Penguins galore

Trip Start Feb 19, 2010
Trip End Mar 20, 2010

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Friday, February 26, 2010

Oamaru seems to be known for two things, penguins and ornate buildings made from the local limestone. we drove through the historic part of town straight to the blue penguin reserve. Having arrived before the penguins were due to make an appearance, Gavin decided a walk around the "park", shown as bring right next to the blue penguin colony on the Rough Guide map, was in order. Expecting a short stroll and something reasonably easy to negotiate we set off in sandals without drinks or extra sun tan lotion. Having walked back a little way along the track and finding nothing resembling a leafy park, Gavin decided the guide must be referring to the rocky hillside several metres above us. Having discovered what appeared to be a legitimate (due to the presence of "steps"), if slightly more vertical and challenging than normal, off we set (photo of our way up attached). The first signs that we were on an official walking route appeared about 20 minutes later (and 50m higher) when we came across a bench, although this was fairly shortly followed by a dead end (think barbed wire fencing and a sheer drop over the edge of a cliff)... Retracing our path slightly we found another path that lead further up the hill and eventually bought us out on a road of sorts with a couple of trees obviously marking a trail (although no indication of what trail it was or where it went). Having tried a couple of different directions and meeting barbed wire in each case, and not really being dressed or equipped for off road exploration, we decided to give up on finding the "lookout" point mentioned in the guide and to take the road back down the hill as the was little chance of us making it back down the way we had come up. It was a longer route but it did take us past a sign that let us know where we were. Turned out we were in a reserve and had come very close to reaching the lookout. On the way back down to the van we went past what was obviously the park being referred to in our guide and through a retirement home (most strangely of all this path only seemed to be signposted in the direction we were going, there is no way we would have found it in the opposite direction...). Having had our adventure for the day we purchased our tickets to see the penguins that evening and then went in search of our campsite where, having called ahead, we'd already reserved a pitch.

They'd lost us on the system but there was still room so it wasn't a problem. They also had a special bus service, the aptly named "Penguin Express", which included a tour of the town, commentary on local history and geography and a trip out to a yellow-eyed penguin colony as well as the blue, so we upgraded. It was well worth it as it meant we got a guided tour, Gavin got a break from driving and we didn't have to try to re-park the van in a tricky spot after dark. We got to see one of the rarer yellow-eyed penguins from a fair distance and about 50 blues (where pictures were not allowed), plus some very cute fur seals and a large number of cormorants. A good day all in all.
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