Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Otago Peninsula and the Catlins

Fully satiated and pleased with the accommodations, I was happy to be spending another day near Dunedin.  Fun fact, Dunedin is based on the Gaelic name for Edinburgh (Dùn Èideannand there are signs of Scottish influence everywhere in New Zealand.  This resulted in my determination that the country was like Hawaii meets Scotland, a bit simpler than my friend Nick's description of Greece and Ireland and lots of other places having babies, which I can't fully recall at the moment.  Dunedin is also home to the University of Otago which has a rivalry with the University of Canterbury in Christchurch akin to U of M and Ohio State.  Somewhat relevant since Biz is a U of M alumna attending U of Canterbury and there's an Ohio State professor on sabbatical at the U of Otago (who also happens to hang a U of M flag in his office last I heard).  Although I can't quite picture the friendly and laid back Kiwis rioting in the streets.      

Plankton net at the Marine Center

Thursday morning (January 13th), was similar to the morning before except that I was actually able to sleep in and was not stressed about covering long distances (360 km in 5 hours on Wednesday).   First stop was the grocery store across the street from the Cadbury chocolate factory and I discovered the deliciousness of strawberry jam and New Zealand cheese on a croissant.  Just thinking about it makes me hungry again despite the late hour here and the more than adequate Peruvian dinner I ate earlier.  In any case, it was a far cry from my standby of Laughing Cow cheese, baquette, and chocolate bar which has sustained me on several ventures abroad.  And all the fresh food!  I walked around the produce section for quite a long time, marveling at all of the choices.

Baby fur seals!

Out for the day, we headed to the Otago peninsula, which juts out east of Dunedin.  It's a narrow, two lane road, which hugs the coastline and often a cliff.  First real stop was down a dirt road with several cattle guards to the Marine Center in Portobello.  It was small but two aquatic scientists don't have much of a problem being entertained when there are water and education involved.  Further down the road, we skipped the albatross colony due to a combination of overpriced tickets and really a lack of interest (sorry my birder friends).  Instead, we opted for the Penguin Place tour.  The land there is mostly private nature reserves, so we had to pile in a 6 wheeled ATV to head out to blinds to watch baby fur seals, blue penguins, and yellow eyed penguins.  Being so close to baby fur seals was worth the price of admission on its own and was definitely a highlight of the trip.  A quick detour to the gardens of Larnach Castle finished up the day on the peninsula.  On the way back to town, we were briefly detained by a family moving their flock of sheep across the road.  It's said that there are more sheep than people in New Zealand, and it's quite possible!  With plenty of time left to enjoy the evening, we cooked dinner at the hostel and then wandered around town, listening to music from bars that seemed to be competing with one another.

Nugget Point

Dunedin easily deserved at least another day, but we had a limited amount of time to spend on our trip.  Friday saw us back on the road, for a drive through the Catlins on our way to Te Anau.  The drive from Dunedin to Te Anau can go in several different routes.  Of course, I insisted on the southern scenic route, touted by rental car guide as # something or other on the top 100 things every Kiwi should do.  It was definitely worth it.  A bit over 500 km, the driving time was about 5 hours, but lots of fun stops along the way made for a travel time closer to 9 hours.  The scenic route diverges from the main highway at Balclutha and then hugs the coastline.  Luckily, we had borrowed a driving map from the Windsor which had all the scenic stops printed in magenta.  First stop was the lighthouse at Nugget Point located at the end of a short scenic walk.  There were breathtaking views of blue green water and rough waves crashing sublimely against large rocks and even short Maori poems on plaques to add to the awe inspiring views.

Curio Bay

Purakatnui falls was not much farther down the road and offered another short walk, this time through shaded rain forest to a pretty little tiered water fall.  Back out by the car we took advantage of the sunshine and had lunch outside while guarding our food from an unknown bird with a chest the color and pattern of cork.  We then headed to Waikawi to look for dolphins in Porpoise Bay, and checked out the petrified wood and huge kelp at Curio Bay, just around the corner.  No dolphins, but both the sandy beach at Porpoise Bay and the rocky intertidal at Curio Bay had plenty of scenery and other biology to admire.  The petrified tree stumps there were literally a world away from the petrified forest in Arizona.

Waipapa Point Lighthouse

The last stop of the Catlins was the lighthouse at Waipapa Point.  The area was much flatter and seemingly in contrast to the one that started the day at Nugget Point, but was the site of a rather morbid shipwreck where onlookers could do little to help the passengers drowning not far offshore.  All the shipwreck stories reminded me a bit of Michigan, albeit without the lyrical stylings of Gordon Lightfoot.  After driving on through Invercargill (including a street named Somerville), we turned northward to Te Anau.  Once again we had a "late" check in deadline of 8 pm and we made it in plenty of time, in part because Ema was having way too much fun driving.  There we stayed in a “standard cabin” at the holiday park which has facilities more like camping.  Unfortunately, that also meant that the kitchen consisted of hot plates and not much else besides a microwave.  Lesson learned.  When I next called for reservations, I was sure to ask about a "fully equipped" kitchen.  I also discovered that free internet outside of Christchurch and Dunedin was a rarity.  Just because a place advertises wifi does not mean that it will be free.  Oh how spoiled we've become in the States.

Evening at Lake Te Anau
Next stop:  Milford Sound!


pecwanpete said...

Can I have a baby fur seal? Pleeeease?

Heather said...

Somehow I don't think it'd do so well at your place...