Nov 28, 2015
We were travelling today, to Dunedin; we had a quick breakfast at the hostel restaurant before heading over to the bus stop at the iSite. A 20-passenger van with a large trailer showed up, and at 8:45 am we were off. It only took an hour to get to Gore, where we were connecting to the mainline service to Dunedin. This bigger bus went through sheep farms, which were pretty to look at but a bit repetitive. We had a half-hour rest stop at a gift shop and restaurant site, and arrived at Dunedin about 12:30 pm.
The first stop in Dunedin was the large ornate railway station, which would have been ideal for us to get off at. But the driver said we had to go to the terminus, which was where we were ticketed for. According to him it was only three or four minutes away, which it was—by bus. But it was a 15-minute walk back to the station. We weren’t happy about that. Later people told us that the bus station used to be in the town centre, but recently it had moved out to the industrial area because the bus company wanted to save money… or because the city told them they had to move out there… there were several stories. But really, Dunedin isn’t that big, so why can’t it have a central bus station?
Anyway, from the station we knew that our hostel, Hogwartz, was up the hill on the far side of the town centre. But we took a detour to look at one of the old buildings, and then we were lost. There were several pieces of Rattray Street on the map to confuse us, but a friendly local pointed us in the right direction. At Hogwartz we were staying in a self-contained unit, called The Stables. It was a very lovely unit, totally remodelled two years ago so it was very bright and clean.
After unpacking and having a cup of tea we headed out, back down the hill (the direct way this time) to the town centre, which is called The Octagon. At the iSite we booked a birding tour on the Otago Peninsula for tomorrow. This would visit several sites, including a yellow-eyed penguin nesting site and the Albatross Centre. The lady was very helpful with the booking and also gave us the backpacker discount of $10 each. We also considered touring the Cadbury factory, but we’ll fit that in at a later time.
Once done with that we headed over to the Countdown supermarket to stock up on food. This time we actually went with a list, so we didn’t have to just wander around. We had just got to the checkout when a huge hailstorm started, but luckily by the time we finished paying the storm had passed, so we walked back up the hill in dry weather.
After having very nice showers we started to cook dinner, which was sausages, potatoes, and salad. What with shower steam and boiling and frying we managed to set off the smoke alarm! Luckily our neighbours weren’t in, so we didn’t disturb anyone. After we opened the door the alarm stopped, and we sat at the counter and enjoyed our meal, feeling like we were at home.
Nov 29, 2015
This morning we started out late, going for a walk around the city. We had got a pamphlet describing two heritage walks, so we mostly followed those walks around the streets. Dunedin isn’t a very large city but it does have a lot of very ornate stone buildings which were built in the gold-rush days of the late 19th century. The railway station (restored) is the centrepiece and there are a number of hotels and bank buildings still in their original state. Many of them are similar to buildings in Edinburgh, which isn’t surprising because Dunedin is the old Gaelic name for Edinburgh.
At the iSite we bought tickets for the Cadbury factory tour, from the same helpful lady as yesterday, and by buying them there we saved $4 each. Our tour was at 11 am, so we went right over there. You aren’t allowed to go into the part of the building where they actually make the products, so it was more of a talking and demonstration tour. And anyway it was Sunday so no production was taking place. The factory didn’t seem that big but the number of tons it produces daily is quite amazing.
But Zoe, our guide, was funny and informative. We got several samples to eat, plus a cupful of liquid chocolate to put toppings on, and we found out that New Zealanders are quite keen on marshmallow-based chocolates. Part of the tour took us up numerous steps into an old silo, where we got to watch one ton of liquid chocolate drop 28 meters. The chocolate isn’t actually used for anything, it’s just for show. At the end of the tour we ended up in the gift shop, where we bought some chocolate stocking-stuffers for Christmas.
We returned to Hogwartz for lunch, and then spent some time catching up on journal entries. At 3 pm we headed down the hill to the iSite, where the bus for our Otago Peninsula tour picked us up. We followed a rather circuitous route, during which our guide gave us historical and geographical information about the area. This whole region was a volcano which erupted, and then a huge earthquake occurred which separated the sides of the crater and formed the long harbour. For most of its length it’s only two or three meters deep, so cruise ships and cargo ships anchor near the entrance.
We passed by ponds and bays with birds like Black Swan and Royal Spoonbill, and eventually we arrived at the Albatross Centre on Taiaroa Head. This was one of the key stops on the tour. We could see some Northern Royal Albatrosses soaring around before we even entered the building, but first we had time to look around the museum area. At 5 pm we grouped together and were given a brief talk about the albatrosses, and then we were led up the hill. On the way to the top we passed through a nesting colony of Red-billed Gulls. A lot of them had chicks of various sized but fortunately they didn’t seem to mind us walking right through the colony.
At the top of the hill was a glass-fronted viewing building for us to watch the albatrosses. It had heavily tinted glass so that we could see them but they couldn’t see us. In front of us was the entrance to Otago harbour and below us on the grassy slope were several albatrosses sitting on nests. It was too early in spring for chicks to have hatched. We were lucky today, because it was quite windy and therefore there were several albatrosses flying around the headland, showing their huge wingspan.
On the hillside quite close to the building there was a couple of unmated albatrosses who were interacting with each other, and then they were joined by two more. So there was quite a party starting. The interpreters there told us that they don’t see those get-togethers very often.
Next up were the yellow-eyed penguins. We reboarded our bus and headed along more back roads, including some through farm fields. Finally we reached the trail down to the penguin reserve, and followed it down across private land to the beach. (The tour company had exclusive rights to use this trail.) As soon as we reached the beach we had to go around a yellow-eyed penguin which was sitting on the path. And then we had to get off the beach because there was a young male Hooker’s Sea-lion there! Those are both rare species.
Close to the beach there were blue penguin nesting boxes, and we saw one of them sitting quite close to the entrance of its nest. After the sea-lion went back out to sea we could carry on to a bird hide, from where we saw a few more yellow-eyed penguins. One of them was making its way up the steep grassy slope just across from us. It definitely looked like hard work! Every so often it would stop and flap its stubby wings to cool off.
There were three hides to view from, one of them very close to a pair incubating an egg. We could see both of the pair very well, but there was a camera on them so that we could still watch them if they were hiding in the burrow. There was also a penguin shouting from some bushes nearby, but we never got a good look at that one. Our guide told us that the colony had decreased in size quite a bit over the last few years, due to mostly unknown causes.
We then climbed up again, to walk down again to visit a New Zealand fur seal colony. Here the females were just giving birth, so there were several small pups on the rocks. This is also mating time, so there were bull seals harassing the females too. By now it was almost 9 pm so we headed back up to the bus and back to Dunedin. Along the way we dropped off other group members at their hotels and by the time we got back to Hogwartz it was after 10 pm. It had been a very good tour.
Nov 30, 2015
We had a leisurely breakfast this morning, and after a while we went out for a walk. We finished off yesterday’s historic buildings tour and then looked in the shops along George Street. Not seeing anything of interest, we bought cinnamon swirls from a bakery and sat on a bench to enjoy them before heading back to Hogwartz for lunch.
Yesterday we had booked a train excursion for this afternoon, up the Taieri Gorge. So after lunch we headed down to the station. At the Octagon we noticed that city workers were installing a large Christmas tree, and there was a craft market today. We stopped to look, and Rosemary almost bought a kit for a cushion cover decorated with a kiwi, but we bought a lot of cushion covers in Turkey back in March so we don’t need more of them.
The station was full of cruise ship passengers wandering around, but after a while their train pulled out and the station was quiet again, with only a few of us waiting for the TGR. Our train left half an hour late, but that didn’t really matter to us. The carriage we were riding in was nicely furnished and the seats were comfortable, but still looked like from the olden days. Likewise the locomotives did actually date from the 1960’s.
As with most train trips, the first 15 minutes of the journey went through the industrial suburbs of Dunedin, and then we went through the first of ten tunnels, leading into a more rural setting. Soon we turned off the main line and onto the old Otago Central line, which went up the gorge of the Taieri River. Along the way we crossed over several trestle bridges as well as going through tunnels. The lower slopes of the gorge were mostly used for forestry and had all recently been clear-cut, so the views there were not very pleasant.
The engineers of the day had clearly had to work very to get this line built, but since its closure pretty much everything had gone and there were only small sheds, if anything, where most of the stations used to be. Higher up the gorge the hillsides were dotted with yellow broom, so they were colourful. We stopped at Hindon, where there were a few information signs and a statue of a sheepdog named Sue, and were allowed off for a few minutes to take photos.
Our destination, Pukerangi, was at the top of the gorge and we arrived there after about two hours. Here a bus-load of seniors left us and boarded their tour bus, and the rest of us waited while the locomotives were switched to the other end of the train.
The downfall of all heritage train rides is that you have to go back the way you came, and see the same things all over again. But the time passed quickly enough, and we arrived back at Dunedin Station around 7 pm. Passing through the Octagon on the way back to Hogwartz we noticed that the city workers had just about finished putting up the Christmas tree, but since we’re leaving early tomorrow we won’t see the finished product.