Nature on the Otago Peninsula

Trip Start Feb 17, 2005
Trip End Feb 27, 2006

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Thursday, December 8, 2005

The Australians really need to do something about Daylight Saving, as I woke up at clear blue skies!

I spent my last remaining dollars at the airport on sausage rolls and Werther's Originals, before my flight departed on time at 8.00am. We got great views of the coastline and Surfer's Paradise prior to crossing over the Tasman Sea, and I felt excited to be going back to the place that I have a stronger connection with.

The shuttle bus in Dunedin drove me to Hogwartz, a new hostel with a very good BBH rating. It was well deserved too, as the lady at reception was very friendly and the rooms were huge! The TV lounge was well stocked with DVDs too, and I was delighted to see a ramones documentary in there - apparently an Irish couple had left it behind a few months beforehand...shame! Yes, I certainly liked the look of this place, so I extended my booking from 2 nights to three.

While Dunedin itself has little to offer in my opinion, I was eager to do a tour of the adjoining Otago Peninsula which is famous for its wildlife. I had a star next to the Elm Wildlife Tour in my Lonely Planet, so somebody must have recommended it to me at some point! The weather, which seemed freezing compared to Brisbane, was due to clear up on the Wednesday, so I went ahead and booked the trip.

In the meantime, I spent time reading in the library and watching movies at the hostel. I met Marco and Marie-Ann, from Switzerland and Germany respectively, and we relaxed together while the rain fell outside. It was nice taking it easy again after a busy few days with Donna.

I was pleased to see fine weather when the day of my trip came around, although the tour didn't start until 3.30pm so as to coincide with the penguins coming ashore. I'd already seen all the wildlife that we were due to encounter before, but the sea lions, seals and penguins were supposedly more numerous on the peninsula...and I'll never get bored of watching them! Besides, the journey itself was worth the money as we got to see the scenery, and it was very reminiscent of the nearby Catlins area.

I got sat next to Brittany, a quiet Scottish girl who'd packed in her job to come travelling, and we talked until we reached our first stop...the albatross colony. You could pay something like $30 extra to go to a special viewing area, but I declined as it was quite windy, meaning that a lot of the albatrosses would be flying above us anyway. Sure enough, we saw quite a few swooping from left to right, gaining altitude until we got a great view of their enormous wingspans.

Apparently Taiaroa Head has the only mainland royal albatross colony in the world, and they certainly made for an impressive sight. That said, we were there for too long as we had to wait for the people who'd gone to the other viewing area. I was more interested in the penguins and sea lions...

A 40 minute drive over the top of the misty hills brought us to our destination...we were going to do a 2 hour walk to get up close and personal with the wildlife. The great thing about this tour is that they have exclusive access to a large area of farmland and a wonderful beach. Quite simply, you're not allowed to go there unless you are on the tour, so it makes for a peaceful excursion (and consequently, more wildlife).

We could see the sweeping beach below us, and so we set off walking immediately to try and warm up. Thankfully I was in a different group to the hyperactive Danish students, and it was a bonus having Brittany there too.

Just before reaching the beach, we got our first glimpse of a yellow eyed penguin - he was keeping warm in one of the hides. We soon saw another one in the lake, and another one in the grass looking out to sea. As we made our way along the beach, we saw lots more waddling to shore, and the binoculars we'd been provided with were really helpful in getting extremely close up views. We even went to a hide at the far end which had a TV screen showing CCTV footage of the newly born penguins! They were all very cute, and at times we were within a metre or two of them - it doesn't get much better than that!

What made the beach so special was that you could switch your attention from the penguins to the sea lions, as both were numerous and very active. I was really pleased to see one of the sea lions moving towards the water, as the ones I'd seen in Surat Bay had all been stationary. We later saw 3 more fighting over a different sea lion, and our guide said that this was typical behaviour. It was fascinating to watch as they were completely unaware of our presence, there was nobody else around to scare them off, and we were so close to where it was all happening.

I reluctantly left the hide when it was time to go, but we passed more penguins and sea lions on the way back to the beach's entrance. One penguin was laid down on the track, so we sneeked past him slowly so as not to frighten him. I could literally have reached out and touched him, but of course I wouldn't as he was shaking slightly, obviously aware of our presence.

A quite demanding 30 minute walk uphill followed, and we felt the full force of the wind once on top of the cliffs. We were walking towards a seal colony, where pups were being born daily. I've certainly seen my fair share of seals since arriving in New Zealand, but these pups were the smallest ones I'd encountered. It was lovely to see a mother sleeping on the rocks with her baby at the side of her, and we stayed there for about 20 minutes, again getting shelter in a hide.

More walking in scenery reminiscent of Scotland brought us back to the minibus, and it was nice to get warmed up again. The trip had definitely been worth the money I'd paid, as nothing beats watching an array of wildlife in their natural environments.
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