Yesterday, Jan. 20, we stopped at Dunedin, a town of about 100,000 which was settled by mostly Scottish immigrants. We had an all-day excursion with a great coach driver/tour guide named Gerald. He had been born & raised in the area & was very knowledgeable about everything. We drove for about an hr. & a half to the end of the Otago Peninsula.
The first (short) stop was at an area where there are nesting Royal Albatross. I think he said the albatross travel to Chile & back, & this is one of the only places in the world where they nest. We saw millions of gulls (or gannets), but just a few albatross soaring around above the cliffs. They’re much bigger than the gulls & can have up to a 3-meter wingspan. It was very windy (what else is new?), so we didn’t stay too long. (However, it was long enough for both of us to get pooped on by the gulls. I think they did that on purpose, as it seems like they went out of their way to hover right above us. Oh well, they’re still cute.)
Next we came to Natural Wonders, a huge (about 550 acres) sheep farm located on hilly, rugged terrain. It is owned by Perry & Tracy Reid & run by them & their son, Martin. Perry’s great grandfather bought the property a long time ago to use for sheep farming; now they still farm the sheep, but they also use the property as a sanctuary for the rare Yellow-eyed Penguins. I think they said this was the only place in the world where they nest and live. The info. book we bought about the place says: “Natures Wonders has set aside this totally natural area of the property to give these penguins an environment so they will continue to flourish and breed to help ensure the survival of these endangered birds.”
Here we are in our stylish rain slickers
We were served a buffet lunch (I think Tracy cooked most of it), then we were handed rain slickers & were loaded onto several 6-passenger ATVs. We were lucky & got Martin (Perry’s son) as a driver. He was very informative & friendly. I asked him how many tours they do per day & he said they do tours pretty much every day of the year (except during bad winter weather), sometimes several groups each day. They’re dedicated to saving the Yellow-eyed Penguin by educating people & using the money to keep predators (stoats, possums, people) away & preserving the area, not only for the penguins but also for the albatross and the New Zealand Fur Seals. On the way to Penguin Beach, we saw a colony of the seals with lots of cute little playful pups on a rocky outcropping area. Martin said the male pups start sparring with each other soon after they’re born.
NZ Fur Seal pup
Martin & Perry (& other workers) had built this long, STEEP, covered (with plywood) walkway along the cliff above the expansive beach where the penguins live. There were cut out areas at eye level all along the way on one side, and other holes cut along the cliff side, but these had sliding plywood doors on them. You weren’t allowed to open any–only Martin could do that. He opened one for us & told us to be very quiet (& no picture-taking). We looked in, & there were 2 little babies in their nest under a bush. Sweet little things!! I think they were Little Blues, but not sure. Bill thinks they were Yellow-eyed. Anyway, they were adorable. We also saw only one adult Yellow-eyed sleeping a ways over on the sand above the beach. We got a good view of its back, but couldn’t see any yellow eyes. (The photos back at the gift shop were really cute, though. I bought some post cards & magnets. They have little yellow feathers on top of their heads & around their yellow eyes, with orangish bills.)
Sleeping Yellow-eyed Penguin on the side of the hill
The Penguin Beach
Albatross on the left
After that, we drove to the Marine Studies Centre & Aquarium, where a young marine biologist (originally from the USA) showed us a bunch of small sea life in sort of a ‘petting zoo’ area. We were allowed to touch the small crabs, anemones, urchins, etc. They also had some tanks which housed some huge sea horses and other interesting items. They had a model of a Collossal Squid hanging from the ceiling over some salmon tanks. The squid was collossal alright, & it was bright pink with a huge basketball-sized eye. They can get up to 18 meters long. This one was only about 6 meters long, since it was modeled after a juvenile they had found. The guide said that the real one looked exactly like the model. They really are that color or pink. I guess there are some very strange creatures swimming around in the deep.
Chasing sheep back to the gift shop area
On our way back to the ship we drove around the town, where we saw lots of interesting buildings. Dunedin is the home of a big beer distillery, the Cadbury Chocolate Co. and the University of Otago, which has at least 20,000 students. Dunedin also has huge gold mining & wood chip industries.