I’m back in Auckland for a couple of weeks now while Marc attends to family matters back home. While not totally unexpected, I still find it quite strange to be here without him. Luckily, our friends have rallied to companion and distract me while he is away and I expect the time will pass quicker here than if I were to stay down in Dunedin without him. Although it was a bit humorous, the look people would get when told I would be alone for a bit. They are very big on travel workers here and I was offered several interesting positions whilst he is away.
In the end though, I chose to return to Auckland. A home away from home with solid friendships to renew and a warmer climate seemed preferable. As well, a solid internet connection makes it easier to catch up the travel blog. To that end,….
After the Catlans, we continued up the coast. Hugging the shore as we drove, we came upon Balclutha. It was the first large town we had seen in a while and we celebrated by stopping for lunch at a takeaway before perusing the selection of VCR tapes at the op-shops and browsing the books at the Lion’s Club sale. It is our habit to watch a movie with dinner most nights and we now have a most amazing mixture of movies to pick from. I think I like the homemade ones the best as after the movie ends, we get to experience old Kiwi commercials from the eighties and other surprises like an episode of Married With Children.
After two nights in Taieri Mouth and one in Milton, we continued up the coast towards Dunedin. There is a lovely local sea-coast road that runs parallel to SH 1 and offers beautiful views and little traffic. Outside of Brighton we found a great little spot to camp next to the shore and spent several days there exploring the sandy coves and poking about in the tidal pools. There were amazing striated rocks along the shore that invited comparison and once we found a penguin sheltering in a cove.Another day, a fellow beachcomber told us of a sea-lion snoozing further up the beach and we had a look. She was trying to snooze but kept one eye on us at all times. We didn’t keep her up too long. The tide was coming in and we had to get back round the point before we got soaked.
The Otago peninsula was a short side trip from Dunedin. Although there is a plethora of bird life on the outcropping, we went mainly for the penguins and the sand dunes. Sandfly Bay on the East coast of the peninsula fulfilled both those requirements and threw in a challenging tramp. It took almost an hour to get down one set of dunes, across the beach and back up the other side to the hide, skirting several sleeping sea lions on the shore. Once inside, we used our binoculars to scan the dunes as we got locational assistance from other watchers. While we never saw many YEP’s, we did see a few make their way up the side of the dunes and got to see what a molting penguin looks like. Not so pretty. Also not so pretty was my crawl back up the final sand dunes. Gods those things are steep although I don’t think it helped that I kept pretending to be a French foreign Legionnaire crawling through the desert without water. It did keep me giggling however and made the tramp back much more fun.
We more or less bypassed Dunedin on our way north with the idea to circle back and meet new friends nearer the end of the week. In the meantime, we used the Cook book to find our way to the Katiki boulders near Shag Point. The boulders are embedded on a tidal shelf that can only be reached at low tide and are the older, less well known concretions to their more photogenic brothers down in Moeraki. We ended up liking these better though. Many of these have broken open and worn down over a long period of time and looked much like natural baths. Don’t be misled, only a cold-blooded creature would have enjoyed the chill of the water trapped inside. Another interesting thing about these structures is the fact that some of them formed around the bones of mosasaurs and plesiosaurs. In 1983 they actually found an almost complete plesiosaur fossil inside one of these boulders. All twenty-six feet of it, the largest New Zealand fossil ever found, is now on display at the Otago Museum in Dunedin.
Our next stop was further down Shag Point. There is a YEP colony there that is actually somewhat accustomed to people. The penguins currently in residence are the descendants of those originally brought to this place by an older couple that had hoped to establish a colony here. While the red pebbled beach and parts of the habitat are roped off, there is still a nice path that runs out to the point that is used by humans, penguins and seals alike. We stayed for quite a while, watching the penguin pairs preen each other before beginning their ascent of the cliff to return to their burrows. One we watched walk right up to the fence line where ten people were standing taking pictures, unaware they were standing in its way. After about five minutes of this, it finally walked up the fence line to a bare spot and scooted underneath. It then crossed the path not five feet away from me and continued on its way. The seals there were pretty matter of fact as well and seemed to have no fear of humans. We gently threaded our way through them trying not to disturb them as they lolled on the grass.
The Moeraki boulders were pretty spectacular even though there were a ton of tourists there. These boulders are younger than the Katiki boulders and most seem to be intact spheres that range in size from one and a half feet up to seven feet in diameter and were great for climbing on and taking pictures. Maori legend says that the boulders are the remains of items washed to shore from a canoe wreck and represent the eel baskets, gourds and kumara that they would take on ocean voyages. I’ve read that there used to be many more of them but that people used to take home the smaller ones as souvenirs. At least the bigger ones are not so easily moved.
Our last stop on the coast before we headed inland was Fleurs Place. This is a little restaurant in Moeraki with a huge reputation for good food and awesome scenery. As it was Easter weekend, we figured we’d never get a dinner reservation and went for lunch instead. We sat outside on the second floor deck and watched them hauling boat after boat out of the water after a morning fishing contest while we enjoyed some great New Zealand wine and waited for our meal. Some may find it a little off-putting, but I thought it was really pretty neat to watch the little blue boats roll up the ramp with fresh catches from the boats and a guy scaling and filleting fish to order. Marc had a delicious sole filet wrapped in bacon and I just had to try the mutton bird aka titi. This is a bit of a Maori delicacy and Maori are the only ones allowed to harvest them. I had no idea what it would be like. It came to the table looking a little bit like duck and was nicely plated with roast potatoes and spinach. It was very salty and somewhat greasy. This is not to say that the restaurant did anything wrong though because as I have related this to Kiwis, they all tell me that the birds are incredibly salty and greasy. As a matter of fact to cook them, they are first boiled in water several times to leach out salt and grease before cooking. So, I was adventurous and it didn’t kill me, though it still doesn’t make me want to try whitebait.
We turned to Omarama after that before circling back to Wanaka and heading towards Gore to meet new friends. I think that’s where i will pick up things for the next blog post as this one seems to be running rather long. Hope everyone had a great Easter and stayed tuned for more Chasing Summer.