Wednesday, 19th December – Dunedin

Absolutely full-on day which didn’t end until gone midnight, which is why this post is late!

Awoke to a cold, grey, very overcast morning. The temperature never got up above 12 degrees all day. Might as well be back in Blighty……

After breakfast in the hotel, a rather lonely experience, we went to the visitor centre and, after some questions were satisfactorily answered, booked on a (rather expensive) tour for the afternoon and evening, which included, inter alia, albatrosses and penguins. More later.

Popped into St. Paul’s Cathedral which was very close by just to have a peek inside. Quite plain, actually, but we caught the last five minutes of an organ recital being delivered for the benefit of passengers from a cruise ship that had arrived at Port Chalmers, just down the road. Just look at the size of that organ…..

We then sauntered back to Dunedin railway station, so that Jean could wander round an art gallery there and I could take in an exhibition of New Zealand sporting heroes. The unkind might say the latter would be a small exhibition.

I wasn’t expecting much, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Obviously the All Blacks figured large (in more senses than one), but there were many others who I’d forgotten about and was delighted to be reminded of. Bruce McLaren, John Walker, Chris Lewis (beaten, nay, thrashed, by John McEnroe in the 1983 Wimbledon final), Bob Charles (golf), Peter Snell, Ivan Mauger, Susan Devoy (squash) and many others were showcased here. Loved it. Jean was less impressed with her art exhibition, but at least that was free. Mine cost me four dollars, forsooth!

Just outside the railway station was an old locomotive in a glass room. I’m absolutely no expert, and I’ve no idea why this particular engine was even here, but the mechanics and engineering of these things I find fascinating. So – had to have a quick look. I do like whitewall tyres……

We then moved on to the Otago Early Settlers museum (free). This was actually massive and well presented, but I think we were both museumed out a bit, so didn’t perhaps give it the time it deserved. Some really nice old cars and computer kit were on show – Dunedin led the way for councils in New Zealand to use electronics as opposed to paper. Not sure how much of this qualified as early settler stuff, to be honest!

Quick visit to the Chinese garden next. This was specially created to commemorate the contribution that the Chinese made to the economy of the Dunedin region, particularly during the gold rush years of the 1860s. It’s only 10 years old and the story of its construction is interesting, but no time to go into detail here.

That was the morning taken care of.

Back to the hotel to equip ourselves with hats and gloves for the rest of the day, as it promised to be chilly.

We were collected by minibus to be taken along the Otago peninsula. Interesting ride as the driver was informative, relentlessly so at times. We then boarded a boat to take us out towards the port entrance for the purpose of spotting wildlife.

And we did. Loads of it. The main focus was the Northern Royal albatross – there is a breeding colony of these majestic birds in this area – but much else was going on besides. I’ve tried to keep the pics to a minimum.

Little Blue Penguins
Fur seals
Albatross on the wing. Lots of these master gliders around. Fantastic sight.
Two adolescent albatrosses dating

Pictures really can’t describe accurately what we were seeing. It was an amazing experience, but it was cold out there. The boat captain was also very informative and engaging.

An hour later, we were back on land and were then bussed up to the actual Royal Albatross Centre, which is where all the conservation work goes on to ensure that the albatross colony here not only survives, but thrives. Quite a bit of hanging around (with, of course, a number of retail opportunities being available), but there were some genuinely really interesting facts and exhibits about these birds.

Their life cycle is quite extraordinary – again, regrettably no time to go into it here, but suffice to say that their rate of reproduction is extremely slow, which contributes to the decline in numbers. The work they are doing here is of the very highest standard in terms of understanding and supporting the birds. Very inspirational.

As we were being taken up the hill, we saw a cruise ship – the  Celebrity Solstice – slip through the narrow entrance to this bay on its way out of the Dunedin harbour. It is very shallow in places, so it is a navigational feat of some magnitude. Quite a sight, this.

After a short film about the albatrosses, we were then led up to the actual observation platform by a young British lad called Samuel, who was really good value. Very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. And at least we were under cover.

Here again, I’m afraid, the pictures do not do this experience justice. We were extraordinarily lucky to see these birds in such numbers, who are so well adapted for gliding into the wind with minimal energy expenditure, cruise effortlessly past the windows of the hide.  Their wings are very long (span around 3 metres) and narrow. Very different from the birds of prey we are more used to, who use thermals to gain height and who have a completely different feather structure to facilitate this. Albatrosses can glide for over 500 kilometres with barely a motion of their wings, and the way they use the wind so dynamically is absolutely remarkable.

There were also three nesting birds on the hillside, plus the couple billing and cooing we’d seen earlier from the boat. The courting can take three years. I refrain from comment.

A truly amazing experience.

Back to the albatross centre, where we had fish and chips (rather mediocre, I’m afraid) as part of the package. Yet more hanging around, then at around 9.30 p.m. we were led down to another (open air) observation platform to see the blue penguins come into the beach at dusk after feeing at sea all day.

This took a while to get going, and it was cold, but really worth the wait. Sorry again about the crap pictures.

We were driven back to our hotel, a good hour’s journey, by David, a British (Surrey), ginger, bearded, French-plaited young feller. Go figure.

Got to bed at last, with the prospect of having to pack and leave earlyish from the hotel for the next stage to Lake Tekapo.

We are so near the end of this incredible journey now (sob!)

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