Big Question Marks

Thursday, November 3, 2011

NZ Continued: Driving the Coast & More Penguins

A continuation of our travels through NZ...

[6 October, 2011]
After a super exciting penguin-filled evening in Oamaru, we decided to spend a bit of time exploring the charming little town by day. It was an easy walk to the harbour from our hostel, past plenty of well-preserved Victorian buildings and gardens. The historic arhcitecture must have inspired the town's residents, as next to the traditional was bits of Steampunk everywhere (if you're into Steampunk, Oamaru's the place for you!). We were especially entertained by the coin-operated locomotive that spit out flames and made train noises as it chugged along on the spot in front of "Steampunk HQ". In fact, it totally scared the crap out of us when we dropped a coin in the night before and it came alive! (Much less scary by day).

We did a bit of wandering, visiting the (vacant by day) penguin bird houses by the harbour and a street with craftspeople (a homemade whisky maker!). The guys went back to get our car and Jenny and Dayle continued their stroll along the waterfront towards the penguin colony (we were on a mission to get some cute little stuffed penguins to accompany us on our trip). We were halfway there when an older man called over to us from behind the chainlink fence of what looked like a boatyard: "Hey! Do you girls want to see the penguins?"

Errr. Jenny and I looked at each other, half wondering if it was some elaborate pick-up line, or worse. It was however, broad daylight in the middle of a tiny town, and curiosity got the best of us, so we went over to find out more (and quickly felt sheepish for being so suspicious!). Don was a nice older guy with a soft spot for the penguins, and told us that he thought it was a bit ridiculous that they charge visitors so much money to watch the penguins at the colony, when they're actually living in everyone's backyards in town! Don led us around the boatyard, where there were little boxes built everywhere to help the little blue penguins with their nesting. He lifted up the lids on the boxes so we could "get a photo" amd sure enough, inside each was one or two, slightly stunned but very blue, tiny penguins nestled inside! The little nocturnal birds didn't look too happy to be disturbed, but Don reassured us they don't mind, and they're actually not afraid of people at all. In fact, when big trucks arrive at the boatyard early in the morning to deliver oil and gas (ahem, petrol), the penguins will get up out of their nests, jump around and flap their little flipper-wings, "scolding" those damn truck drivers for waking them up! Don was a fantastic tour guide and we learned that some of the penguins have been returning to the same nests for 14 years (though now it's the younger generation owning the nest), and that once there's chicks hatched in the nest, only one of the adults will head out to sea for food and the other will babysit. I gather we were there just as they were starting their nesting for the year - great timing! It was incredibly cool to learn about the amazing little birds from the locals' perspective. And all it cost us was a little bit of razzing from the staff in the office, when Don brought us in and introduced us as "two girls from France who think the French are going to win the World Cup!" Well worth it, in my opinion. :)








Later on that day we hopped in the car and drove along the east coast to Dunedin, one of New Zealand's bigger cities, taking in the interesting Moeraki Boulders along the way-- a bunch of perfectly round rocks sitting at the seashore of Moeraki Beach. According to Maori legend, the boulders were left behind by an ancient giant canoe of the Gods which crashed on the shore after they journeyed across the Great Ocean of Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean) to what is now New Zealand-- the boulders being the canoe's cargo, the gourds holding water for the journey (or read the better explained version). Or if, you're looking at the big rocks purely on face value, they're old and quite interesting as some of them have been split open like giant solid chocolate eggs (OK, so we may have have the Cadbury factory ahead in Dunedin, a little bit on our minds!) on a very pretty beach.

We didn't get to Dunedin until late in the afternoon, and we couldn't get there fast enough to devour the cheese bounty we'd picked up along the way at the delightful Evansdale Cheese Factory, where we sampled about 10 varieties of cheese and a heated cheese debate took place on which cheese was yummiest-- the French voting for the stinkiest one possible, the Canadians voting for the gooeiest mild brie. Well, in the end, we bought three huge chunks of the stinky blue, the brie, and an awesome smoked brie, and had a feast in our (empty, of course) hostel room under the shadow of our bunk beds at the Stafford YHA. We all agreed that although none of us enjoyed sleeping in hostels, we could deal with it if we were putting our savings towards delicious cheese.


That evening we explored a bit of Dunedin, known for its ornate old buildings. They were indeed beautiful but perhaps we'd had our fill of Victorian architecture in Oamaru. We had originally planned to go to the Cadbury Factory for a chocolate tour (sadly it was already closed!) and also to head out on a nature tour of the Otago Peninsula to see the rare and elusive penguins (!) but with that checked off our lists, and not feeling enthused enough about the albatrosses we could also see on the peninsula, we opted for another kind of sightseeing.... Dunedin's pubs! And indeed, sitting in a quaint pub by a fire, sampling the local refreshments was the best type of sightseeing one could do on a cold, early-spring Friday night in southern NZ.

[More to come... in the meantime, check out some of our photos and videos posted now on our Flickr page!]

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