Penguin Crossing

Trip Start Jan 15, 2011
Trip End Mar 19, 2011

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Flag of New Zealand  , Otago,
Sunday, January 23, 2011

While packing up camp we watched a bundled up baby wander around a neighboring campsite. He was sweet, curious, and often confused. We waved goodbye to him as we headed out to Oamaru. The tiny little rosy-cheeked lad returned the gestured.

It was a fairly uneventful drive. We only "visited" one place, Duntroon, simply because Katie yelled for me to stop and back up after seeing the town sign. It simply read: "Duntroon" but sitting beside it was a strange sculpture of a policeman and a little…um…woman? Girl? It was hard to say. Either way, she was being carted off to the town goal. For what reason, we do not know. It was a strange welcome from a town that could certainly use more foot traffic. Their only noticeable restaurant, The Flying Pig Café, had no customers and their “museum” was deserted but for spiders and flies. We exploited what we could and carried on.

So, yeah, you could say that our road trip between Mt. Cook and Oamaru was really rather boring. You know, aside from our car charger going up in smoke and my getting a speeding ticket…

We arrived in Oamaru safe and sound and ate “Jacket” potatoes at a café for lunch. Jacket is apparently a term for stuffed, though they hardly seemed stuffed. Submerged was more like it. Covering our starchy delights were baked beans & cheese and tuna with sweet corn. Katie the former and I the latter. Very British. I know some of you are cringing right now, but it really wasn't so bad. I quite enjoyed my meal. Then again, I've always said that I have a decidedly British palate.

A bit later we arrived at our awesome, stupendous, absolutely kick-ass hostel. The Old Bones Backpackers had a patron rating of 96% for a good reason - IT ROCKS! Not only was it immaculately clean, it was quiet, roomy, cozy, and had a brilliant view of the sea. Plus it had free wi-fi that actually worked!! Amazing!

We delighted in a hot shower and grabbed a quick nap before heading over to catch a glimpse of some yellow-eyed penguins. Standing on the cliff-side penguin lookout was free, but seeing a penguin was purely based on luck and patience. This breed are known to be skittish, so the lookout was created to keep people up on the cliff and off of the beaches. People tend to scare away the birds even if their babies are on shore.

After waiting a good half hour with the other hopeful bird watchers, we finally saw one come ashore. It was a little dot of black out on the sand, but we had our binoculars with us and could see some more distinct shapes and colorations, even at a distance. We stayed a while longer with no further activity. Soon I was ready to go but Katie said we should wait fifteen more minutes. Those minutes ticked by, and were very nearly up, when lo and behold a penguin came bounding out of the bushes from out of nowhere. It bounced into view to the left of the viewing platform. It had hopped its way up an entire cliff side! Now that’s stamina! It surprised us all, and we were happy to stay in quiet awe as it lay on the grass enjoying a well deserved rest. Needless to say, we were glad we stayed those extra fifteen minutes.

A quick jaunt home, a “dinner” of crackers and cheese (Don’t knock it. It’s quite “tasty.” Even the cheese agrees!), and we were off to our second bout of penguin viewing. This time it would be the blue penguin, the smallest penguin in the world, and it wasn’t free.

Oamaru has a blue penguin colony set up in the grassy knolls just off a rocky shore. Cliffs jut up behind it, and little holes are set up in the hills for the penguins to come home to. It is extremely quaint and adorable, like a mini Hobbiton. And when you see the rabbits come out to play…oh wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The penguins usually come home just as the sun sets. They were scheduled to arrive at 9 P.M., but like most things in nature, predictions are rarely accurate. There was one early arrival sitting on a rock when we entered the outdoor viewing area. No photography was allowed, but since he was there while the sun was still out Katie quickly grabbed a couple shots before deftly slipping the camera away. Good on ya, Katie!

So we waited. And waited. And waited. You could tell the guide running the show was feeling a bit awkward the longer his penguin guests took to arrive. He was young, a little nervous, and you could barely understand him as he spoke into his microphone. But no matter, because eventually they all came wobbling home. It was slow at first, then became more frequent. First hopping up the wet rocks, then waddling passed us, and finally pushing through the doors to their own private Shangri-La. Rabbits lived peacefully alongside them, and you could see them hopping around and eating while the penguins drifted by. Hilarious! We enjoyed the show thoroughly. However, I was infinitely more pleased when one little guy came waddling right up to the fence in front of me, took a 90 degree turn, and shuffled his way through the door at my feet. The light was dim, but I was able to stand and watch him a mere four feet away resting on the cool grass for a good ten minutes. He just stood there breathing in and out while opening and closing his eyes. I rested my chin on the fence and stared, grateful in that moment that no cameras were allowed. It gave me the opportunity to actually see him. That’s something you don’t often get to do nowadays. For those precious ten minutes I just sat and stared. I felt at peace as I watched him take a break from his long journey. The seas were rough that day so he obviously needed a breather. At some point he finally continued on his way, into his hole in the hill, never to be seen by these eyes again. Thanks for the memories, little dude.

For the first time on this trip we drove home in the dark. Since the days last so long here it was rare to stay up late enough to actually experience the night sky. We even got to see the Southern Cross. It was a good day…aside from the electrical fire and traffic citation.

UPDATE! Alice and Katie are now embarking on a Round the World trip!
Visit to follow along on their continuing

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Rachel Safer on

Glad I'm not the only one to have gotten a speeding ticket in NZ ;-)

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