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Days 244-245 Thursday-Friday December 20-21, 2007 – Otago Peninsula & Oamaru, New Zealand
Once again, Thursday was packed full of activities so we had to get started early. Before leaving Dunedin, we decided to drive out to the Otago Peninsula which is host to a plethora of activities. Since most of the activities didn’t interest us, we proceeded to drive straight to Taiaora Head at the end of the peninsula. The views of the water and Dunedin were incredible as we made the forty minute drive on a windy road that followed the shoreline.
Finally, at Taiaora Head we parked and walked around, hoping to get a view of a Royal Albatross. The Otago Peninsula is the only mainland colony of the Royal Albatross in the world. After spending a few minutes in the visitor’s center, we walked along the surrounding cliff sides to take in the views and for a look at some of the many birds around. After that, we headed down to an adjacent beach where penguins come ashore at night time. Unfortunately, we weren’t going to be around for that, but seeing penguins was certainly in our future.
After leaving Taiaora Head, we began our long drive north to Oamaru. About thirty minutes outside Oamaru we arrived at the Taranaki Boulders. Listed as one of the 32 things to see in New Zealand in our guidebook, these spherical smooth boulders almost look as if they were dropped out of the sky, but in reality have been exposed as the shoreline has eroded over many thousands of years. The boulders are quite fascinating to look at and we even found a hollow one to climb inside of. We spent thirty minutes gazing and climbing on the boulders before the wind and cold weather got to us and we headed back to the car.
Oamaru is famous for two things. It is special in that it has two penguin colonies within the town limits and a group of historic limestone buildings in its downtown area. After getting into town and checking into the holiday park, we tried to see if we could get a ticket on the Penguin Express, a local tour group that takes visitors to both penguin colonies on the same night. While visiting the colonies on our own was a possibility, the tour seemed to be a more convenient option and didn’t come at too much of a premium.
Since the penguins don’t start to come ashore until before sun down, we had a few hours to kill before the Penguin Express came to pick us up at 7pm. Without much else to do, we headed to the Oamaru Botanical Gardens located next to our holiday park. These gardens are regarded as among the finest in New Zealand. Built in 1876 the gardens are a sign of the former wealth that Oamaru enjoyed when its port was a major one in New Zealand.
After entering through the gate, we started by visiting a small Chinese Garden, before heading along the river in a circular direction through rose gardens, forests and a playground. At one point we noticed that we were being followed by two cats. Everywhere we went through the gardens they were not far behind. Since they seemed to be harmless, we began to ignore their presence. As 7pm neared, we headed back to the park where the Penguin Express was scheduled to pick us up.
Once on board the Penguin Express, we headed straight out to the Yellow Eyed Penguin Colony on the edge of town. The Yellow Eyed Penguin is the rarest penguin species in the world at an estimated 2000 left in existence. The Oamaru colony is home to about 70 penguins. Unfortunately for us, the weather was bitter cold on this night which encouraged the penguins to hide in the bushes in order to keep warm. Fortunately, one penguin did remain in close view in order to show us what beautiful animals they are. We did see a few more penguins in the distant bushes, but this beautiful creature was the only one we were able to see clearly.
From the Yellow Eyed Penguin colony we headed back into town where our guide provided a small commentary on the history of some of the buildings in the downtown area. Before long, the sun was almost all the way gone and it was time to go over to the Blue Penguin Colony. While the Yellow Eyed Colony is on protected land, the Blue Penguin colony is part of a research project.
The Blue Penguin is the smallest species of penguin in the world. At the colony we were escorted outside to an amphitheater where a guide informed us that the penguins come ashore in waves. Usually they all come ashore within an hour in five or six different waves. Before long, we saw a group of penguins swimming in from the distance and eventually they came ashore. After slowly climbing up the rocks, the group made a dash through an exposed flat section of land to their colony. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos, but I did make friendly with one of the penguins and was able to sneak a picture. The site of those little penguins waddling around has to be one of the cutest things I have ever seen. Over the next forty five minutes we sat outside in the frigid air to see five more waves of penguins come home.
Nearly frozen, we finally headed back to the bus. Before taking us back to the holiday park, our guide provided more commentary on some of the town’s historical buildings, before making a detour to a house that won the local contest for having the best Christmas decorations. While the decorations were a little over the top, it was a nice sight to see, since the Kiwis don’t seem to decorate near as much as us Americans do. Once back at the holiday park, we turned on the heater and went to bed.
Friday turned out to be a day of transit. We woke up late and decided to spend about an hour walking around downtown Oamaru to get a closer look at some of the buildings our guide had described on the tour. Our favorite spot was an old gothic style church on the edge of the main street. Before long, we got in the car and slowly made the drive north to Christchurch, our final destination in New Zealand. To be honest, we were a little tired from our hectic itineraries of the past few days, so it was nice to spend most of the afternoon relaxing in our cabin. Don’t worry though, since we only had a couple of days left in New Zealand, we were back out and about on Saturday.
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