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!

Day 28: Back to the mainland

Another early morning today, as we had to catch our flight back to the main island from Stewart Island to Invercargill. The commute in Oban was not too bad, but as the weather had clearly changed the flight would be a little different from the previous one.

The plane showed up, but it was not the same as yesterday, it is even smaller.
With room for only 4 passengers, they crammed in a fifth as he sat next to the pilot. The plane also only had one front mounted propellor. The wind had picked up considerable over the night, so the flight to Invercargill was quite interesting, to say the least. We shook, shuddered, waived, tilted, rolled and then some and even the short 15 minutes were a little bit too long. It was like a giant roller coaster ride!

After collecting our luggage directly from the pilot of the plane our voyage to the Caitlin’s was underway. We took the Coastal Southern Scenic Route which takes you almost directly alongside the ocean in the direction of Dunedin. Along the way, we visited many coves, bays and the likes, among which were two adjacent bays: Porpoise Bay and Curio Bay. The latter is most well know for the Yellow-eyed Penguin, and the first for the smallest species of Dolphin: Hector’s Dolphin.
At Curio bay we were instructed by the friendly volunteer to come back around 7pm, as the parents would come back from the sea to feed the chicks. At Porpoise Bay, the dolphins can be spotted just walking on the beach. We did just that, it was amazing!

As we arrived at the B&B quite early in the day, we asked for some more small things to see and do in the. I invite, and out of the options offered we chose 2.
The first thing we did was visit McLean Falls, which is a three stage waterfall just a few kilometres from where we stay. The second was to visit Cathedral Caves, which are 1 sea cave in the cliff a few kilometres from the falls. This cave is huge! Only accessible 2 hours around low tide, we were lucky to be able to just go there and get in.
Unfortunately though, our way back from the caves featured quite a steep hill to climb, and a pretty heavy rainfall.
Oh well. It was not the first time we’ve gotten wet, and luckily all important things stayed dry.

That night, after dinner in the restaurant of an Olympic Champion (Paralympic, but still) we went back to Curio Bay to see the Yellow-eyed Penguins. This is the rarest species of all 7 types of Penguin, and can only be found in a few places in New Zealand. Only in the last few years have the New Zealanders become pretty protective of these animals, but now they are catching up in their methods, and the species is slowly making its way back from the status of Critically Endangered. All is not well though, as there are about 2000 penguins left. We were on a beach with 9 breeding pairs, which would mean there are between 30 and 35 penguins present at the most. Not a lot!
We were lucky enough to see a parent feeding the chicks, that was an awesome sight!

Tomorrow, we are leaving the Caitlin’s again, this time for Dunedin and more specifically the Otago Peninsula. The say it is really lovely up there!