the prying public on private land protected by hundreds of sheep and a farmer yielding a gun! You have to go on the tour, or I guess befriend the scary farmer, to go and see the penguins. We were on the lookout for the world’s rarest penguin, the yellow-eyed penguin, only found in New Zealand. After a trek down the cliff to the beach, our guide pointed out various conservation efforts to help protect these penguins, including planting new vegetation, providing areas for burrowing, and easy routes from the beach to hideaways.
Just as we arrived onto the beach, i couldn’t believe my eyes but a penguin waddled right out from the sea and started walking up the beach towards us. Here we stood, perfectly still, while the little fella kept waddling closer and closer, stopping every few minutes to oil or ruffle his feathers. I just could not believe that the world’s rarest penguin was stood only a few metres from me scratching his ass! Poul was ‘wowing’ again! Wow wow wow! Then a few more penguins, including a couple of juveniles. What beautiful creatures, so funny to watch. Finally, when the penguins had waddled a safe distance from us, we went to check out some huge sealions sunbathing on the beach. Their role here seems to be to scare the hell out of the little penguins for fun!
We then climbed further up the cliff to view a yellow-eyed penguin nest. There were also some blue penguins nesting here, the ones I kayaked with in Abel tasman, but in one of the blue-eyed penguin nests the conversationalists had planted a camera. We could watch the male penguin waiting outside the nest and then watch inside the nest from a screen to see the female sat on her eggs. These penguins tend to mate with the same partner each season but sometimes choose to partner swap too, they put their car keys into a hat or something! The male is involved in rearing the chick, and we could see this little fella reaching inside the nest to give his misses a quick kiss when he thought we were not looking. As if at this point we were not freezing enough, we trekked back up the cliff and down again to the next beach to see MORE NZ fur seals! Here, they had some really cool rock pools to play in and looked like they were having fun. There was also a sheep with them, that appeared to be stranded. A token sheep! There is always a token sheep in NZ in a similar way to their always being a token monk in SE Asia on every bus, train and plane!
Next morning guess what? Up early again, yes you would have thought I would be used to this by now! If you are thinking I took this year off to sleep and be lazy think again. I have been averaging 6 hours sleep a night while I have been travelling!! Anyway, we were headed for Lake Tekapo, where I had already decided was worthy of a few days stop. Before this though, just to wake us up, get the blood pumping, a not so leisurely stroll up Baldwin Street in Dunedin, the world’s steepest residential street at a gradient of 1 in 2.86 ouch!! No wonder the annual race to the top is called the ‘Baldwin Street Gutbuster’, I certainly wouldn’t fancy having a house here! After this, a well needed breakfast at Moeraki Boulders, huge rock formations on the beach with weird spherical shapes, where Suze and I shared some Gordon Bennett ‘moments’. Even more laughter with our next stop at a kiddies playground! Yes, swings, slides and seasaws. We laughed, laughed and laughed some more like we had no other care in the world. So happy to share this with such a fantastic group of people.