Danny Yee >> Bushwalking & Travel >> Otago, Southland, Fiordland (New Zealand)

Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula

Sunday 2nd February

the view out the hostel window

a truck crossing the Octagon
The wildlife tour we were going on didn't start till after 3pm, so we had some time to look around Dunedin. First we bought stuff for Stewart Island: food (muesli, ryvita, salami, cheese, packet pasta, etc), a gas canister for my stove, and a topo map.

Camilla was feeling a bit sick, but we had breakfast in the Octagon (Dunedin's central "square") while I tried to explain biological systematics... and she got better. There must have been some kind of festival on, as more than a hundred large trucks proceeded down the main street, one after the other - at first we thought it might be a demonstration or protest of some kind, but it was too obviously festive.

In the Dunedin Art Gallery we visited an exhibition Parihaka: the Art of Passive Resistance, about a pacifist Maori community in Taranaki that was attacked in 1881. Related to that was an exhibition on Maori political prisoners taken from Taranaki to Otago. We took a brief look at the cathedral, where there was a flower show on. Then we drove out to look at "the world's steepest street" - this was fun, but not worth going out of your way for if you don't have a car handy.

We took a brief look at the natural history exhibits in the Otago Museum. [Note: pretty much all the art galleries and museums in New Zealand were free, asking only for a donation.] Across the road from that is the excellent University Bookshop, where I bought a copy of Wild Fiordland and Camilla didn't buy a $350 tome on wetas and king crickets.

We went back to the hostel, washed, and set off with the tour. There were nine of us in a minibus with one guide/driver. First we drove along an estuary, looking at wading birds - variable oystercatchers, a spoonbill, stilts, herons, ducks, swans, and more. Then we made a brief stop at Portobello for toilets, coffee, and snacks, before heading out to the Albatross Centre at Tairoa Head, right at the end of the peninsula.

an albatross circling
We stood outside watching the albatross soaring overhead in circles - apparently juveniles learning how to fly (and land). They came quite close, but were pretty much impossible to photograph, especially with digital camera shutter lag. It was overcast and windy, but we warmed up inside the centre, which had good exhibits on the albatross and other birds.

After a look along the cliffs, where there were dramatic views and roosting shags, we descended to the next-door blue penguin colony. Some were there in their burrows, but so deep we couldn't see more than a hint of a white blob.

fur seals
The final destination was a private viewing facility maintained by Elm Wildlife Tours. On the way there, in the distance, on Victory Beach, we could see sea lions. First we went to the fur seal viewing point, where there were scores of seals, some sleeping, others playing with one another in the pools. Not far from there is a beach where yellow penguins come ashore and nest. We watched a few waddling and hopping from the beach inland - taking care to avoid an injured sea lion, which didn't move (and whom we kept well away from too), but ignoring (and being ignored by) the sheep. Then we sat in carefully prepared hides watching a steady procession of penguins moving inland, up the hill. Just too far for good photographs, unfortunately, but pretty dramatic through binoculars (the guide suggested trying to take photos through them, but I didn't have any luck doing that). It was drizzling a little.

fur seals here, fur seals there, fur seals fur seals everywhere (cropped)

a penguin climbs off the beach, ignoring the sheep

Yellow-eyed penguins on the beach

We got back to Dunedin in the dark, around 10pm. So it was Chinese for dinner, since that was still open.

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