We left Balclutha and drove to Dunedin which was a little busy when we arrived. After a fair bit of searching, we found a cheap parking space near the station and walked to see the most photographed building in New Zealand.
We thought we could spend a fair amount of time walking around Dunedin and were interested what the Edinburgh of the southern hemisphere looked like. We had heard rumours that Dunedin was modeled on a map of Edinburgh but really it has as much resemblance to Edinburgh as Glasgow does. The centre is very small and compact with an octagonal layout. While we were there, the octagons centre had been turned into a bus station for the tourists of three cruise ships which had docked at Dunedin that morning. Aside from a few nice shops, a small market and the cathedral we didn’t find much else to see. We did take a walk out of the centre and found something a little more interesting. Ocho chocolate shop makes it’s own single source chocolate and we couldn’t resist a hot chocolate. Zoë chose the 100% cocoa chocolate and Matthias the Kawakawa and Horopito chocolate. Both were delicious.
We spent the night in the car at a free council run campsite right on the beach. We were lucky to get the last non-self contained spot. Despite all the signs detailing where the camping area was, people still parked up in other areas and one kiwi even tried to park up within inches of us so that his wheel would be in the designated area. Sadly the people parking up in the wrong places are going to ruin things for everyone.
The following morning, we set off along the Otago peninsula, mainly in search of albatross. The Otago peninsula has the only albatross colony that breeds on the mainland (although what you class as mainland is a little debatable). We drove along the very scenic peninsula in beautiful weather. We arrived at the albatross centre and went for a walk to see the seabirds from the cliffs. The cliffs were jam-packed with red billed gulls and spotted shags. We spotted a spoonbill fighting with a bush, but there were no albatross to be seen. We resigned ourselves to paying to go into the centre. They have a free museum about the wildlife of the peninsula and offer tours to a hide. The tours are ridiculously overpriced at $52 per person for a video, walk to a hide and limited viewing time. We asked if there were any albatross about and a friendly lady told us that they were just arriving so may or may not be there. She also informed us that they need wind to take off and since it wasn’t windy, our chances would be higher late afternoon. We were pretty disappointed and couldn’t understand why they can’t put the information on their website. We decided to leave without seeing albatross, like around 85% of the other visitors.
Back along the peninsula and into Dunedin we consoled ourselves with a walk around the beautiful botanic gardens. We had a lovely picnic in the herb garden and then walked amongst the spring flowers for a few hours. We enjoyed seeing some more native birds in the aviary too. Before long it was time to make a move to our campsite for the night at Trotters gorge. It was such a nice campsite that we ended up staying for two nights and making a day trip to Moeraki.
Our day to Moeraki started early so that we might have a chance to finally see some penguins. We drove along to the lighthouse and walked down to the grassy banks above the beaches where the penguins breed. We waited and waited for hours, occasionally hearing squawks that we thought could be penguins. The other bird life around was nice to see, baby spotted shags (shaglings) and quite a lot of fur seals, but we wanted to see some of the yellow eyed penguins. Two hours later we were still waiting when Matthias shouted ‘Penguin!’, but it legged it up the beach so fast that Zoë missed it. Since Zoë wanted to see a penguin too, we decided to return later that evening when the penguins return home from fishing.
In the mean time we went to visit the Moeraki boulders. The Moeraki boulders are concretions which have formed into spherical rocks that have been moved onto the beach by erosion of the surrounding mud stone. The group of boulders now sits on the beach and is accessible only at low tide. We were lucky that low tide was just before 10 am so we had most of the boulders to play with. They are bizarre formations and the few that have cracked open are full of basalt and calcite crystals. We had fun climbing on them especially when the bus load of people had to leave. We took a walk along the beautiful sandy beach and then it was time for lunch. Lunch was a special trip to Hampden to the world famous fish and chip shop. We tucked into a blue cod and chips which was delicious.
Back at the penguin beaches in the afternoon we set ourselves up for a long wait. We had some fun staring into space while other visitors wondered what on earth we were staring at. Eventually the only yellow eyed penguin in New Zealand hopped out of the sea and waddled up the beach. We are sure there is only one penguin that visits the beach each morning and evening because we didn’t see another within the 2 hours we were there. Still it was awesome to see a penguin!
We drove back to Trotters gorge campsite and found we had a few more friends for the night. Our latest friend was a 3 year old boy who found us much more interesting than anything his parents tried to lure him away with, even dinosaurs. He was a little trying with constant questions but also quite amusing. Thankfully he didn’t wake us up the next morning but he did run over to join us at the breakfast table as soon as we emerged from our tent.