|March 26, 2010
We got up this morning and had a fairly lazy time getting up. We’d arranged with Alex to take him to Dunedin, too and said we’d meet at 10am. It was only an hour or so drive but there were a couple of places we wanted to stop at on the way. After a quick chat with the hostel manager, an English chap called Craig, we headed off from the hostel to a nearby beach area, called Surat Bay.
It was only about 5km from the hostel and we pulled up into the car park where there were a couple of other vehicles around. The area was quite remote but Craig told us to walk through the sand dunes to the beach and there we might find some sealions. He also said that we might find them lazing in the grassy dunes themselves given the bad, windy weather over the last couple of days.
We had not been walking for long when we saw a flipper waving around in the grass. As we walked slowly along the path we saw a lovely young female rolling around in the grass and looking directly at us. She was a little way into the grass but we had a great, clear view. A family came along behind us and we motioned for them to approach slowly. We left them to take their pictures and moved along the path. Just around the corner we saw a huge male sealion right by the pathway. He was sleeping and had loads of flies all over him. He almost looked like he was dead but still looked ferocious enough, especially as he grunted away in his sleep. We had been told to keep 20m away from active sealions and 10m away from sleeping ones. We were barely one metre away from this one and couldn’t get much further without leaving the path. Again, after a few pictures we moved on and carried on carefully through the dunes before reaching the beach.
Once on the beach I was hoping to see large groups of sealions but this was not the case. However, as we walked along the sand we did see a number of individuals, some wading around in the water, some were lazing on the beach and some strolling along. One sealion in particular was happy lazing around and Alex got quite close and I took a picture of him. We switched over and I put my camera bag down on the beach next to Alex. As I walked around the sealion she started rushing towards Alex to only stop at the last minute and approach my bag instead, giving it a quick sniff before heading off into the water. Thankfully, Alex was quick with my camera and got a really good picture of the sealion at the bag!
As the tide was coming in, we didn’t want to go too far along the beach but as we were about to turn around we noticed a female coming out of the sea and walking up the beach. I approached slowly to get a bit closer and I think Elizabeth thought it was quite funny when I backed away when she bared her teeth and headed for me! She eventually took up a spot on the beach and started covering herself with sand and rolling around. We had seen elephants doing this in Botswana, using the sand to protect themselves from getting sunburnt so I suppose the sealions were doing the same thing. It was so cool to be so close to these creatures in the wild. They were obviously used to people a little bit but you could tell by their reactions when you got too close that they still knew who ruled this roost!
Back at the car, we were all so pleased to have seen so many sealions, especially as this was an unplanned stop. We headed off back along the road, stopping once more at a place called Nugget Point for some lovely views over the coastline. Driving in yesterday in the wind and rain we’d not seen too much of the Catlins which was that great, especially compared to other sights in NZ but today more than made up for that!
The rest of the drive to Dunedin was pretty easy and the hostel is nicely situated on the edge of the town. Like the one in the Catlins, it is also an old converted hospital but it doesn’t quite have the long corridors like the previous place! The weather was pretty decent when we arrived which made a huge change from yesterday when we drove to the Catlins. We spent the afternoon sorting out some things to do around the city and I changed a couple of our flights as we had changed our mind on some things we wanted to do!
In the evening we went to the rugby at the local stadium, Carisbrook. It was a Super 14 game which is a league of teams from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Tonight’s game featured the home team Highlanders against the Lions, from Johannesburg. The Lions had lost all 6 games so far while the Highlanders had only won once – we were expecting quite a tight game. As it turned out, the Lions started really well and were soon 17-6 ahead but by halftime the Highlanders had fought back to 22-17 and not long after halftime had extended that to 39-17. It was so funny hearing all the locals still nervous about whether they would win, having obviously seen them throw away big leads before! The Lions fought back again though with two more tries and the final score was 39-29. The Highlanders didn’t play that well at all and got some lucky decisions and were grateful to their fullback for some excellent kicking. The atmosphere and crowd were very strange, too. The stadium, which is fairly old and not too impressive looking, holds 35,000 people but there were only about 15,000 there. The ticket prices were quite cheap and as a result there were hundreds of teenagers there who seemed more intent on discussing their boyfriends and saying “ohmygod” and “whatever” than watching the rugby. After about 5 minutes, Elizabeth and I decided to move and stood on the terrace where most fans were gathered. Even here there was a weird mix as many people seemed more interested in taking the piss out of students and blokes with long hair than actually watching the rugby. Given the stirring fightback by the home side, you’d have thought they’d have enjoyed watching more, but alas not. I couldn’t imagine going to a game back home where so few people seemed bothered about actually watching the game!
So, a pretty good game, good result for the home team, the weather stayed dry and reasonably warm but the crowd was strange and I won’t even mention the rancid pie and chips we had for dinner at the stadium! But yet again though, another really good day in NZ!
March 27, 2010
Our first full day in Dunedin and we started by heading to the small farmer’s market, which is only held on Saturdays. When we got outside the hostel it was really dreary and cold but thankfully, dry. This however did not last as by the time we reached the market, the heavens had opened. As we’d already made it that far, we decided to walk around the market stalls and try to get some stuff for dinner. I had really wanted to try some venison so we managed to get a couple of small venison steaks and some fresh veggies to go with it. We’d bought a nice bottle of Pinot Noir in Marlborough and I was looking forward to having both of these! We also got a few other things including a proper NZ pie. It didn’t look anything like the ones last night and we were glad to find out later it didn’t taste they same, either – it was yummy!
As the rain persisted, we headed into the railway station and sat and grabbed a nice hot drink and tried to sort out what we wanted to do. Once the rain had finally stopped we headed back to the hostel for some lunch where the pies were consumed (see above for results of tasting!). Mine was lamb and thyme and Elizabeth had spinach and feta. I’m so glad we didn’t buy more as they were so good I could’ve eaten about 4 of them!
After a quick trip to the supermarket for a few more provisions, we headed to our first fun stop – the Speight’s Brewery! Now, it must seem like we are eating and drinking our way around NZ but I promise we’re trying other stuff too! The tour around the brewery was fun and at the end we got to sample 6 of their beers. Here we were allowed to pour our own so I actually didn’t try all six, skipping the low calorie, healthy beer and only having a sip of the fruity summer ale before concentrating my efforts on their “Distinction” darker ale and consuming as much as possible before we were turfed out! The guide had told us that a number of bars in the city served “fresh” beer. This beer was delivered to them directly from the brewery in tankers and had no preservatives. These bars needed high turnover of the beer as it only lasted a few days. The bar next to the brewery had this on tap and so we headed there to try it. It was just the regular Speight’s Original Ale but you could really tell the difference between the one we tried at the brewery and this one. I have to admit, I stole a glass from here as well. It isn’t the first glass which has jumped into my bag on this trip but I guess the retribution was received when I noticed I’d picked up one with a small chip on it. I’m sure no-one will notice when it’s placed in my bar-at-home when we finally have a home to have a bar in!
After a few beers there we decided it was dinner time and so we headed back to the hostel where I served up the venison with courgette (zucchini), yellow squash, onion and pepper in a tomato sauce and boiled potatoes in Tuscan oil! It tasted pretty good with the red wine as well, even on top of all the beer we’d had!
March 28, 2010
Today Elizabeth headed off to the Otago Museum and I did a few smaller things. I started off in the Otago Settlers Museum. I hadn’t originally planned to go here but it was on my way to somewhere else and it was free. Inside, it was typical of many of the regional museums I’ve seen detailing the story of the original settlers there and then showing the story of the European arrival, this city being originally Scottish but also having German and Chinese influences. There was also a section showing funky inventions. These were part of a design competition and were some of the entries. They included “sit anywhere trousers” which were a pair of jeans with a stool sewn to the back, sandals made out of scouring pads to make cleaning the bathroom easier and an umbrella hat which had a plastic covering down to your feet to keep you dry. They were all so weird and I can easily see why they haven’t made it to bulk production yet!
Next I headed back into the train station to where the NZ Sports Hall of Fame is. I had guessed Elizabeth wouldn’t have been interested in this so it was probably a good thing to do by myself! Inside they had a large section on their national sport, rugby, including a display about the All Blacks winning the first ever Rugby World Cup in 1987, something no other All Black team has equaled yet. A lot of the sportsmen here I had never heard of but nevertheless it was great reading the stories, including that of Sir Edmund Hillary. In 2000, Americans were asked to vote for their top sporting achievements ever. Hillary’s journey to the top of Everest came 9th. I was amazed by this as I hadn’t really seen it as a sporting achievement until now but it is undoubtedly a test of skill, endurance and sheer willpower to succeed.
Finally, my whistlestop tour took me to the main art gallery in the city which was also free to visit. I didn’t really know what was here but found two really interesting photography exhibits. The first was about underground spaces, like tunnels and such like which had been man made and were now being used as different things – storage facilities, office spaces and even an underground nuclear bunker, complete with basketball court! The second of the exhibits detailed things we don’t usually see or are privy to. These were all taken around America and included the glowing water of a nuclear decontamination plant amongst other things. I love looking at these kind of exhibits and am always surprised how an idea which might seem weird and stupid at first can often yield such interesting and thought-provoking results.
Back at the hostel I met up with Elizabeth where we had lunch before hanging out for an hour or so. We were going on a tour this afternoon/evening to try and see some more of the local wildlife but this didn’t leave until 3pm.
When the tour finally departed, we headed first to the Royal Albatross Centre. We were told that as today wasn’t particularly windy and it was near the end of the season, we might not see many albatross up close. We did see one circling the building as we arrived and there were a couple of others visible out to sea but nothing easily identifiable without binoculars.
As we drove out to the main wildlife reserve, we stopped and spotted a number of other birds. These included the white-faced heron, black swan, kingfisher, mallard, pukeko, oystercatcher, Australasian harrier, little shag and red-billed gull. Pretty good for someone who isn’t particularly interested in bird-watching!
At the reserve our guide, Donna, headed off over the hill pretty quickly. Our group split into two and one group went down to the beach where we could see the sealions lying around but we had no idea where we were headed! Heading down a steep set of stairs dug into the hillside, we eventually caught sight of a couple of fur seals basking on the rock and a bit further down we were in a hide which overlooked a whole colony of them, mostly females and their pups. Some of the pups were only a couple of months old and still had their juvenile fur covering. It was so cool to see them rolling around the rocks and playing in the little pools. They were everywhere and it was hard to pull ourselves away.
We had to trek back up the hill and back past the bus before heading back down the other side to the large beach. From the top of the cliff we could see the sealions below and there seemed like a lot more than we had seen the other day at Surat Bay. However, as we headed down the hill Donna warned us that the area was also home to the very shy yellow-eyed penguins and that we should carefully follow her down the path. We could all hear the penguins calling to each other but couldn’t see them. We were right by one and eventually we could see a head through the grass. The penguin was currently moulting which means it looks pretty ragged and not very attractive. At the time when they moult, they can’t go in the water which consequently meant they also couldn’t eat. They moult for four weeks which seems like a long time without food to me! As we left the first one and headed down to the beach we saw a second across the little valley from us. This one looked a lot brighter in colour and was much less hidden. We didn’t stop there for long though as Donna saw a penguin coming up the beach and urged us to all hurry after her quickly.
She told us that the penguins hate the long grass, using it only to hide in, and that they use the path created by humans. She wanted to get us down as far as possible and off the path so that the penguin would walk right past us. It was so amazing watching this little penguin stroll up the beach before stopping right in front of us and preening and cleaning for near on ten minutes. Apparently they produce a wax-like substance from the feathers covering and surrounding their bottom and using their beak they wipe it off and spread it around the rest of their bodies. This is particularly important after they’ve finished moulting and have their new feathers which need water-proofing. It was funny watching the penguin poking around his backside before wiping his beak on his wings.
After watching him finish his display and climb under the fence into the bushes, we continued along the beach. The huge Hooker sealions here were fairly active and were fighting over who was the dominant male. We learned that due to such small numbers of females, the larger males will “dominate” the smaller ones while they wait for the real thing! Donna told us that there were only around 150 males and 20 females in New Zealand, all concentrated around here in Otaga and down in the Catlins. She also told us that the ones we had seen would most likely have all been males as the females are rarely seen. There are also five pups which they know about in the area and one of those is in the Catlins, too. We didn’t see that nor any here but seeing the males shoving each other around was really cool. Knowing the result of the domination, it felt a little voyeuristic but we didn’t see any of that going on thankfully! It was also interesting as it wasn’t necessarily the largest bull which was dominant. You could see him pushing a few smaller ones around but when one slightly smaller but much quicker started chasing, he soon backed away.
We could see quite a few penguins further along the beach with three or four on the beach and another five or six up the hillside. There was one solitary bird just standing on the sand and he was about to start moulting – he looked quite dazed and barely moved. Even the nearby sealions didn’t cause him to move. I kept looking back towards it and it was funny seeing him just standing there! Anyway, we made our way to the hide and right in front was a small pool of water with three penguins drinking from it. Donna explained it was very rare to see them in any kind of group as they are such shy, reserved animals but it looked to us like one of them was keen on another! There was various displays of wing flapping, mutual preening and a little bit of snogging but eventually one of them just walked off towards the water, the other following for a while but giving up after a while. We kept watching the other one and he went right to the water’s edge. This was really strange as they spend the night asleep on the hillside so this one going into the water wasn’t being very clever. Even later as we were going up the hill he was still at the edge but finally turned around and headed back onto the beach. And still all the while the moulting penguin hadn’t moved!
As we headed back we saw more masculine displays and fighting going on with one large male chasing another half way along the beach. By the time we’d reached the top of the hill, these two were well away from the rest of the group. Maybe they were going for some loving…
The drive out to, the time walking around and the drive back from the Otago Peninsula was really pretty and it was nice to see it during daylight hours, at dusk and sunset and finally in near darkness. The rolling hills here provide such a great backdrop and now as we enter the Southern Hemisphere’s autumn, the colours are changing too given some lovely oranges and browns to go with the wide variety of greens. We have barely a week left in NZ now and it will be a shame to leave. Even now, we are thinking about coming back next year for the rugby and, even more current, trying to fit other things into our trip this time!
March 29, 2010
Our final full day in Dunedin and we headed for more food exploration. Having sampled plenty of wine, beer and cheese on this trip we decided to try something as little healthier – chocolate! The city is home to a large Cadbury factory and we decided a tour of this wonderful facility would be a nice way to spend a morning. Not wanting to start out on the wrong foot, we lined our stomachs with a nice early breakfast of bacon sandwiches! I could tell Elizabeth was excited as she kept singing about having a golden ticket. I told her she’d have to be Grandpa Joe… (I hope you all understand what the hell I’m talking about; otherwise, see below!
The factory tour starts off with a short self-guided section showing the history of chocolate, Cadbury and the factory itself before we were met by our guide, Gary. He was a very fun character and obviously enjoyed his job a lot. Given how much he seemed to like his chocolate I’m amazed he’s not a big fat bloater but I guess if you had something available so readily you’d get bored of it a bit. I’m not sure I’d agree if I worked in a brewery, though. Anyway, we were equipped with our hair nets and readied for the safety video. I’d not shaved this morning so I had the joy of also wearing a net over my chin and mouth. I wasn’t the only one in the group who had to do the same but I am fully aware I looked stupid. I hadn’t taken my camera with us to the tour as I knew we weren’t allowed them but I got picture later so you can all see how good we looked.
So, following Gary around was a delight with his constant apologies for handing us more chocolate certainly making the tour really enjoyable (and fattening). One of the children in our tour group was amazed how much free chocolate he was getting and excitedly told his mum this was the “best day ever”! It did feel very much like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory although I’m not sure Gary would appreciate being compared to Willy Wonka. He wasn’t that eccentric! The tour itself was good too, seeing lots of items being made including chocolate buttons being churned out by the thousands from one machine and another machine filled with brightly wrapped chocolates ready for mix trays like the large boxes of Roses we used to have at Christmas. They were actually trialing a new machine in this area and it was interesting see the factory workers (Oompah Loompahs?) trying to work out what was supposed to be going where!
By the end of the tour, our little bags were full of chocolate of various types as Gary handed out loads of bars along the way as well as the odd bonus one for whatever reason he made up. Right at the end, Gary mentioned he was from London and I told him I should get an extra chocolate for being from London too! I felt a bit bad when I actually did get another bar so I gave it to the kid next to me! I had plenty and given Elizabeth isn’t a huge fan of chocolate I’ll probably eat most of hers too! At the gift shop we actually bought another bar (there was one I wanted to try that we didn’t get a freebie of!) and also a magnet. The magnet is in the shape of some squares of chocolate and actually smells of chocolate. Well, sort of.
Elizabeth stopped off to look in the art gallery on the way back and I headed straight back to the hostel. I took over 400 photos yesterday and really wanted to look through them and try to pick out some favourites and delete some of the rubbish ones. I got it down to around 250 but it still seems excessive for a tour which lasted about 5 hours and included about 2 hours of bus time! I think it is safe to say that not only do I have a terrible addiction but that our respective families are going to be bored senseless going through shot after shot of the same thing over and over. I think I’ll have to pick out some favourites and save them from the rest. Now, where do I start with over 13,000 pictures?
In the afternoon we decided our 5 days in Christchurch might be more than we needed and so we changed our plans yet again. The great thing about staying at YHAs is that you can cancel your bookings up to 6pm the day before at no charge and easily change to another hostel with almost no notice. So, after a quick call to the hire car company to extend our rental and asking reception to change our bookings we’re now heading to Mount Cook tomorrow, the tallest peak in NZ and onto a little place called Twizel the night after! We still have three nights in Christchurch which should be plenty. I’ve enjoyed driving around and seeing so many cool things that I don’t mind a bit of extra mileage to see some more. I wanted to go to Mount Cook anyway so this way we can and hopefully it will make up a bit for missing out on Milford Sound. I’m also hoping that now as we enter autumn there might be a fair bit of snow on Mount Cook and the makings of some nice photos!
For dinner we had some of our leftover veggies with a couple of pies from the supermarket. They weren't as good as the ones from the market and would've been better if the stupid old cow in the kitchen hadn't turned the oven up so the outsides were burnt while the middles were lukewarm (thank goodness for microwaves!) but they were still yummy.
And now, I think we're going to head out for some beer before our long drive tomorrow!