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Our Travels in New Zealand Part 2

Author: Mal Part (More Trip Reviews by Mal Part)
Date of Trip: March 2007

We’re back at the motel by 6pm and off for dinner – pizza for me and seared salmon for Chris. On our return I get on the phone to make a motel reservation for Dunedin, but again I’m having trouble. Since we’re well ahead of our schedule, I’m looking for 3 nights but the best I can get is 3 nights with a room change after two nights – everywhere else I ring is already full, so I take what’s offered.

Day 20 – The Road to Dunedin

It’s a long drive today – 256 miles – but we can take our time because we have our accommodation and can arrive late if we have to. So, we make several stop offs: First we stop at noon at Oamanu for breakfast, then at Shag Point because the LPG says there’s a seal and penguin colony. We’re in luck with the seals; there are dozens of them sunning themselves on the rocks by the water’s edge, but no penguins again. Probable at sea, feeding, again. Our final stop is at the Moeraki Boulders – a strange, natural feature on the coast. On an otherwise sandy beach, there is a collection of about a dozen large (10 – 20 feet wide), round boulders just back from the waterline? The area is not particularly rocky at this point, and there’s no way that they could have been washed up by the sea!!! So, how did they get here and where did they come from? Nobody seems to know for sure …..

We arrive in Dunedin at 3pm and take a walk into town. If ChCh was very English, Dunedin is very Scottish – all the streets take Celtic or Scottish names, and the whole place has a ‘granite’ feel about it. We take the city tour bus to give us a good sense of the place. And after that, we walk the streets to find a restaurant. Chris had pulled a flyer about an Indian place, but when we get there, we find it’s moved (½-mile back in the direction we’ve just walked). But, we find it, and get an excellent Indian meal – it makes a pleasant change.

Dunedin is a university city, and its buildings are all over the place, especially around the area of our motel. We learn that there are 28,000 students in the city; attracted by the universities policy of not charging fees. This not only attracts NZ students, but young people from all over Asia and beyond.

As we make our way back to our motel, we are intrigued to see dozens of students dressed in sheets (like togas) walking through the streets. We are even more mystified when we see older students driving by in cars pelting them with eggs! We have to ask the students what it’s all about, and get the explanation that it’s first year student’s “orientation week”. The university has a tradition that its new students walk the streets in togas (?) to get themselves familiar with its lay out. I don’t imagine the university sponsors the egg-throwing part of the tradition, but tradition it now is, and it happens to every new intake of students. We are mindful of this new information, and keep our distance from the groups of students scurrying along the pavements – we are trying to keep our washing down to a minimum!!!

Day 21 – Otego Peninsula

We’ve made a plan to spend the day on the Otego Peninsula, just outside Dunedin – it’s home to an albatross colony and a penguin colony, and there are plenty of walks for us as well.

When we get out on the headland we find out that there’s no public access to the birds – in both cases access is provided at a charge. Since it’s not much, we trump up for it, and we start with the Royal Northern Albatross – it’s the only breeding colony on the mainland anywhere in the world; other colonies are on deserted offshore islands around the world.

A local society hosts this small colony of breeding albatross and provides viewpoints to the public under very strict conditions. This bird has a 2-year breeding cycle; they are 1-year at sea feeding and in the second year they mate, lay eggs, tend fledglings until they can fend for themselves at sea, and then they’re off to sea themselves to start the cycle again. The colony is at the fledgling stage – one parent is at sea catching food while the other is on the nest keeping the fledgling cool. It’s a fact, albatross fledglings get over-hot in the sun and die, so their parents cover them to protect them from it during the day.

There are four Royal Northern Albatross on their nests – they are huge, and in flight have a 10-foot wind span. We’re not very close, but it’s a privilege to get this close to such a unique and rare bird. We take in the views and check out the situation with the penguins. The guy at the albatross centre rings ahead and makes a booking for at for the 3-15 tour. We fill the wait-time with a short walk and lunch, and drive off to the Penguin Watch.

The penguins have nested on private farmland, and the farmer has made a good side business (perhaps even, main business) out of running trips to the see them. That said, the farmer has made some heavy investments – access is via a series of elaborate, inter-connected, netted tunnels across the land. The tunnels give access to hides near where the penguins nest and come ashore.

The birds we hope to see are the Yellow-Eyed Penguin (YEP), an very endangered species because of their strange habit of walking inland and making their breeding burrows tens of yards from the safety of the sea. At other locations, the walk to their breeding burrows often takes them across roads (where they are run down by cars); while their inland habitat makes them and their young venerable to attack by stoats, possums and all manner of predators.

YEPs also have to come on land to moult every year. It takes about 2 – 3 weeks to shed their old feathers and reveal their new ones, and all the time they must stand preening themselves to help the process along.

Another thing that adds to their endangered status is the fact that they are loners. At sea, they swim and hunt in groups, but on land (for breeding or moulting) they go separate ways and cannot enjoy the protection of a collective defence against attack. This also makes it tricky for us because they can only be found as single individuals.

The YEP has a one-year breeding cycle; in February, the young are almost full grown and ready for the sea. It’s also the time for the annual moult.

We come across several YEPs as we scramble along the tunnels – some are young waiting for their parents to return with food, and some are really shabby looking individuals in the middle of their moult. BUT, at last, we’ve seen some real, live penguins.

After dinner and back at the motel, I turn on the TV to catch up on the football scores – we learn of the trouble at the Lille v MUFC match but, importantly, we find at that the Mighty Reds have beaten Barcelona at the Neu Camp; what a result.

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