Watching everything but whales
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The panning was good, so much so that I think Richard and I showed early symptoms of gold fever, but Beverley and Jim removed us from danger before we became addicted. Richard did manage to find a couple of specks of gold that were duly saved in a little bottle, (see pic)
Next stop was Oamaru on the east coast. It is a small town with some interesting stone buildings (unusual in the smaller NZ towns), which were all built towards the end of the Nineteenth Century when it enjoyed an economic boom. Now there is an effort to preserve their heritage resulting in some idiosyncratic stopping places, an old bookbinders where the staff are in period costume, a radio museum in a little room housing the local radio station, staffed when we looked in by two very elderly little white haired men as near to leprechauns as I have ever seen, and a second hand bookshop where the lady proprietor wears tweeds, enters every sale in a leather bound ledger using a fountain pen from her pen and ink stand.
We went to see the Oamaru little blue penguin colony around sunset when they return to their nests on land, after spending all day since sunrise at sea, travelling anything from 30 to 50 kilometres. To protect the colony it is necessary to enter the viewing area where a stand has been erected to allow the public to view without stressing the penguins. If they are stressed an adrenaline reaction is triggered which can cause a heart attack. They are very small weighing only about 2 ½ kilos. Also, flash photography can damage their eyes so no photography at all is allowed because as it approaches sunset most cameras would use a flash. It is great that such measures are in place to ensure the survival of the colony but they have a cost. It is approximately £12.50 to visit although we benefited from the seniors' discount and paid only £10!
One day we drove out from the town into the surrounding area and just pottered around, almost at walking speed, in the car
We travelled further south to Dunedin (which is the Scottish Gaelic word for Edinburgh), and immediately regretted it. Dunedin was fine but the weather had changed with daytime temperatures of 9 to 11 degrees Celsius. It was back to thermals and socks for bed, especially as we stayed in a standard cabin there at a holiday park. In reality the cabin could easily have been mistaken for a garden shed and had the same level of insulation. However, we survived and visited the area towards Invercargill, stopping off at the largest petrified forest in the world. It seems the forest was soaked in liquid silica and frozen quickly so that the wood turned to stone
Dunedin itself had just a few jewels, the Cathedral, the Presbyterian Church, the Settlers Museum and the Victorian railway station. The station was a wonderful surprise with overly elaborate decoration everywhere that surprisingly produces a charming building.
After visiting the town centre in the morning we then went out onto the Otago Peninsular to the Royal Albatross colony where again it was expensive to view the birds but we decided it was a must. The birds are huge with a wing span up to 3 metres and they have a fascinating lifestyle. Apart from coming ashore to nest, which they do every other year when they are adults, they spend all their time alone at sea. When the young bird is fledged it takes off to sea alone and doesn't return for perhaps 3 or 4 years when it comes to find a mate (but if I remember correctly, they don't mate the first year they are together), then off they both go on their separate ways until the next year. They mate for life but only meet at breeding time every other year. Hmmmmm, no comment on the grounds that it might get me into trouble!
Then we really indulged ourselves by going to the Penguin Place next to see a colony of Yellow-eyed penguins
So we were having a great day and it did not end there. We drove around the coast road on the peninsular from bay to bay seeing the usual sea birds, then suddenly we turned into a new bay and there were about 100 black swans in the water, around the next bay I spotted a NZ kingfisher and then realised there were 3 more perched close by
I have almost finished the bird tales but have to add that the next day, after travelling to Kaikoura we saw a couple of Shining Cuckoos.
Kaikoura is the whale watching capital of NZ. It is very small but perfectly positioned between the sea and a range of snow topped mountains. After staying a couple of nights we headed back to the Interislander ferry from Picton to Wellington to make our way back to Hamilton.
So now we are preparing to fly to Brisbane, tomorrow, Saturday 12th March. We have had a great time in NZ – we love the cleanliness, (never see litter anywhere), and the pride that Kiwis take in their country and lifestyle, we soon became fans of savoury muffins (had some salmon ones at a salmon farm and they were so delicious we could have stayed there eating them for a week), we are constantly being stunned by the scenery, the walks, the wildlife, and we appreciated the efficiency and availability of good quality motels which provide kitchens in their units (studios, 1 or 2 bedrooms)
We were lucky in being able to travel so far and see so much and this was mainly as a result of Richard and Beverley's (and their friends) generosity in sharing their home, and loaning us their car. Plus it was cheaper to travel as a foursome because we could share a 2 bedroom unit and other costs. So a big thank you to everyone for their hospitality.