In my last post, we were heading to Mount Sunday. We have had really crappy weather. Pretty much since we arrived in New Zealand it has been rainy and cold.
We drove the gravel road to Mount Sunday from Methven. It took a little more than an hour. It was grey and cloudy and rainy. It was tempting just to turn back. As I mentioned before, Mount Sunday was the location for the filming of Edoras in Lord of the Rings. When we arrived at Mount Sunday it was not raining and the hill was pretty clear.
It took about half an hour to walk the trail and climb the hill. We passed some people who were on a tour. This tour, from Christchurch, can cost about $250 including lunch in the van. We were doing it for free. For a few minutes it felt like the sky was going to clear but it didn't.
After our climb, we back tracked the gravel road and then continued south and west. We got as far as Lake Tekapo. I am sure all of this area is beautiful when the skies are clear. We saw grey skies and rain even more so the mountains were not much to see. Lake Tekapo is beautiful I am certain. Perhaps the weather will clear when we come back this way after going south.
We stayed at the only backpackers that had availability. We had a dorm room and it was very big and impersonal. No one really talked to each other. The kitchen was big and crowded. In the morning we basically were told we needed to get out and could not be there after check out time. Hostels never do that. They always let you stay longer. This place made me cranky. Internet in NZ is not good. They need to get into the 21st century and stop charging extra for it.
After our morning run in Lake Tekapo, we drove to Mount Cook. In Maori it is called Aoraki. Not much to see again… more rain. We could not see the mountain. Mt Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. Hopefully, when we drive the west side of the island we will be able to see it. We did hike up to see the Tasman Glacier. It was pretty far away from where we were. We have seen a lot of glaciers now, it is tough to impress us.
After not quite seeing Mount Cook, we drove to Oamaru. Oamaru is on the coast on the east side… south of Christchurch. There are colonies of blue penguins and yellow-eyed penguins. We were looking for our hostel and found the lookout for the yellow-eyed penguins. We were looking at them from the top of a cliff and they were on the beach down below. It was not easy to see them. Yellow-eyed penguins are the rarest penguins in the world. This was not like our penguin encounters in Antarctica at all. We went to where the blue penguins are as well but you had to pay to go in. We did not pay the $28.
Our hostel in Oamaru was beautiful and comfortable. It was more like a lodge. It was right across the street from the beach. It was pouring rain and there were crazy winds though. We were happy to be inside. It had wifi too which was a bonus. We might have stayed a couple more days if she had had vacancy. However, it was coming up to Easter weekend and we were learning that things were pretty booked up.
Instead, we headed the next morning for Dunedin. Actually, we left around 10:30am because we wanted to get to Moeraki at low tide. Moeraki is famous for one thing. There are these large spherical boulders on the beach. They form in the sand at the bottom of the ocean when minerals and sediment collect around something like a bone or wood fragment. Over thousands of years they harden into a rock and when the outer crust chips or wears away, they look like soccer balls with polygonal cracks. As the tides flow they eventually wash away the sand from around these boulders and they are left sitting on the beach. They are quite neat to see.
After Moeraki, we continued on to Dunedin. We would stay in Dunedin for the Easter Weekend. We stayed at a hostel called Hogwarts. The first night was raining pretty hard in Dunedin. The forecast for the rest of our time there was cloudy but little rain. Our room looked out at a large cathedral across the street.
I am sure my account of Dunedin will be out of order because it is all kind of a blurr in my head now. On the morning of Good Friday we went for a run. Dunedin is a hill city so we were trying to find somewhere flat to run. There is quite a lovely botanical gardens in Dunedin so we thought we would run there. As it turns out the botanical gardens is built in the side of a hill. We ran the hill for a while and then just ran laps around the flat part at the bottom of the hill. On Easter Sunday, our next run day, we went to Otago University to run. It was much flatter and we actually ran around the track for a while.
Most things were closed on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Some things were open though so we never went without something to do. We went to the Cadbury factory one day but they were only doing shortened tours. We just paid $5 to tour the visitor centre as opposed to $16 for the shortened tour. The factory was not in operation anyway so they do not take you in there on the weekends. We got a little chocolate but nothing like the chocolate factory tour we did in Switzerland.
On another day we did a tour of the Speights brewery. Speights is the most popular beer in New Zealand. He brewery was right around the corner from our hostel. It cost $22 and lasted an hour and a half. We got to sample all of the Speights beers and cider. At the end, there was 30 minutes to drink as much as you can. You just help yourself to the tap. Note to others, we learned after that it is best to get the last tour of the day because you might get a little longer than 30 minutes to drink… no other tours will be coming along pushing you along. I really enjoyed this tour for obvious reasons.
On Saturday, the sun was out. It was so exciting to feel some warmth. I wouldn't say it was clear because there were still some clouds. Nevertheless, we could see some blue skies. We took advantage of the nice weather to go for a drive to the Otago Peninsula. It is about a 45-60 minute drive along a very winding coastal road to get to the very end where there is an albatross centre.
We did not see any albatrosses. For one thing, it was not very windy and albatrosses glide and hover in the wind. Secondly, they nest on the other side of the hill and you have to pay $40 to get to that side. I guess having paid $4000 to go to Antarctica and seeing albatrosses following our ship, we did not feel the need or desire to pay so much to see more.
We did see some shags and other birds. We went for a long steep downhill hike to the beachfront. There are lots of fur seals basking about down there. There was one lone yellow-eyed penguin halfway up the hill on the far side. There were several holes below a viewing platform. One of the holes had a blue penguin in it. All you could see was a trembling blue penguin butt in the hole though. I am sure it was scared as people stuck their cameras in the hole to snap a pic.
Another thing we did in Dunedin was visit the self-proclaimed steepest street in the world, Baldwin Street. We parked at the bottom of the street and walked up. I could not imagine living on such a steep street. At the top, we ran into a young Dutch guy that we had met in Hanmer Springs and then again in Oamaru. It is always funny when you keep running into the same people over and over again.
We had decided we were going to go back to the peninsula this time to see if we could find sea lions. We brought the young Dutch guy with us as he had no vehicle. He was very happy to have this opportunity to see the peninsula. We tried two places on recommendation of the people who run Hogwarts. First we went to St. Clair beach. It is a beautiful beach in south Dunedin but there were no sea lions.
Then we went to the Otago Peninsula and headed for Sandfly Bay. We got very lucky at sandfly. We saw penguins and sea lions. The penguins were on one side climbing up the hill where I figure their nests were. On the other end of the beach there were several sea lions basking about. I got plenty of good photos. The prize though was when two of them had a short battle. I videotaped the squabble. I think it was probably like the seals in Antarctica fighting to be beach master.
On Tuesday morning, it was time to move along. Before we left Dunedin we checked out two last sites in Dunedin. First we went to the train station. It is a beautiful old building. Did I mention that Dunedin is the Edinburgh of NZ. There is a lot of Scottish influence here including a large statue of Robbie Burns in the Octagon. The railway station has this kind of look and feel to it (I presume given that I have yet to go to Scotland). We also went to the Settlers Museum. It is a nice, well setup museum dedicated to the people who first settled this area.
After leaving Dunedin, we headed further south to the Catlins. I will leave the Catlins for my next blog rather than split it over two. I am not sure if the five days of fairly nice weather are done now. I am writing this in our cabin and it is raining pretty good outside. Cross your fingers for us… We need to dry out, we are water logged.