Blue Penguins and Royal Albatrosses
Trip Start Sep 15, 2008
35Trip End Jan 20, 2009
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Setting off from Mount Cook for the Otago Peninsula we initially travelled at a fairly leisurely pace, stopping now and then to look at places en route. However by mid-afternoon it became obvious that if we were to reach our B and B accommodation in time to have a meal before going out penguin watching we needed to speed up.
One curiosity, friends and the guide books said were worth pausing for, were the Moeraki Boulders - spherical stone objects about 5 feet in diameter, with a panelled appearance a bit like a football, which began their lives around a central core of carbonate of lime crystals some 60 million years ago. They came to light when, with the erosion of the cliffs in which they had become embedded, they simply fell out on to the beach.
The boulders were a short distance along the beach from the car park and, unfortunately, when we arrived, they were surrounded by a group of Japanese tourists, who seemed determined that every member of their party should be photographed striking various poses, whilst seated on the boulders!!! Conscious that time was not on our side we simply grabbed what photo opportunities we could, like tourists who simply tick off the sights they have seen, and hurried back to the car without stopping long enough to appreciate them!!
Finally we reached Dunedin, which from the fleeting glances, as we passed through, did seem quite an attractive city, but we had no time to stay and take a closer look - penguins called!! From Dunedin we turned off and headed out on to the Otago Peninsula - another hairy car drive, along a narrow road, only just wide enough for two cars, with a sheer rock face on one side and now barrier to a precipitous drop into the sea on the other and local drivers breathing down our necks behind!!!
Thankfully we arrived at Lavender House, our "historic" (19th century) B & B at Portobello in one piece, had a quick dinner and headed out to the nature reserve at the end of the peninsula which, we had been told, was the best place to view the diminutive Blue Penguins as they came back to their burrows after a day out at sea, catching fish.
John initially devoted himself to admiringly watching the handsome Royal Albatrosses from the nearby colony in their elegant trajectories of flying and gliding. I was concerned about missing the penguins, which as it turned out, I needn't have been. Shortly after we arrived a sea lion was spotted patrolling the water in front of the beach upon which the penguins would land. We anxiously waited. We can only assume the penguins had seen their foe too, because, instead of the estimated time of arrival of 9.15 p.m. it was nearer 9.45 p.m. before first one, then two or three and then all 140+ could be seen first as little dots in the water and then with each wave another batch would tumble ashore and waddle up the beach. John remained by the fence watching them come ashore, whilst Anne opted to crouch down on the ground near to their preferred route to their burrows. As it was by now pretty dark their features were hard to distinguish, but their lolloping gait was unmistakable as they passed inches away from us, intent on rejoining their mates and offspring in the burrows. Walking back to the car we often had to pause to let one cross in front of us. It was another of many magical moments of this holiday.
It was tempting to remain on the peninsula for a second day, as we knew it still had a lot to offer us. However we'd also been told by a number of people that we really should experience the beauty of the wild and more remote section of the Southern Island known as The Catlins and so off we drove.