"" Writer's Wanderings: World Cruise - Dunedin and Otago

Saturday, March 07, 2015

World Cruise - Dunedin and Otago

The Otago peninsula is one of the most beautiful spots in New Zealand and the harbor by Port Chalmers is peacefully surrounded by rolling hills that were a little brown from the lack of rain. Other trips here, the green hills were amazing. They still were, just not as green. We docked at a pier full of logs again. Logging is a huge industry in New Zealand and these were probably destined for China which does a lot of importing of NZ wood.

With so many going off the ship on tours or catching the shuttle into town, we decided to do our laundry before it was time for our excursion. We loaded the washers and set the timer on Bob’s phone then decided to use our forty minutes to take a quick walk into the little port town. Our exit from the ship was blocked however for a few minutes by the scenic train picking up its passengers for their excursion to Taieri Gorge. Once on our way though we walked past all the limousines lined up for those who had ordered private cars for the day. Lovely, but not our style.

Businesses were not open except for a few cafes serving coffee and light breakfast. The church that sits on the hill is always a great picture opportunity. There wasn’t enough time to take a look inside again but I remembered the last time hearing organ music during our visit.

We scurried back to the ship (which seemed to be the tallest building in the area) when it was time to move the clothes to the dryer. It probably wasn’t necessary to hurry. The ship was pretty empty and we didn’t see anyone else waiting for the machines.

While our clothes dried, we got a cup of coffee in the Bistro on board and talked about our other visits to Dunedin to see the Larnach Castle, the train station, Cadburry’s and Speight’s and so many of the other sights passengers on excursions were enjoying.

Clothes stowed once again, it was time to gather with the others on our volunteer excursion. Since we’d visited Dunedin so many times, we decided this was a great opportunity to give back. The excursion was to the Penguin Place we’d seen on our last visit but this time we were there to do a little work—plant a tree.

The Penguin Place is way out almost to the end of the peninsula where the albatross have a colony but before we even started out there, the bus took us around the city of Dunedin to show us highlights, stop for a few pictures along the way and then head out to our primary goal. “No wonder it’s a six hour excursion,” I said to Bob. We were a little disappointed because we could have done all of the sightseeing on our own if we’d wanted. Still, it was a good opportunity for those who might not have seen it all before.

I enjoyed the drive out to the Penguin Place. It’s a winding drive all around the harbor and eventually we could see our ship on the other side of it. I wondered why we couldn’t have all gotten on a boat and just ferried across to a dock on the peninsula and save time. I’m sure there were reasons.

At the Penguin Place, we divided into two groups of twelve and each had a guide to take us on a little walk to see some of the rare yellow-eyed penguins that were molting. After the egg-laying season, and raising the young, the penguins have to take a month to molt away from the sea. During the molting when the old feathers are pushed out by the new, the birds are not waterproof and the sea would kill them. That being said, they have to eat a lot before molting so that they have the energy to survive the month on shore away from their food source.

The birds we saw in the underbrush were a pair. Penguins mate with one other and as long as they keep producing young, they stay together. The male was a little farther along in his molting since the female had been on the nest so long. They were grooming each other and not moving far from where they were. The less energy spent in movement, the more likely they would survive the month of not eating.

We found some blue penguin nests. The blue penguins are burrowers and often make their own nests or expand on the little wooden shelters set up by the conservation group. They are quite small and hard to see when they are inside their nests. Hence, no pictures. Maybe some other day, some other place, at the right time. Sigh.

We took a look at the colony of young male seals below us on the beach and rocks. They were called sneakers because they would sneak around the other point of land, mate quickly with a female, and then hurry back before the alpha male of the other colony could attack them.

Up on a hillside, we could see the trailer with our tools and plants ready for us to get our hands dirty. It was actually quite an easy task since the fellow in charge had already cut through the turf. The dirt below the thick grass was easy to work and since the plants were not all that big, we didn’t have to dig much. Each of us planted one of several different varieties and watered it thoroughly. They were hoping for rain in the evening to water them again.

A little higher up from where we were, was a patch of plants, shrubs and trees that had been planted about eight years ago. Most of the vegetation was about waist high. They are slow growing plants but as the guides assured us, the new plants and vegetation would be a welcome sight to the penguins who looked for a place to make new nests. We all hoped it would encourage the penguin population to grow.

On our way back to the bus, we stopped in at the “hospital.” Penguins seem to be a delicacy for barracuda or maybe just a little fun. Whatever the case, the barracuda were attacking the penguins at sea and causing injuries. So some were there recuperating and others were there because they were young and were not eating enough to survive out on their own yet. Once their weight was increased to normal, they would be given a gentle release meaning they would be in a pen that they could leave whenever they wanted and they would continue to get fed in the pen. Our guide said it didn’t take long before the call of the sea won out and they would not return to the pen.

It was a wonderful afternoon and another scenic ride back to the ship. This is a place we would love to return to—often.

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