Tuesday, 14 February 2012

New Zealand Day Nineteen – Oamaru, Moeraki, Otago Peninsula

This morning, still bleery eyed and in need of caffeine, I turned on the news.  To my shock the hotel we were due to stay in that night was on the screen, flames coming out of one of the rooms. Not quite what I was expecting to wake up to but it could have been worse – the fire could have happened one night later, while we were there.  

Marty, our tour guide, immediately phoned his office in Auckland and not long after we were on out way to Dunedin, he let us know we wouldn’t need to get out the tents as they’d found a new hotel for us.  Sigh of relief all round, even though we knew he’d been joking about the tents.
Our first stop this morning was at Waitaki, the hydro dam followed by Oamaru, a quaint town full of Georgian/Victorian buildings and reminded me a little of Leamington Spa. From there we drove along the coast to Moeraki to see the strange ball-shaped rocks on the beach and buy lunch as there wouldn’t be time to stop again before we went on the wildlife tour. 

As we drew nearer to Dunedin, the mountainous landscape changed, becoming more green , less parched and hillsides covered in trees, mostly pines and heather, colouring the horizon with shades of green and purple.  For me, it felt much more comfortable and very much like Scotland.  

We were given a lightning guided tour of central Dunedin before heading to the harbour for a wildlife adventure.  This started with a coach ride along the peninsular to the penguin place, with spectacular views over the harbour and pacific ocean. 

Unlike penguins featured in frozen planet, there aren’t hundreds of yellow-eyed penguins crowding onto the beach.  These penguins are endangered and there are fewer and fewer of them.  Their natural habitat has been destroyed to make way for sheep farming, some are eaten by sea lions and others die of starvation because of over fishing of squid, their main source of food.  One farmer however, on discovering a colony of penguins on his land, decided to do something to protect them and gifted the penguin area to the Queen Elizabeth II trust and allowed visitors to observe them.

First we went to the hospital area to see some baby penguins; It was wonderful to be so close to them.  Then we were taken to see penguins in the wild.  A couple were molting and we were able to get quite close.  It was fascinating to watch them stand so still, not even disturbed by our presence.  Part of the penguin area had tunnels dug into the ground so people could watch the penguins without them being aware of our presence. We also saw brown fur seals basking on the grass and rocks.

The final part of our afternoon was a boat trip to see albatross and more seals as well as shags and oyster catchers.  Apart from the cold and feeling slightly seasick from the pitch and roll of the boat as it sat near the rocks bird spotting, it was great to watch albatross soaring above our heads.  They glide and circle, with their incredibly long wings held perfectly still.  Lots of brown furred seals also played on the same craggy peninsula, like little children clambering on the rocks.

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