Day 31: Mountains!

The Otago Peninsula has been good to us. All marine wildlife has shown itself to us, and sometimes even posed for the camera in way we didn’t think possible. The weather has been awful and great at times, and during the entire time we had fun, enjoyed the amazing scenery and loved being there.
It truly is a good place to be.

But, all good things must come to an end, and for us this meant we had to backtrack quite a bit, towards Twizel. After that, we turn left instead of going straight: to Mount Cook!
The Mount Cook / Aoraki Village basically consists of one thing: The Hermitage.
This is a large hotel, and they seem to be the sole owners of all the accommodation over there. The hostel, the restaurant, the motel and the suites, all run by the central hotel.
This also means it is not cheap in any way, as there is nothing to choose.

The Mount was quite reluctant to show itself today. With nearly 3800 metres it is the tallest mountain in NZ, and was summited by Sir Edmund Hillary somewhere in the late 1940’s. It also is cradled by the longest Glacier in NZ, The Tasman Glacier.

The mountain is tall enough to generate its own climate and clouds and has done so the full day, right until around 9:30pm, after which we had a brief glimpse at the peak.

The way to Mount Cook Village is through some very scenic landscape, alongside the glacial lake which flows of Tasman Glacier. This valley is about 55km long, and never ceased to amaze us with its beauty. Just, wow.

Our day was long, as we visited the Moeraki Boulders during the drive to Mount Cook. These are peculiar formations of rock, formed by what seems to be very specific settlement of rock. The end result are near perfect round shaped balls of rock, just lying on a very small piece of beach. Weird!

We convulsed the day by doing a small walk to the true Tasman Glacier Lake, and the now not so blue Blue Lakes. The first is very white, the latter are now greenish.

Day 30: More marine wildlife

This day can best be divided into two  separate parts: the good part and the bad part.
The bad part must have been the morning and a portion of the afternoon. When we woke up, it rained. When we were done with breakfast, it still did.
We wanted to do a tour on a boat at 12: it still rained like crazy. Doing the tour at 2 also was not the best option: the rain still persisted.

But, around 3, everything changed! The skies cleared up, the rain stopped and some blue patches shone through the otherwise grey skies. That was the start of the good party of the day. It has not rained since.

We were especially happy with this outcome, as we booked a wildlife tour on the peninsula which started at 4 and would last for about 6 hours after that, of which a lot would be outside walking and viewing the various animals. Doing that in extensive rains would not be very nice, but luckily the weather miraculously changed! Yay for that!

The leaflet told us we were to see Royal Albatross, NZ Fur Seal, Hooker’s Sea Lion, Blue and Yellow-eyed Penguin and much more, and we basically did!
We saw the most endangered Sea Lion and the most endangered Penguin within minutes of each other, on the same beach!

Tomorrow will be a long day of driving, as we are heading back to the Alps and set out on the trip to Mount Cook. This time on the dry side of the mountain!

Day 29: The Otago Peninsula

Today, we are leaving the Catlin’s already, but not after we took another quick peek at the dolphins at Porpoise Bay.
They are not in today, but will probably be around. However, we didn’t see them. So we are off to Dunedin.

It is only a short drive up there, at about 3 hours at a leisurely speed. Along the way, we visited the magnificent Nugget Point. This is a rocky outcrop on the coast, where one of the lighthouses of NZ is located.
There is also a lot of marine wildlife over there, and with today being one of the best days we have had in a long time weather wise, it would be foolish to not go there.

The drive to Nugget Point is quite interesting, as there is about a 15km unsealed narrow winding road to the car park. Because of the views and the wildlife, this actually is a rather popular spot to go to for tourists, so anything and everything can be found driving on that road. Cars, campervans, caravans and even trailers with boats go there, also because there a quite a few holiday homes dotted along the road for the locals to enjoy a day at the beach.

Quickly moving on, we arrived at Dunedin and skipped the town completely and drove straight away to the Otago Peninsula. This peninsula is lusciously green and has a lot of hills. It is really narrow and quite long at around 20km. It’s maximum width is about 9km. We are staying in a B&B near Portobello, one of 7 townships along the coast of the peninsula.
There is a lot of stuff to do here ranging from walks to tours to see the native resident Albatrosses, Blue Penguins, Yellow-eyed Penguins, Shags, NZ Fur Seals, Sea Lions, and much more.

We decided to take it easy here, and visited the Albatross Colony this afternoon. The colony itself is only accessible with a guide, but we chose to look at the birds flying in from sea from the parking lot, where you can get the best views on them. They come swooping in and are preparing to land on their nests nearby. As the viewing point is quite high up, and the bird come flying in really low, they are using the winds bouncing off the cliff to climb up in the air and are doing so just alongside the viewing platform. This gives us a facntastic view of the birds, as they pass by literally only metres from you. Wow. They are big!
The Royal Southern Albatross nests on this peninsula, which is the biggest species of albatross in the world.
The birds are fully protected, which is why the nesting sites are only accessible via a tour.

Tonight, after dark, we went on a tour from the Albatross Colony down to the other side of the cape, to see the little Blue Penguins come ashore to feed their offspring. These penguins are so small. They choose to land on the beach only after the dark, as their predators then have less chance of catching them. They come in rafts ranging in size from 5 to 30 birds and are scrambling to the nest. Each breeding pair has up to 2 chicks, and the parents take turns in spending the day fishing or guarding the chicks.
These penguins are so tiny, and actually really blue. You would imagine a different hue of blue, but the colour is very bright. Unfortunately though the Penguin Tour is really busy, and the crowd was a little bit too big for its own good, so it seems like the tour is suffering a bit from its own popularity. That is a shame. Maybe they should limit the number of people who can attend?

This has been the best day in weeks! Sunshine all day long, no rain and views of the magnificent beauty if the land everywhere. Wow!