Sunday, December 29, 2013

Stewart Island

It was the day after Boxing Day in Dunedin, and it was raining. We set off early, as we had to get ourselves down to Bluff, south of Invercargill, in time to catch a ferry to Stewart Island at 11:00. Stewart Island is the third, and smallest, of New Zealand's three main islands (the "triple star" of the national anthem). It has one town of 420 people, Oban. Most of the island is made up of the Rakiura National Park, which is popular with trampers.

The crossing was a bit choppy as there was an unseasonal easterly wind blowing through the Foveaux Strait. We saw several albatross on the way as well as various petrels and shearwaters. The ferry crossing takes about an hour, and I was feeling a bit queasy by the time we made it into Halfmoon Bay. I soon recovered though, and we popped into New Zealand's most southerly pub, the South Sea Hotel, for a bite of lunch.

After that we went on a tour of the island by minibus, which we'd booked earlier. As it turned out, we were the only people to have booked this, so we had a personal guided tour from Kylie, a resident of the island. She gave us a lot of information, some of which was not standard text-book stuff - like how to age a rimu without drilling into it (arms are involved); and some insights into water management (make do with what falls out of the sky, because there is no other source), and the economics of island life.

After another stomach-churning voyage back to Bluff, we made it to Invercargill in late afternoon, in warm, glorious sunshine! You know, that stuff that summers are supposed to contain! In typical fashion, tomorrow will be warm and glorious, but we're flying back up to the rainy North Island for more, er, rain. But not before we drive the scenic route back to Dunedin in hopefully good weather.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Otago Peninsula

Boxing day guessed it, wet and rainy. First stop was a whistlestop tour of the Otago Museum (which is different to the Otago Settlers Museum), which contains scale models of many of the ships which were an important part of the development of the city of Dunedin, as well as the skeleton of a not-quite-full-grown fin whale.

Then we drove out to the Otago Peninsular once again, this time to visit the Royal Albatross Centre. We'd booked a tour at 12:00, which consisted of a bit of talk from the guide to begin with, answering such important questions as "are the albatrosses royal, or is the centre royal?" to which the answer is "the albatrosses, duh!" The centre is there because Southern Royal Albatrosses (see?) have their only mainland nesting colony there. We then watched a short film about albatrosses and other animals before trooping up to the viewing centre. The area where the albatrosses nest is fenced off from the public, and from ground predators. It's currently the nesting season, so one of the pair sits on the nest whilst the other goes off to sea to feed...for up to 10 days at a time. When he or she comes back, they change position, and the starving one disappears off for an extended squid binge.

We were fortunate to also see two albatrosses circling, either attempting to land to swap over, or, more likely, younger birds showing off to try to attract a mate.

After a quick lunch at the centre's cafe, we then drove down to Weller's Rock to take a marine tour with Monarch on the MV Monarch. We had barely left the mooring when we saw a little blue penguin, New Zealand's, and indeed the world's, smallest penguin:

We then headed round the rocks to see New Zealand fur seals lounging on the rocks, a white-fronted tern, and loads of albatrosses of various kinds (there are 11 different species which hunt around here, but only the Southern royal albatrosses breed here).

We also saw spoonbills, godwits, stilts and oystercatchers but at distances too great to photograph successfully. We didn't see any whales or dolphins, but these are less common round here.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Larnach Castle

Christmas day dawned wet and cloudy. After breakfast we drove out to Otago Peninsula, to investigate the wildlife and go to New Zealand's only castle, Larnach Castle. The wildlife was staying resolutely away, so we resolved to go on a boat tour tomorrow instead, and headed to the castle. The rain was lessening by then, which was helpful.

Larnach Castle was built by William Larnach between 1871 and 1876. After much changing of hands in the 20th century, and having fallen into disrepair, it was bought by the current owners in 1967. It has been restored to its former glory by purchasing appropriate, and in some cases the original, furniture, for the public rooms.

We toured the castle from the bottom up, including the turret at the top, where you can see out to the Otago peninsula and beyond. Attached to the castle at the side is a ballroom built as an addition to the castle by William Larnach as a gift for his daughter's 21st birthday. Unfortunately we hadn't brought our dancing shoes, so were unable to take a turn around the dance floor. This was probably just as well, as most of it was taken up by tables for the cafe.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


We set off from Wellington airport for for the southern sun in Dunedin. Wellington airport have recently added to their Gollum sculpture with two giant eagles in the departure lounge:

When we arrived in Dunedin it was chilly and windy. We'd had a bit of a mishap on the car hire front, so spent the next half hour finding a new car, before setting off into the unknown of Dunedin, navigating by nothing more than a vague idea of where we were going, and street signs. Amazingly, we found our destination with very little trouble, settled ourselves in and went out for dinner at our pre-booked choice of restaurant, No. 7 Balmac.

After consulting the map provided at Reception, we decided to walk to the restaurant. Unfortunately, the map seriously foreshortened distances outside the central area, so we ended up walking for about half an hour before we reached it. When we got there, however, all was well, and we had a good dinner there before ordering a taxi to take us home.

The next morning dawned wet and miserable, as predicted by the weather forecasters. The whole of Christmas is being dominated by a low from across the Tasman, and it doesn't look like anywhere is going to enjoy good weather for the next few days. Undeterred, we nipped out for breakfast at the Everyday Gourmet, before heading into the centre of town to the i-site, and there booked ourselves onto the Taieri Gorge railway for the afternoon excursion. We then had a few hours to kill before leaving at 2:30, so we headed into the Otago Settler's Museum, which tells the history of the area. Originally a whaling and sealing town, known derogatorily as Mud-edin, it was transformed by the Central Otago gold rush of 1861, when it became New Zealand's largest city (it's now 5th largest, having recently been overtaken by Hamilton). Amongst many exhibits of New Zealand life, it included a roomful of pictures of old, dead people:

After a spot of lunch at Velvet Burger, we headed to Dunedin station to get on the train. Dunedin station is well-known (in New Zealand) for its architecture.

We boarded the Taieri Gorge train, and headed off uphill through the suburbs of Dunedin before reaching the part of the railway which is privately-owned, which goes up from Wingatui to Pukerangi; stopping along the way to allow us to take pictures of the picturesqueness of the Taieri Gorge. The railway goes over some spectacular viaducts:

Along the way we were provided with commentary about what we were seeing, and general hints and tips like "don't lean outside the viewing platforms when going through tunnels, as the walls are only a couple of inches wider than the trains".

The views on the way are more interesting than what's at the end of the line, so we took some more pictures on the way back down.

It was all very spectacular and full of geology and stuff. You can see more of this on Facebook when I get back to Wellington.

We got back at around 6:30, and then went out to Carey's Bay, to the Carey's Bay Historic Hotel for dinner. This has a reputation as being a great place for seafood, so we ordered...seafood. The view was less than spectacular, as it consisted of the container port opposite - this is strangely absent from their website. The food was good, though. We had a seafood platter, poisson cru, teriyaki gurnard and Thai red curry fish.

On the way back, the skies opened again, and there was a terrific downpour...although the sun was also shining, and a rainbow showing, whilst there was also a rumble or two of thunder. 

Tomorrow's forecast is for more rain.