Hogmanay in Dunedin then up the East Coast

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
Trip End Apr 01, 2012

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Saturday, December 31, 2011

We're up early to drive to Dunedin for Hogmanay as this is the home of the Scottish settlers in New Zealand so we have high hopes for the New Year celebrations. We stay at Central Backpackers which is what it says in the name, central.  We arrive in Dunedin and are slightly surprised to feel like we have arrived in a ghost town except for the other puzzled tourists.  The other thing Dunedin is known for is being a student town and all the students are away for the holidays, we are assured by a waitress in the Irish bar that it will get busier later on, so fingers crossed!  Dunedin is a pleasant town to wander around with some big, old buildings and an interesting contemporary art museum but doesn’t resemble Edinburgh at all (we had been told it did by a Scot we met!?)

We try to go to the Speights brewery but it is closed which is a common theme here so we head back to the hostel for dinner and a few drinks and then head out to the square.  Since this afternoon, the square has transformed into a busy nightspot.  There is a stage with some local bands performing and as all the bars in the square look out towards the stage, they are full of people enjoying the show.  We have a few drinks and soak up the atmosphere and before we know it, the fireworks are going off and its officially new year for us.  UK has to wait 13 more hours though.  So when we wake up the next day, we should have called people in the UK to remind them not to drink too much as we have already gone through the waking up after a night out process and they are just on their way out.

We end the night in a Scottish bar called Albar, having sampled a couple whiskies, listened to some pipe music and chatted to some Irish people – we could have been at home!

New Years Day and we cook ourselves a fry up to fuel us for the day ahead.  I think it was probably my most active New Years Day ever.  We walk up to the Botanical Gardens in Dunedin which is a nice big park for a walk around.  We first walk past some pretty sketchy houses which we found a bit strange for New Zealand.  We later found out that part of the 'student experience’ in Dunedin is to live in a dive for a couple years. So the area makes a little more sense now

We then drive out the Otago Peninsula which is well known for its wildlife.  We first stop off at the Albatross Centre (or rather the car park of the Albatross Centre as we’re too cheap to pay to get in).  The advantage of seeing albatross is that they fly over the reserve and so you don’t really have to pay to get in!  The albatross are truly massive and glide in the winds around the cliff edges.  We also get to see up close some birds nesting in the cliff sides.  Next activity is penguin search.  We drive to Sandfly Bay for an opportunity to see them in the wild.  The walk to the beach was a little more taxing than we expected or wanted as it involved clambering over sand dunes to get to the beach.  When we get to the far side of the beach we see that a couple of yellow eyed penguins have started the long and apparently slow climb up the cliffs to their nests.  We watch for a while from a hide that has been provided so the tourists don’t scare the penguins away.  We watch for a while and a third penguin starts the climb.  It is amazing to see how well the penguins move over the rocks and uphill but they do seem to need regular breaks.  We leave the penguins to it and head back for our steep climb up the sand dunes before we can get back to the car.

Next day we continue our penguin watch by driving to Oamaru which is 100km north of Dunedin.  We stay at the Chilawhile Backpackers which prides itself on being arty – I call it old and lazy but it’s not too bad.  Oamaru itself is the most surprising town we have visited in New Zealand as its well known for penguins but nobody had mentioned the actual town to us.  It has the biggest collection of grand buildings that we have seen in New Zealand including a theatre, town hall and several grand banks.  It had its boom time in the early 1920s and made its money from processing meat.  Now there are many cafes and restaurants and a very cool art gallery in an old warehouse.  We spend the afternoon wandering around this and the rest of town before going to see the penguins in the evening.

The little blue penguins come into nest at night as the sunsets and so have paid to sit in small amphitheatre for the tourists to watch them come in and learn a little on the penguins.  They are the cutest little things as they scramble up the rock ramp from the water, pause by the rocks until they gain the courage to run (waddle) across the open land to get to their nests in a reserve area.  We watch about 140 come in for the night and I don’t think I could get bored of watching them as there is something comical and cute about them (Jonny may have got a little bored but that was more because photo-taking isn’t allowed as the flash scares them).  We learn that the birds all help each other out and will go out and guide others towards the nest area if its bad weather which makes them all the more endearing.  I finally let Jonny leave about 10pm but then we have to drive very slowly as the penguins are all coming in along the coast which is also where the road is.   We have to check below the car before driving as they often shelter there below making their way to their nests.      

Our final destination on the east coast before heading back to Christchurch is the Banks Peninsula.  We stay at Half Moon Cottage where we wish we could have stayed longer as it was perfectly set up but we only had one night before returning back to Christchurch.  The drive to Akaroa was a bit busy as it is a bank holiday and a popular destination for holiday homes being a short drive from Christchurch.  The road curves around the crater of an extinct volcano and in the crater is where Akaroa is.  Unknown to us, this is also where cruise ships dock and so we had to share the little village of Akaroa with hundreds of other tourists as well.  But we managed to have a walk around and buy some fresh fish at the docks (went for lemon sole), dropped the fish back at the hostel and walked round the corner to Barry’s Bay cheese factory.  We sampled a few different cheeses before heading back to the hostel to take advantage of having a nice kitchen to cook in.  So we didn’t see much of the Banks peninsula but it was definitely a good little spot to visit.

Next day we drop the car off in Christchurch and head to our hostel Foley Towers.  It is right on the red zone cut off and so is pretty lucky to be still in action.  We take a walk towards town to see one of Jonny’s friends where we treated to lunch and a catch up.  Then we took a walk through the botanic gardens and went to the museum on the corner of the park which is still standing.  It had a big exhibition of wearable art which showed the strangest range of costumes that would not be very comfortable to wear – interesting to find out what each costume was made from e.g. bottles, collar stiffeners for shirts etc.

Our last memory of Christchurch was being woken by an earthquake in the morning which was thankfully over pretty quickly but more pronounced than the last one we felt.  A bit concerning considering we were flying that day but there were no more shakes that day and after 3 months in New Zealand we leave to fly to Sydney.  As we are queuing to get on the plane I was looking at the giant tourism posters they have up – one of Abel Tasman Park and one of Mt Cook.  At this point I remembered how much incredible landscapes and scenery we have been lucky enough to see over the past few months and although there is always more we could see, I think we have done New Zealand pretty well and are ready for a new adventure.
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