"" Writer's Wanderings: New Zealand Diary - Otago Peninsula, Penguins and Albatross

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Otago Peninsula, Penguins and Albatross

Wednesday Afternoon, October 23, 2013

After exploring Larnach Castle and enjoying a wonderful bowl of Kumara (sweet potato) and apple soup for lunch, we continue out toward the end of the Otago Peninsula that is near Dunedin. That is where we hope to see the Albatross colony but along the way we find an interesting stop, the Penguin Place. I wonder if this is going to be another extravaganza like we’d found before.

When we look in the reception area, we find pictures of a large field that has been equipped with hides or blinds as a hunter might call them. They are like bunkers that allow you a view of penguins without disturbing them. We probably won’t see blue penguins because it is daytime and they are out fishing but the yellow eyed penguins are nesting so one of them has to stay on the nest. We're hooked.
The Blue Penguin

A short drive in a mini bus and we set out on a trail that takes us along a cliff where we can look down and see some fur seals lounging in the sun. There is bull kelp growing on the rocks as well. It is huge and looks like giant strands of thick hair swishing back and forth in the surf.

Suddenly Harrison our guide puts a finger to his lips and motions us to quietly move forward. There is only one other couple with us so it is easy to be quiet. Harrison points to a wooden box and we look in. “It’s a blue penguin,” he says. “Don’t know why he’s not out with the rest.” While we have a hard time really seeing him, we can still say we saw one. Tick that off the list.

We enter a trench that has a green netting over it supporting a lot of vines and is camouflaged well. There are several paths leading to various hides. The opening to view the penguins is perfect for picture taking and as long as we don’t use a flash it is permitted.

The yellow eyed penguins, Harrison has told us, are very anti-social even among themselves. They mate and sort of stay in their couples to themselves. The first wooden nesting shelter reveals a penguin who graciously gets up a couple of times and stretches so we can get a good look. We move on to several others all of whom are named and have charts on the wall to show who they have mated with and how many times they have reproduced.

Harrison points out with a wry smile that although the experts say they mate for life, their observations have been that many of the males have a wandering eye and one female has cheated on her mate several times. By the time he’s done with his stories, I decide he should write a soap opera.

We didn’t expect the penguin experience to be as good as it was so we are not disappointed when we learn that the Albatross are not nesting and really can’t be seen up close. They are flying around though so instead of spending the huge entry fee to go through the museum and then go to the observation area to see them fly, we opt to walk out to the viewing area that is free down by the cliffs.

Above our heads there are several Albatross that pass over and I manage to get a few shots of one. While these are a bit bigger than those we saw in Galapagos, they are still every bit as beautiful.

The wind and cold chases us back to the car—unscathed I might add since the sky is full of sea gulls as well as Albatross. We take the low road back into Dunedin and enjoy the scenery once again. The Otago peninsula is absolutely breathtaking in places.

After a quick freshen up at our motel, we head off to Speight’s Ale House. We have found that the most economical meals and some of the best tasting ones are in the pubs. I want to try the Beef Schnitzel that’s on the menu. I love Wiener schnitzel (veal) but I’ve never seen beef schnitzel before. It turns out to be very good, a thin piece of beef dipped in crumbs and fried. The beef comes with the biggest glob of mashed potatoes I’ve seen in a while and an equally large pile of peas that taste fresh cooked. Ooooh, how much weight am I going to gain on this trip?

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