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

Timaru, Oamaru, Moeraki:
Christchurch to Dunedin

Friday 31st January

After an uneventful trip, the plane from Sydney landed twenty minutes ahead of schedule, closer to 11pm than midnight. Cute sniffer dogs checked us out while we collected our luggage, then we went through biosecurity. There they checked our shoes and my tent fly, but let through some dried apricots I'd forgotten to eat on the plane.

We caught a taxi to the Christchurch Central YHA. I had to hunt for change for the taxi in a nearby bar, but we were soon in bed.

Saturday 1st February

It is 360km from Christchurch to Dunedin and supposed to take 5 hours, but we had a whole day to do it so we didn't rush.

We got up around 9am, performed our ablutions, and picked up the car around 10. When Camilla discovered it was a manual, she wanted to go back and change it, but by the time we'd worked our way around the block she'd decided it was ok. (We took turns driving throughout the trip, but Camilla probably did 60% of it.) We parked on High St - Christchurch is prettty quiet on a Saturday morning - and had breakfast in the cafe attached to East's Books on High. We also checked out the Whitcoulls, where I bought the notebook in which I wrote notes for this travelogue.

the port at Timaru
We got away around 11. The Canterbury plains were notable for pine plantations, bales of hay, huge machines watering the grass, hedges and wind breaks, cows, and of course plenty of sheep. We stopped for coffee and soup in Ashburton, in a classic roadside cafe that also had a couple of Internet computers.

In Timaru we drove down to the port and went for a short walk out along a breakwater, before having lunch in the town centre, in an upmarket pub - where I browsed through the New Zealand Deer Farming Annual 2001. It was pretty sleepy. The Chapters and Verses bookshop was closed, but a Whitcoulls was open - Camilla bought a book of naughty limericks (which didn't see any use during the trip).

SLOW: Penguins Crossing
penguin sign (cropped)
We left Timaru around 3.40 and soon reached Oamaru. We browsed a nice secondhand bookshop, Slightly Foxed Books, where Cam bought a David Attenborough volume and I was tempted by a nice copy of Pember Reeves' Land of the Long White Cloud. We then went to check out the Blue Penguin colony.

There were no penguins to be seen - at this time of year they don't come ashore till around 8.30pm - just their nest boxes, a cute "Slow: Penguins Crossing" sign, and the viewing stand. On the plus side, we had the place pretty much to ourselves. We walked a little along the coastal track (closed during penguin arrival) and, while looking for early penguins, almost fell over a fur seal! There were also spotted shags roosting on the rocks just below the track, nice beds of seaweed, some attractive rock layering, and impressive pillow lava. This is well worth a visit even outside blue penguin hours.

a fur seal

spotted shags, Stictocarbo punctatus

pillow lava

yellow-eyed penguins Megadyptes antipodes
After that we went to the Yellow-Eyed Penguin colony, a short drive away. Here there were scores of cars and more than fifty people, all lined up along a walkway. We saw one penguin crossing the beach, a fair distance below, but a family nest was also visible much closer, through the trees. (I'm pleased the photo to the right worked at all - the area around the cropped portion is all leaves in bright sunlight.)

Not far from Oamaru, near Herbert, we noticed that the fuel tank was nearly empty. The tank had only been two thirds full when we picked it up, but we'd just noted that was how we had to return it and hadn't thought about the consequences... We were hoping for petrol in Palmerston, but when we got there the petrol stations had shut. Two friendly women in a fish and chip shop gave us advice, and we pressed on, with some trepidation - the gas light was now on.

Fuel notwithstanding, we made the short detour from the main road to view the boulders at Moeraki. Walking towards them along the beach they seemed so small I was wondering why anyone bothered, but up close they were rather fetching - well worth stopping for.

a boulder about to hatch

Moeraki boulders

a dead boulder

We made it into Dunedin ok, filled up from the first open petrol station, and found Elm Lodge, where I'd booked a room for two nights. We got the room with the best view, looking out over Dunedin and the water. (Dunedin is rather hilly, mind you, so good views must be pretty common.) We drove the short distance into the city centre - we started off walking, but it was cold and windy - but most places were closed or closing. We ended up eating in a Turkish kebab shop, where the posters lured us into musing about a trip to Turkey one day.

Next: Dunedin + the Otago Peninsula

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