About a year into our Southeast Asia adventure, Kyle and I did a trip inventory and decided that our favorite trips were the ones that involved lots of nature, animals, and outdoor spaces. Not that we don't enjoy a good city tour (I do love Hong Kong!), but we live in a pretty packed city and so getting out is always welcome.
Of course that meant New Zealand was right up our alley. There are only a million people in all of the South Island (344,000 of which live in Christchurch, remember?). For comparison, if the island was populated at Singapore's population density, there would be over one BILLION people living there. So yes, we were amazed at the wide open spaces. Plus, in New Zealand you can see penguins [not in a zoo]!
After leaving the Alps, we headed into the Otago region. We stopped at the Moeraki Boulders, a collection of spherical boulders washed out of the sandstone shore.
They're pretty cool looking. There are other such boulders elsewhere in New Zealand. They're basically spherical rock deposits that are exposed as the ocean washes away the weaker rock around them.
But moving on... we arrived in Dunedin that evening, a cute town with a "town octagon" rather than town square and had a yummy dinner at a pub on the octagon. I had risotto-stuffed pepper and Kyle had tuna and his second Montieth's, a local (but not really craft) beer. Then we headed to our real destination: the Otago peninsula. The peninsula juts out into the South Pacific on the east of the South Island. Portobello road winds (really winds!) along the coast on the Otago Harbor side to the tip: Taiaroa Head.
The peninsula is home to great wildlife. It's the only mainland breeding colony of Northern Royal Albatross, a seabird with a wingspan of over nine feet. The coast is full of nesting sites for the blue penguin (the smallest species of penguin, only about a foot tall), and the much more rare yellow eyed penguin. There are also sea lions, fur seals, and other birds.
But before the animals, we wanted luggage. We stayed at a homestay in a precious and homey cottage with resident sheep (there was petting, but not photographing, apparently), gorgeous flowers, and a view of the harbor. By this point, we were hating our one-night-one-spot itinerary because our housing had been so welcoming. All the more this time because we arrived to our suitcases, delivered by Qantas right on time. Hooray!
But we couldn't rest too long, because we wanted to catch some wildlife. We headed to Taiaro Head to see the albatross, but were a bit late in the day. We saw one huge bird swooping in the wind, but the rest must have gone home for the night.
Then it was just time to wait for the little blue penguins to come home from their fishing expeditions. Blue penguins come in together in groups called "rafts" and land on the beach and then waddle up to their nests dug out in the dunes. They're good at running rabbits out of their burrows, so lots of penguin nests are former rabbit houses.
After staying tucked well back into the burrow all day, the penguin chicks are ready for their parents to come home with dinner and you can hear them cheeping as the rafts of adult penguins land and the parents make their way home.
The problem is that all of this happens well after sunset. Which, of course, means 10:30 pm or later. The blue penguin viewing beach is right beside the albatross center, so we watched several rafts land and then stood very quietly and still as the penguins toddled toward their homes. But it was so dark by then that taking pictures was absolutely out of the question.
Thankfully there were some seals posing and preening on the rocks as the sun set to serve as a pre-show.
After an hour or so of watching the penguins (they are very small; they don't move that fast) we were chilled through by the wind so we headed back to our cozy cottage to rejoice in our suitcases of clean clothes and our own shower supplies.
Tuesday morning after enjoying a cup of tea and the amazing view, we headed to see the yellow-eyed penguins, one of the rarest species in the world. There is a private penguin reserve on the South side of the peninsula and we joined the first tour of the morning.
The preserve is incredibly well-designed with a series of sunken tracks and hides to observe the penguins without disturbing them at all.
We got to get up close and personal with some of the babies, who were hanging out for the day while their parents were off fishing.
They were about full size and were already beginning to lose their fluffy down and show their sleek diving feathers beneath. They won't have the trademark yellow band around their heads until they are fully mature though.
On the other side of the hide, a sibling pair hung out in their shelter until an adult popped up from the grass beyond. Our guide said occasionally an adult would stay home for the day, but would usually hide from the babies since they would immediately start clamoring for food.
Sure enough, as soon as the young ones saw their parent (it's pretty much impossible to tell males/females apart until someone lays an egg), the adult fled to the safety of the pond.
The young ones don't know they can swim yet, so they just stood on the shore and stared. One made it into the water and out again, but then didn't seem to know exactly what had happened and didn't try a second time.
After enjoying the penguin antics, we walked to the edge of the property to soak in some of the most amazing coastal scenery I've ever seen.
Have we mentioned that this country is beautiful?