Oh my goodness, we’re over five weeks behind now posting stories and photos of our South Island adventures. Have we lost your interest, we wonder? I hope not as there’s so much to show and tell you. In this post, we’ll share the delights of Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula.
We left the Brighton freedom camping spot along the cliff road following a spectacular sunrise and view on Sunday 11th April. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to access the beach below and didn’t stop at the small settlement of Brighton itself. But it sure looked quaint, albeit very different to the UK version.
Completing The Southern Scenic Route
Driving to Dunedin meant we’d completed all 600kms of the Southern Scenic Route. Having never even heard of this spectacular journey until recently, we feel inordinately grateful that we’ve experienced it all. If you get a chance, reader, I’d highly recommend you do it!
I visited Dunedin previously, in July 2002, for a New Zealand College Of Midwives conference. However, it was Barry’s inaugural visit.
Dunedin Freedom Camping
We discovered a brilliant free camp spot in the Railway Station car park for Sunday night. Generally, this is overnight only, but on a Sunday, it’s free parking all day too. It sure wasn’t the most scenic or peaceful place we’ve spent a night, but it was extremely convenient.
There was even a sink, portals, and somewhere to put your rubbish. Thank you Dunedin Council!
The Railway Station is one of the many outstanding buildings in this fine city. Dating back to 1906, this magnificent Flemish Renaissance-style edifice features white Oamaru limestone facings on black basalt rock, giving it a dramatic air and its characteristic ‘Gingerbread House’ appearance. As with most sights in our blogs, Barry’s images at the end portray this magnificently.
When I was last here, fellow midwives Anna, Dawn and I travelled on the Inlander Scenic Railway. Sadly, this only runs in the summer months nowadays and finished on the 31st March. We missed it by a couple of weeks.
Barry took far more photos than I did of the buildings in Dunedin. I did, however, take one of the First Church of Otago. 1848 marked the beginning of Dunedin as a Free Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) settlement. The early settlers formed this with The Reverend Thomas Burns as their Minister. We were fortunate to enjoy a blue sky day, albeit rather chilly. There was a service at the time we visited, meaning we couldn’t access the interior.
Shops And Friends
We walked up and down the High Street, rather astounded by the obscene amount of clothes shops. It’s a while since such tall buildings and wanton materialism have surrounded us. It felt quite uncomfortable. I guess for most people, such experiences are normal – though not in places where they’re just coming out of COVID lockdown and look forward to shopping expeditions!
We looked around the Information Centre and booked tickets to see albatrosses and penguins the following day on the Otago Peninsula. I love Dunedin’s positive marketing posters! I’m not sure it’s like Bali, but …
We’d arranged to catch up with the son of friend’s of ours, and his partner, at the Octagon in the city centre. Nearby was the Regent Theatre, where I’d seen my first live ballet performance in 2002. Swan Lake with the Royal New Zealand Ballet. It was amazing.
The Otago Peninsula
On Monday 12th April, we drove along the Otago Penninsula. It’s a spectacular drive, along the coast or inland.
The last time I was here, I relished being inside Lanarch Castle for a cèilidh organised by the NZCOM. This time we didn’t visit as the cost was too much for us at £35 each. We’ve seen plenty of real castles in the UK. I do recall this one being splendid inside.
We had paid to see the Royal Albatross colony and little blue penguins. It’s really not possible to see and do everything on our tight budget!
The Royal Albatross Centre is priceless. Admittedly some people criticise the cost and the fact that you can’t get close to these creatures. But I feel it was well worthwhile. The money goes towards the upkeep of the colony, and the viewing place is wonderfully set up. Everyone gets a pair of binoculars to look through and see these birds. In April, there were many chicks, three months old, being fed by one or both parents throughout the day.
If you’ve not seen it, there was a hilarious live stream of one of these adults landing to feed its chicks on YouTube. It went viral. They’re far more used to flying or bobbing around on the sea, than being on land …
We saw lots of adults flying around, landing without tumbling (by then, they’d had more practice!), and feeding their young. We also saw what seemed to be three courting teenagers. Barry caught some cool shots of those.
Albatrosses mate for life – though it can take them a few years to decide who their mate will be. Then they may not see them for a year or more! Each chick is named and tagged by the DOC rangers. Generally, they’re named after the colours of their tag. So YBG would be yellow-blue-green. Each year Royal Cam has a 24-hour live stream of an albatross nest during the breeding season. One chick is picked for the webcam to watch it grow. This season it’s viewing LGK, LGL and their female chick, Tiaki, who hatched on 24 January 2021.
Lance Richdale is the reason there’s a protected albatross colony here that the public can view. He spent many years in his 30s camped out intermittently to protect their nests. He protected the yellow-eyed penguins too. Thank goodness for people like him, I say …
Grandma was a famous albatross who even had her own TV series. She had her last chick aged 60! Sadly one day she failed to return, never to be seen again.
These amazing birds have a three-metre wingspan, which needs to be seen to be believed.
We didn’t see yellow-eyed penguins on this trip, as Penguin Place would’ve been another expense. I’ve heard it’s amazing, but I discovered a free spot that I had all to myself a few days later …
However, we did see other penguins. The world’s smallest ones.
Rafts Of Little Blue Penguins
We booked a package to see Little Blue Penguins as well as albatrosses. They were as cute as buttons! Happily, these aren’t endangered. We all had a pep talk beforehand about the history of the area, the sacredness of it, and the importance of being quiet 🤫
The penguins arrive in rafts; groups gather close to the shore in a safety-in-numbers collective. They generally stay in the same groups. You’ll hear in the video below how childishly excited I was to watch this spectacle. How fortunate we were:
What do you think they were saying to each other? “How was your day?“, “I’m looking forward to getting home and into bed!“, “Anything scary around? Is it safe?” Who knows. But there was certainly plenty of sharing going on as they scuttled up the beach, over the rocks and up the dunes.
Pilot’s Beach at Pukekura is a short walk from the Albatross colony, where there’s a dedicated viewing platform and lights. It’s a heartwarming experience to watch these creatures coming home from their day’s fishing.
Overall during the evening, we watched 70 returning altogether over an hour. Most scurried up the cliff face back to their wooden burrows, making quite a noise. A few dawdled for ages nearby, chatting away to each other. Not that I counted! But the DOC ranger did, with her clicker. It was an incredible experience to watch. They didn’t seem in the least bothered by us or the lights that allowed us to gaze in awe.
Barry has some brilliant shots of these little cuties in his slideshow below.
Free Camping On The Peninsula
It was late when we parked up at a great free campground at Harwood. We’d checked it out earlier to make sure we knew where to go, and that there was an Internet signal as I had a work call scheduled. There’s nothing like spinning plates aye, weaving work in around adventures.
The following morning we stopped at a nearby Lilliput library to deposit a few books we’d read and see what was on offer. These quaint boxes are found at the side of the road in various locations around New Zealand. Do they do anything similar anywhere in the UK, I wonder? It’s basically a free book share – you can put finished books in and take one out. Or take one, or two, or whatever.
Whilst there, we met a delightful woman called Joy Atkins. Not the one with the same name we know in the UK. This one has lived here all her life. She told us her children think she ‘should’ move to the city. She differs. An amazing woman, now 87 years of age, it was a pleasure to converse with her. Like Noel Palmer, who we met in Westport, she keeps herself young by looking after the roadside libraries. I put in the book I’d bought from the NZMCA Music in The Mountains bookstall ‘Letters to a lost daughter‘ and replaced it with ‘How Elizabeth Browning Saved My Life‘.
A Royal Spoonbill At Last!
On the drive back to Dunedin, I spotted a Royal Spoonbill. It’s one of six spoonbill species worldwide and the only one that breeds in New Zealand. This large white waterbird was first recorded in New Zealand at Castlepoint in 1861. Hoorah, we’d been searching for one for a while. What an outstanding bird. It’s unbelievable how long and spoon-shaped (no surprise!)its beak is. We parked up and watched it shuffling, shovelling and shitting along the estuary!
There was also a pretty white-faced heron nearby.
Barry got some brilliant shots of the spoonbill, far better than anything I could even imagine.
Barry’s Super Slideshow
I hope you’re still reading as there are some amazing shots below of Brighton Beach, Dunedin, the Royal Albatrosses, Little Blue Penguins and the one-and-only Royal Spoonbill.