Disappointing Dunedin but awesome Otago

Trip Start Oct 01, 2008
Trip End ??? ??, 2009

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Sunday, November 9, 2008

A weekend off and the whole of the South Island to choose from. We decided on Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula as we wanted to see the Albatross colony whose webcam we had viewed whilst back in the UK - it always seemed to show the same Albatross, which looked as though it was stuffed! We left for the 3 hour car journey in dreadful weather with driving rain, low cloud and gale force winds so didn't see much on the way. Forty four kilometers of the journey was on the (tongue definitely in cheek) Gore-Clinton Presidential Highway!  At a coffee stop in Clinton we got chatting (as we seem to do all the time in NZ) to a nice lady who was from Manchester and spends 6 months living in Dunedin close to her son who is an A&E doctor there and the other 6 months in Manchester close to her other son. She only has summers! Also drove through Milton whose welcoming sign stated 'No doctor, no hospital, one cemetery'. 

Dunedin was a bit of a disappointment. The rain and wind didn't help! Hilly with a lot of traffic (but not by UK standards) and more of a feel of a tourist town than anything. Not a lot to see there although the old railway station is worth a visit as was the Settlers Museum. The latter was really interesting although I found the layout of the history of NZ and Dunedin a little haphazardly arranged. There were some photos of possible relatives of Jones, Henderson and Boyd! We set off for our hotel which was in the middle of the Otago Peninsula, high on a hill with a dramatic drive to reach it, particularly in the rain and mist. Its called Larnach Castle and is the only castle in NZ. They have converted some of the outbuildings for accommodation, some of which are self-catering - the Stables. If you stay in the Lodge you have fantastic views over the inlet to Dunedin and can eat in the Castle, which we did. It's set up in the dining room as if it were a dinner party which all the guests around one table, lit by candlelight and with a log fire. Between courses we were entertained by someone telling the facts and myths of the castle and it's history. We ate with a retired couple from Melbourne and a honeymoon couple from Sheffield and had a very entertaining evening ending in several glasses of port and a late night.
  The next day the sun came out and we looked around the impressive gardens and the castle, small but interesting, before driving up the peninsula to join a boat tour - only 12 of us. Brilliant skipper who was the nature guide as well. On the way out we came across 3 pods of Dusky Dolphins, a trio of Sea Lions and several Fur Seals as well as the rare Stewart Island Shag and many other birds. We then went into the open sea and suddenly out of the blue came an Albatross, which really are huge and quite magnificent. After the boat trip we drove a short way to Taiaroa Point and the Royal Albatross centre where we had a guided tour of the centre including the famous disappearing gun. In thelate 19th ncentury, the NZ authorities were very worried about a Russian invasion and so built a large array of defences at the entrance of Dunedin Harbour - this disappearing gun, once fired, seemed to disappear into the ground being forced back on rails by the recoil. This made them very difficult to spot. However, none of the defences were ever used and have now been decommissioned. We saw many albatrosses coming in from the Southern Ocean - fascinating creatures. We saw Mollymawk Albatrosses and the huge Royal Northern Albtrosses which have wingspans of over 3 metres! They pair for life and once able to fly, they leave the nest and stay at sea for two years, coming back to look for a mate. If unsuccessful, they fly off until next year and it can take 5 years to find the right mate! 
From the Albatross colony we went to Penguin Place where there is a conservation project to protect and increase the numbers of the rare Yellow-eyed penguins.
They are nesting at the moment and the parents take it in turns to sit on the nest or go to sea to feed. The project puts up little nesting boxes for them, some of which are quite a way inland and all but one have nesting birds. The owner of the land has had it designated a Conservation Area and then entrance fees etc go to replanting with natural flora and maintaining the programme. They have cleverly put in camouflaged trenches to the hides so you can (with a guide) go hidden through them to view the penguins at close range.After another night in the castle we drove back in sunshine and so were able to appreciate the beautiful scenery and sheep. So all in all it was a great weekend and would recommend both Larnach Castle and the Otago Peninsula to anyone coming this way.

Trivia 3: Pinot Noir is very popular here and Central Otago is famed for its Pinot Noir wines which are said to be the best in the world and certainly the ones I have tried have been very good.  The reason for this is the latitude - about 45 deg north or south - which gives the right temperature variation and distance from prevailing winds. This is why a part of California and Burgundy in the northern hemisphere, plus Otago in the southern are good sources of this wine. Patagonia is theoretically in the same zone but is too close to the cold coastal winds to produce this wine.  

NZ Life 7 & 8: Many people have a 'bach' (pronounced 'batch') - which is a holiday home which can range from a tin shed in the middle of nowhere to something a bit more substantial. They still call swimming costumes 'togs' here - shades of Enid Blyton and The Famous Five.  Smashing, especially with lashings of Pinot!
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mertonkiwis on

Re: Memories
Thanks for your photos as well - the weather was just as good for you and the views just as spectacular. Next blog will be about Queenstown.

claireandtim on

Great photos!
I would like to know how you managed to get them arranged so well. I am working on our blog from last year and I have been having trouble getting the photos where I would like them.

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