New Zealand: Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula

As today was dry and sunny we decided to devote the day to outdoor aspects of Dunedin. There are museums and many other things to occupy rainy days. Our motel was only a mile from the Botanic Garden and having missed the one in Christchurch, we decided to head there first. They have a large collection of camellias just inside the entrance which reminded me of deciding that I had wanted a white one for our garden. I had searched dozens of specialist camellia nurseries without success and then found one quite incidentally, for only £9.95 on a visit to B&Q for something else. Needless to say, those in the garden here are not in bloom at the moment. The winter garden in the glasshouse had numerous interesting flowers.
In addition to various collections of plants and trees, including native species, there are also aviaries containing birds from all over the world. One bird I did see in the garden is the New Zealand Pigeon which is also referred to as a Wood Pigeon.
We had a coffee in the cafe here where service was amazingly slow despite there being several staff on duty. It was getting busier as today was a public holiday for the Queen’s birthday, something we do not have in the UK so it was quite bizarre to find out that both Australia and New Zealand have one.

In the afternoon we drove along the northern edge of the Otago Peninsula past several bays and as far as you can go.
There is a Royal Albatross Colony here and you can visit the centre. A few flew overhead as we were on one of the cliff overlooks.
One of the main reasons for coming out here was to visit Penguin Place. This is a private conservation reserve for the endangered Yellow-Eyed Penguin. A farming family started it and all the ticket money raised from tourists who visit for a tour and viewing goes to support the reserve and the small penguin hospital where they are rehabilitated and released into the wild again. The reserve also tries to control introduced predators such as feral cats, stoats and weasels who are a threat to the penguins. Their numbers have also declined due to habitat loss and human interference. We saw penguins in the hospital – this one with a foot injury is being fed.
In winter, the only hope of seeing a wild penguin is when they return to land from feeding in the ocean. This usually happens close to sunset. We were bussed part way to the beach and then walked through tunnels designed to hide us from any penguins on land, and down to the hides. Eventually one penguin did appear and after waiting unsuccessfully for any of his friends, walked across the beach and up the track.
Afterwards, we drove back into the city and had our evening meal in an Irish pub just down the road called ‘The Bog’. Service here wasn’t very brisk either.

New Zealand: dodging the showers on the north Otago coast

Waking in Timaru we saw snow had appeared on the distant mountains. A few hardy dog walkers were already on the beach and a badminton team who had been staying in the same motel were packing up to leave. Today’s journey was to head south on Highway 1. The southern part of the country had had heavy rain overnight and it was just reaching us so we were treated with intermittent showers and rainbows. The road initially parallels the beach and the railway line through farming country. Just before crossing the Waitaki River we pulled over as two guys were emerging from their camper van having spent the night there. Most of the rivers in Canterbury and this one are fairly low at this point in the year and there have been a few years of drought: irrigation equipment is standing in many of the fields.

Oamaru has a lot of late 19th century buildings, interesting shops and would be a great place to wander around had the rain not become very heavy. After a coffee we drove down towards the harbour where a rather wet Farmers Market was in progress. These birds were sheltering on the quayside, waiting for it to improve.

We decided it was too wet to walk to the lighthouse and knew the penguins would most likely be out fishing until late afternoon, so we continued driving. The Moeraki Boulders are about 30 minutes south of Oamaru and fortunately we had a brief respite from the rain to explore them. They are large spherical boulders lying along a stretch of Koekohe Beach, probably best seen when the tide is out. It was just turning and going out when we visited. The coastal trail continues along here and you could walk along here to Shag Point.

The road continues along the coast with a number of picnic sites to pull over in.
We took the turning to Shag Point which was an early settlement site and also a coal mining area until the 1970s. There are notices urging you to stay on the marked paths to avoid falling into a mine shaft. There are mining relics around but it is now a reserve where fur seals and yellow-eyed penguins can be seen. We saw several seals with more in the distance, gulls and an oystercatcher but a heavy hail shower ended the wandering and we did not get round all the paths.

The road then swings inland to Palmerston and down towards Dunedin, our next destination.