Thursday, 12 March 2015

Day 62 - Wednesday 11th March - Dunedin, New Zealand

Day 62 - Wednesday 11th March - Dunedin, New Zealand

We had a late arrival into Dunedin today (or rather Port Chalmers, the large nearby shipping port which was big enough to accommodate our ship), so managed a lie in and still saw the sun rise over the beautiful hills which surround the bay where the ship would be berthed. After breakfast we went to the theatre to meet our tour groups - today JL and I had decided to do separate excursions. He was spending the day on the Taieri Gorge Railway, which collected him (and 400 other passengers) from right outside the ships gangways, and took them on a scenic journey along the coast and then over viaducts and streams and through tunnels, viewing amazing scenery, to the village of Pukerangi (250 metres above sea level). Meanwhile I was starting the day with a Wildlife Discovery Cruise.

I walked along the quayside, pausing for a few minutes to let JL's train past (it had about 15 carriages!), and then boarded my boat, the Monarch, and we set off through the Otago Harbour where the ship had come in that morning. We were given binoculars and large fleece lined coats, as it was expected to be somewhat windy and chilly! I took one to put on over my existing coat, scarf and fleecy hood, just in case! The captain pointed out various sights along the way, such as a Maori greeting house on the shore, and a group of black swans on one of the sandbanks. We eventually came out of the harbour into the open ocean, and rounded the entrance point for the first views of the main attraction of the trip - the Taiaroa Head albatross colony, the only mainland albatross colony in the world apparently. There were many cormorants all over the banks, and when you looked carefully you could also see the white heads of albatross chicks peeping out from the long grass. The adult birds were all out at sea gathering food for their youngsters. There was a lighthouse on top of the cliff and a wide range of colours in the rock face, making for a very picturesque setting. There were a number of kayakers in the water watching the bird colony, and also the New Zealand fur seals which we spotted next on the rocky promontory under the cliff. There were quite a number of them, including some pups, and they were not at all fazed by all the attention! After observing them for a while, we turned out to the open sea, where some of the adult albatrosses were starting to come in. We were told that they are excellent gliders but not so good at flapping, so unless they can get enough wind under their wings to carry them up to the colony, they give up and bob along in the sea for a while and try again later. Sure enough, we saw many of them doing just this! As they came in they would come zooming towards the boat, sometimes circling us, where we could see their amazing several metre wing span. They would then put their feet out and water ski for a few metres before settling on the water to wait, allowing us great views of their (rather grumpy looking) faces. As we sat watching them, we also had a visit from a single Little Blue Penguin! He is the world's smallest penguin, at just 33cm long. Sadly he only stayed a few moments and didn't bring any of his friends with him :-( All too soon it was time to head back, past the sand banks which had already got a lot bigger due to the changing tides and were now covered in wading birds. We were given tea/ coffee and biscuits to keep us warm on the journey back as it was distinctly chilly in the wind! We also heard the magic expression "free wifi" (password 'penguins'!!) so I was sorted!

I went back onto the ship for a quick lunch, and then headed back ashore to get the 20 minute shuttle bus to Dunedin itself. I then took myself on one of my famous 'Emma walking tours', using my map with a selection of interesting sounding places ringed. Let's just say I'm glad JL was not with me for this one, for both the distances and the steepness of the roads were somewhat greater than I had predicted! Nevertheless I had a lovely time, seeing many beautiful houses, cathedrals and churches. I also saw the statue of Robert Burns (as Dunedin was originally settled by the Scottish and still has many Scottish influences) - with a large seagull on his head! I walked up (up, up!) to a beautiful high school building with views overlooking the city, and then along to the Edwardian Olveston House, a lovely mansion with gorgeous gardens to explore. And then back down again, past more churches, through the university complex, past the Cadbury chocolate factory (not a patch on Willy Wonka's!), to the Famous Dunedin Railway Station, which is apparently the most photographed building in New Zealand, and I can see why! It is enormous and beautiful, and is fronted by lovely manicured gardens. The ticket office and waiting room have intricate mosaic floors and carved walls also. From there I went to see another amazing church, and then got the shuttle bus back to the ship.

Shortly afterwards, I went out on the balcony to see JL's train appear underneath! It took a while to get 400 passengers all back on the ship, but eventually we were ready to set sail! We had dinner, with a table by the window to see the scenery as we sailed out of the harbour. We then went to see the classical duo play a concert of opera and ballet music - wonderful! Then back to the room to watch the port talk about Wellington to prepare ourselves for two days time. 

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