Mount Cook (Aoraki) stays hidden to us in the morning clouds and rainy mist. It is mysterious like Denali in Alaska and Mt. Rainier in Washington State. I’m sure it is quite spectacular when there is no rain and the clouds disappear.
We make our way around Lake Pukaki and turn at the road that leads to Twizel. I can’t help but think of red raspberry Twizzlers every time I see the sign. I hunt for a piece of candy and decide it’s too early in the day to start eating sweets—unless of course we run into a McDonald’s McCafe that has the raspberry/pear bread we’ve been craving. Oh, how I wish the McD’s back home would have REAL McCafe’s and not just a fast food version.
Bob has planned only one stop today on our way to Dunedin so we are tuned into any signs for places of interest to stop. It doesn’t take long for us to see a sign for Benmore Dam and power plant. This area has a series of lakes and rivers that provide a lot of hydroelectric power. Benmore Dam looks to be the biggest dam. The power station is New Zealand’s second largest. The dam project was begun in 1958 and power began being supplied in 1965. While the visitor’s center is closed, we are still able to drive over the top of the dam and go to the viewpoint to look at the two large spillways that are full of rushing water.
Moving along, I notice on one of the maps we picked up at an Information Center that there is a blue penguin colony in Oamaru which is right on our way to Dunedin. When we see the sign, we follow the directions until we find the spot where they can be seen. The problem is that these little guys spend their day out in the water feeding and gathering food for their chicks and aren’t seen until around dusk when they return to their burrows. A stadium like area is set up with seats for observers to watch the penguin parade as they come up from the sea and move through the grassy arena to their burrows. There is no picture taking allowed as it will cause the penguins to hide and not return to their young which need to be fed. We wander around a bit and check out the stuffed penguins in the main building but we can’t stay until dusk.
Not too far down the road we find our next stop, the MoerakiBoulders. Again Bob has done his homework and while the short walk from the café for a $2 fee looks inviting, he knows that a little way up the road is a free parking spot and an easy walk on the beach. The café walk would have been all steps up and down and this path along the beach gives us time to take in the fresh ocean breeze and enjoy nice water birds we see along the way including an oystercatcher we stop to observe for a few minutes as he nibbles his mid-morning catch.
I am more amazed by these round boulders than I thought I would be. Those that are all in one piece are perfectly round! The boulders are huge—some about six feet in diameter. A few have broken apart and look like a stone honeycomb inside. They were originally formed around a central core of carbonate of lime crystals that attracted minerals from their surroundings. It was a process started over 60 million years ago. The boulders were embedded in the muddy cliffs in the area and through erosion by the sea have been exposed.
As I look at them I can’t help but wonder at the shape of them. Everything we read says they are definitely not manmade. Amazing.
In a little while we arrive in Dunedin and find our motel. It turns out to be the smallest room we have had yet but we will make do. It will make our next stateroom on a cruise ship look big. We stash our stuff and start off to walk to the Information Center to be sure we haven’t missed anything in our planning. It is a lot farther than we counted on but once we are committed, we keep walking.
The IC people make the same suggestions as we have on our list. Unfortunately for us we have arrived a bit late to catch some of the tours. We just miss the last Speight’s brewery tour and by the time we find the Cadbury Chocolate factory, all we can do is drool over the large pile of chocolate crunch bars and satisfy our disappointment at missing that tour by buying some chocolate covered caramels.
The Dunedin railway station is still open though and not dependent upon a tour time. The station is an icon to the area and the inside is just as amazing as the brickwork on the outside. Constructed on reclaimed swampland in 1906, the station that at one time was the largest in New Zealand, no longer serves passengers but has an art gallery on the upper floor. The inside of the station is covered in thousands of small porcelain mosaic tiles made by Royal Dalton.
The symbol of the railroad is repeated in the design in the floor and on the steps as you climb to the open balcony that surrounds the foyer. At either end of the upper balcony is a stained glass window with a locomotive in the center of it. The way it is made, the locomotive’s light seems to be illuminated. I wander around a bit and then find a bench to sit in the quiet atrium and rest.
We pull ourselves up from the benches we’ve rested on in the station and check our map to determine which direction to go to get us back to the motel. One foot in front of the other is an effort but we make it back and rest while we hunt for a place to eat. Bob checks Tripadvisor and I leaf through one of the booklets we picked up at the IC. I find a restaurant that is supposed to be Scottish. We are after all in the most Scottish city of New Zealand. I program Lady Garmon with the address. There is no way we are walking to City Center again.
Dinner at Scotia turns out to be a delight. The downstairs restaurant is a bit pricey so we choose to go upstairs to the bar for the short menu. We order what are called entrees. Over here, entrees are like heavy appetizers but can be used as a meal. The mains are usually pretty heavy meals. We both opt for lamb short ribs with sticky sauce. They come on top of chips (fries) that are wonderfully crunchy. I think they are still frying in the good stuff instead of the healthy stuff. The ribs are fall-off-the-bone good and the sauce delicious. We savor every bite.
Last on our to-see list for the day is the world’s steepest street, Baldwin Street. We were told that most visitors don’t attempt to drive up it because at one point it’s impossible to see the street over the hood of the car. It has a slope of almost 19 degrees and Bob has already promised me that he won’t attempt to drive it. I think he realizes I will jump out before he starts up. We park and take a few pictures. It is amazing although the pictures don’t do it justice. The information says it takes five minutes to walk up it. Sure, I think, for someone whose ankles have grown at an angle. In late February as part of the Summer Festival there is an event called “Gutbuster” where contestants run to the top and back down again. The current record is one minute 56 seconds. Okay.
When we see the arrow pointing to Signal Road lookout, we decide we are up for at least one more site. At the top of the lookout, we find a monument that commemorates 100 years of British rule. There is also embedded in the podium a tribute to Dunedin’s namesake: a chunk of the rock upon which Edinburgh Castle was built. It has a beautiful view of Dunedin but the sun is sinking and the wind picking up and the cold air chases us back to the car. It’s time to call it a day.