Oamaru to Dunedin: More Penguins!

There are so many amazing small towns in New Zealand and Oamaru is one of them. I went for the penguins and enjoyed the other bits as bonus.

Oamaru is also the Steampunk Capital of NZ

Oamaru is also the Steampunk Capital of NZ

When you drive into town on Highway 1, there are signs to victorian Oamaru. (This part of town is also closest to the penguin colonies. ) These couple of blocks of historic buildings are home to a creative revival. There are clever shops, including a bookbindery and an old fashioned toy store,  and it is the home of the Steampunk Headquarters in the self-proclaimed Steampunk Capital of New Zealand.

First, as background, if like me you are not familiar with what it is all about, you can read the Wikipedia entry for Steampunk. Or you rely on the definition in the Oamaru brochure: “Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s.”  Much clearer. Yeah, right.

This became a fun focus of conversation with shopkeepers as the townspeople are divided in their opinion of steampunk culture. One artist said that the arrival of Steampunk about 5 or so years ago created schisms in the art community. And then admitted that every art community has its schisms and politics.  Another person said they loved the creativity and openness of Steampunk and we talked about “creating from” the historic victorian with a futuristic “Dr. Who” flair.

It co-exists alongside the purist Victorian re-enactors. Some love the steampunk fashion and others are into the art. Either way, there is now a Steampunk New Zealand festival with a kick-off event called Oamaru On Fire.  The Steampunk HQ were closed on the day I tried to stop in (even though it says open 7 days a week).  The League of Victorian Imagineers hosts a Fashion Show and Ball in June each year.

My curiosity is mainly for penguins, so in addition to the blue penguin colony, I rose before sunrise one fine morning and drove out to Bushy Beach to the hide and waited over an hour for a Yelllow-eyed penguin to appear.

The view from the hide at Bushy Beach..

The view from the hide at Bushy Beach..

Even though a pair of binoculars would have been handy, I could still see the lone penguin emerge from the brush and saunter across the sand and rocks to the surf. He/she then dove into the water and swam around the shoreline.  The Yellow-eyed penguin is at least twice the size of a blue penguin. I left the hide and hiked the 50 yards to my car as by this time I was a popsicle. It was worth the cold and wait. And I have a new appreciation for field scientists who have to patiently endure the elements to count a species or observe behavior.  I also better understood how “sampling error” can happen as it takes a person of integrity to maintain an observation post in the cold and sleet day in and day out.

When I was a kid, sometimes my favorite part of watching late night fireworks or stargazing or walking through the neighborhood singing carols, was the hot chocolate at the end.  This time my reward was a delicious hot breakfast and flat white at the Bridge Cafe in Oamaru. Then a hot shower at Highfield Mews Motel before hitting the road to Dunedin.

I gave myself plenty of time for the drive back to Dunedin because I wanted to stop at the Moeraki Boulders and check out the Yellow-eyed penguin colony at the Kataki Lighthouse in Moeraki.  I do not know what I expected with the boulders. I laughed at what seemed the anti-climax.

God left his bocce ball set behind.

God left his bocce ball set behind.

It made for a good 15-20 minute stretch of the legs. I learned from a South Island native later in the week that there used to be more boulders but that people have removed some of them. Now they are protected. It is interesting how our attitudes toward conservation have changed, thankfully. The Kataki lighthouse is automated now. Before the keepers were relocated they heroically replanted the denuded hillsides to native bush and made a much more convivial place for the yellow eyed penguins to nest. They also build and equipped a very good hide. Whereas Bushy Beach was accessible, this is only reached by a very steep path and some other obstacles that are available only to fit people.  I did not expect to see any penguins as they make their appearance at sunrise and 1-2 hours before sunset.  They are also more solitary and so appear one or two at a time, not in rafts.  This would be a worthwhile spot to return to at the right time of day. The road to the lighthouse is gravel with just the steepest part paved in tarmac. Allow 20 minutes to drive out in one direction.

Books about Fluer's place are available for sale.

It was lunchtime and I noticed a place on my Moeraki tourist map that said, “Fleur’s Place” and boasted fresh caught fish and organic vegetables.  I found it easily and walked in and requested a table. Have you ever asked for a table in a practically empty restaurant and had the hostess look at you like you were crazy? Apparently (I did not know) I was in world-famous in NZ restaurant.  She deigned to find me a table without a booking. Lots more people did come in after me, but the restaurant never filled completely.  The fish and veg were delicious, and pricey.  I paid my bill and made a note to eat more cheaply at dinner.

I completed my drive to Dunedin fairly quickly and enjoyed this lovely University town with the heavy Scottish accent.

Postcard: Cadbury Chocolate Factory Tour Anyone?

Need you ask?  The answer to any question involving chocolate is an unqualified YES!

I had some extra time the first day I arrived in Dunedin but missed the last tour. The hostess encouraged me to book a tour for the next day to secure a spot since the winter school holidays were starting.  I returned the next day at 10:30 a.m. and joined a group of Chinese, Australian, Kiwi and American chocolate fans for a 1.15 hour tour.

Cadbury Factory visitor centre and tours

Cadbury Factory visitor centre and tours

If you listen carefully you quickly realize that many of the women on the tour have elaborate chocolate fantasies. While walking by a large tub of chocolate being stirred provocatively, “Ohh, I’d love to take a bath in that.”  After the guide teased us saying that we would be stopping in the silo for a surprise at the end of the tour, “Ohhh, I hope they pour chocolate on us.”

Cadbury Chocolate Company was started in England by Quakers. I have learned a lot about the company over the years between my pastors who are Quaker history buffs and chocolate eaters, and I read an entire book about the company a few years ago.  The family’s commitment to slave free chocolate and worker health and education was quite unique. Sadly, the Kraft company bought it a few years ago and now much of these commitments are part of history.

The factory in Dunedin is quite old and has just gone through a kind of total quality management process to remain open for certain specialty Cadbury products.  Their competitive advantage is the quality of the milk chocolate crumb they make, mainly due to the superior quality of NZ dairy milk.

We all donned hair nets and took off all of our jewelry and listened to our tour guide with rapt attention. He quickly had us trained to walk to the left and try to answer questions as he was quite liberal with the chocolate rewards.  It was not just the three little girls who were trying for treats. Fortunately, he was very generous with the samples.

I love dark chocolate, and yet I happily ate a Picnic bar, a Dairy Milk, and a Carmello bar in a relatively short span of time. When I left I was in desperate need of a coffee.  All in all, this was one of the happiest places I have been–giving Disney a run for the money. Everyone on the tour was just as pleased as me, and the operations are impressive.

Crunchie Mountain

Crunchie Mountain: Crunchie bars are hokey-pokey covered in chocolate

First things first, Penguins!

Do be careful, you are in penguin habitat.

Do be careful, you are in penguin habitat.

I flew 12.5 hours to Auckland, then 2 hours to Dunedin, then drove 2 hours to Oamaru so that I could throw my bags in my motel room and put on warm layers and head to the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony before sunset.  Oamaru has embraced its penguin colonies–both the little blue penguin and the yellow-eyed penguins. There is good signage from Highway 1 and through Victorian Oamaru.  I had to stop the Toyota Yaris rental car and take a picture of this sign on he road out to the blue penguin colony.  Of course it is cute and makes tourists like me smile, and it serves a serious purpose as the penguins nest all along the hillside and actually cross this road n the early morning and after sunset on their way to and from the sea.

The little blue penguin, also known in Australia as the fairy penguin, is the smallest penguin weighing in at only 1 kg. They begin their breeding season about this time of year. Scientists say they mate for life, except when they get “divorced”, or lose their mate to predators, and so on. Best to say that they do return to the same colony each year after several months feeding at sea and will seek out the mate from the previous year if they are still getting along.

This colony is growing. The partnership between the penguins and the nonprofit that offers the viewing and provides them with more and more nesting boxes is working. The penguins here often raise two sets of clutches or eggs a season. This year, for whatever reason, they got a late start and may only get one set of chicks raised before they moult in summer and go out to sea again.

nesting boxes in hummocks for penguins

nesting boxes in hummocks for penguins

The center is chock full of information and I read the exhibits before joining my guide for both the day tour and the night tour.  It is affordable–together it was $46 USD per person.  Your entrance fee supports the work the nonprofit is doing to continue to enhance the colony. You can also “adopt a penguin” for $150 NZD.

For the day tour we walked on the boardwalk through a “Hobbiton” for penguins with nesting boxes throughout a wide expanse of man-made hummocks.  Most appeared to be in use (with penguin poop on the doorstep).  I also was able to go into a special hut where penguins are nesting beneath. A special light that does not disturb the penguins but allows us to see them in their nests and specially built boxes so people can see into their nests, allows me to see several nesting pairs.  They also have a “penguin cam” on four nests outside of the hut.  A couple of these also had birds at home and I could watch on tablets inside the hut.

This was all very interesting and worthwhile, but I wanted to see more of the penguins interacting with their environment .  For this section, I have to rely on photos from Google images because no flash photography is allowed and by this time the light was fading beyond the capabilities of my humble camera.

When I first arrived I was one of the Center’s only visitors, but when we returned toward the time of the evening viewing a couple of dozen other people had also gathered.  People were from all over: China, New Zealand, Australia, and USA. It was a cold, cold evening and none of us were adequately prepared. Most had paid for the premium tickets, which afforded seating that is slightly more protected from the wind. Not that you ever sit, because as soon as the penguins begin to appear everyone is standing and craning to get the best possible view.

The profile of a very small duck in water

The profile of a very small duck in water

This particular colony approaches from the sea at a rocky, steep slope. We strained to try and see them in the water. You can see from this photo (aided by daylight) the blue penguin is not very noticeable in water. Their coloring is designed to fool predators. The blue topside helps them blend in water, and leopard seals that might be looking up at their white bottom side will not see them either.  It took our eyes a short while to adjust to the growing darkness and the special light that helps us see but is outside the penguins’ spectrum.  There was a big New Zealand fur seal (not a threat to penguins) who was sleeping very still on the rocks and it was fun to watch as one by one people recognized the big black rock as a seal.  The penguins had a similar reaction as they came ashore.  Some of them actually bumped into the seal.

Finally, as we were reaching popsicle stage, we began to see the penguins washed ashore by the rough surf, scrabble a toehold on the rocks and hop to higher ground.  A few feet from the surf’s edge they stopped to seemingly catch their breath, then continue hopping  up the rocks to higher ground.  Once there they clustered and preened their feathers and “cooled off” from their recent exertion.

When a group of 6 to 10 were ready to march on home, they scampered across the open area to a narrow chute and then on to the various nest boxes.  It reminded me of commuters at a train station.  (I cannot help but compare their behavior to human behavior as silly as it may seem at times.)

Adult blue penguin at night, similar to my viewing experience

Adult blue penguin at night, similar to my viewing experience

After an hour of watching the penguins do their nightly migration from sea to nests, I was really cold and really happy,  I smiled a lot during that hour!  They are just so darn cute. It is such a privilege to see them in something closer to their natural habitat.

We carefully left via a raised boardwalk back towards the visitor’s center.  We stopped whenever there were penguins moving near us and waited for them to pass.  This location is fully handicapped accessible, though that night we did not use the wheelchair ramp at the end because a blue penguin was preening himself on it.  We were able to stand just a few feet away and admire.

The helpful center guides gave me information about yellow eyed penguin colonies in Oamaru and along the coast and suggested viewing times.  I bought a beautiful new penguin book and a very handy merino scarf in the gift shop.  The center does not have a cafe; there is a restaurant a short walk away.

As I drove slowly away with the car heater on full blast, I saw a pair of blue penguins on the sea side of the road with a couple of people enthusiastically taking flash photos. I could see the wisdom in not allowing flash photography or videography.  Hopefully those penguin fans will leave them soon and allow the penguins to recover before crossing the road.

Fully satisfied, I drove back through the small town to the Highland Mews Motel to my very warm room and bed for a very satisfying nights sleep.  Before turning out the light I set my alarm for 6 a.m. to rise in time for a yellow eyed penguin experience.

 

 

 

Swatch: Folly Dress for World of Wearable Art

Among the reasons I am visiting New Zealand is to attend The World of Wearable Art. It was great to see a big mural welcoming me to New Zealand and to WOW.  UK Sarah and I will fly to Wellington next week to have fun in NZ’s capital and to see WOW on Thursday night. What does one wear?  If you are avant garde enough, you can go for something outrageous or high fashion. I decided to find a dress that I feel great in and buy a new pair of heels that rock the outfit. I found my dress in Portland at a shop called Folly.

In a Portland magazine I read about Sarah Bibb, a Portland designer who makes her clothes in a local factory and sells her designs and other “made in USA” designs in a shop a short bike ride from our hotel.  As soon as it stopped raining, I hopped on my Brompton and raced to Folly to check out her clothes. The designer was in the shop and gave me her personal attention. At first I was looking for my daughter as many of the designs were more appealing to a twenty-something.

Designer Sarah Bibb models skirt at Folly

Designer Sarah Bibb models skirt at Folly

Then I told her that I was looking for a dress for WOW and she pulled a great looking knit dress that travels well off the rack.  I tried it on and loved it enough to buy it.

I learned a lot from Sarah about the challenges of designing and manufacturing clothing in the United States. You cannot compete with Target by making disposable clothing, that is for sure. Sarah explained that the recession has taken a toll on manufacturing in the USA. Most of the remaining garment industry is in Los Angeles. In Folly, 20% of the clothing are her designs, and 80% are made in the USA.

Back to my episode of What to Wear to Wow… Finding the right shoes to go with the dress was a little more trial and error. After a pair that I found on DSW website did not fit, I went to my fail safe–Macy’s and Franco Sarto.

I had a dress rehearsal while in New York City.  The dress does travel well and it feels great to wear.  I could use more practice walking in the shoes!

Having seen the WOW dresses at the Nelson museum and at a special exhibit in Rotorua, I look forward to an exhilarating sensory experience.

Folly dress with Ricardo and Ray at The Park in Chelsea

Folly dress with Ricardo and Ray at The Park in Chelsea

Postcard from Auckland

First things first, flat white

First things first, flat white

At the end of another easy Air New Zealand flight, we landed in Auckland ahead of schedule. As soon as I got through customs I made a beeline to the coffee truck for a flat white. If you have not been to New Zealand and imbibed on the famous “flat white” allow me to explain. The En Zed flat white is essentially a latte. Except that New Zealand dairy cows are all grass fed and it makes for incredible tasty milk. And Kiwis are not hung up about Cuba so when a coffee crazy guy from New Zealand decided to import roasters and introduce espresso drinks, he went to Cuba where they have the best coffee in the world. Put the two together and YUM–even the flat white at the airport is a treat.

There is a stark difference between interest in America’s Cup in New Zealand versus NorCal. I got an earful from Kiwis in the airport and on the plane who went to see the Cup and had strong opinions about Team Oracle and the cheating incident. The pilots on both flights gave us updates. It was the only thing on the television in the Auckland airport and everyone is collectively holding their breath. Some people are pessimistic out of an innate modesty; however, radio disc jockeys are holding contests to encourage Team New Zealand.  It would be great to see America’s Cup return to Auckland, so I hope they win their 9th race tomorrow.

Dunedin is lovely and this morning (Tuesday) I drove through beautiful countryside to Oamaru in my rental car. It is always an adjustment to remember how to drive a manual car with the shift stick on the left and driving on the other side.  Plus I was distracted by the many adorable newborn lambs on green, green grass.  It is great to be breathing New Zealand air.  Looking forward to my first penguin encounter tonight.

 

Portland the Go To Destination for Girls Weekend

On the flight to Auckland I watched a few episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. My bf Harriet, like Anthony, is willing to try any food and appreciates provocative taste combinations. A few weeks ago we met up for a  girl’s weekend in Portland, Oregon. Harriet drove up from Humboldt County in time for Friday night dinner. Portland is a haven for foodies and we did our best to eat our way through town.

Pickle platter at Kenny and Zuke's Deli

Pickle platter at Kenny and Zuke’s Deli

I arrived by plane earlier in the day and enjoyed the convenience of catching the light rail from the airport to downtown. Immediately I picked up on the Portland vibe where all the men have beards and even the women wear plaid.  We were seeking: the Portlandia experience with the hipster dialed down just a bit.

Hetta and I like to stay at the Mark Spencer Hotel in the Pearl District because of its close proximity to the places we love most.  It also allows pets and we keep promising ourselves to one day travel with Bill the cat or Radar the dog.  I checked in and appreciated the updates to the rooms; for the same value they are seriously spruced up! And the front desk honored my return visit discount card (though the website did not when I made my reservations).

It was mid-afternoon and I was feeling peckish so I went across the street to Kenny and Zuke’s Deli and ordered the plate of all things pickled.  It was tasty and a great way to wade into Portland cuisine—just up to my ankles.

While I may be a plodder when it comes to eating, I have a flair for shopping. I dropped in to a couple of my favorites in Portland. First Knit Purl, a yarn shop that has inspiring window displays and a terrific website. I found a Scandinavian knitting design book that will help me when I tackle my Norwegian pattern, and the most recent issue of Debbie Bliss’ magazine.  I was tempted by the Shibui Knits yarn, but resisted. The weekend was just starting and I had plans to buy a bike.  On the same block is Josephine’s Dry Goods fabric store. My stomach dropped when I saw the “We’re Closing” sale sign. The owner is retiring and she has every right to, but this was one of the few places I could count on finding terrific cotton prints, including Liberty of London. It is the anti-Joanne’s and next time in Portland it will not be there.   (heavy sigh)For the weeks prior to my Portland weekend I researched the Brompton foldable bike.  I fell in love with Brompton’s in a deluxe bike shop in Paris. On the website I discovered there were no dealers near where I live and there are two in Portland. Why not buy it in a place with no sales tax? The first shop on my list is across the street from our hotel.  The Westend bike shop has a great selection of bikes and a coffee bar (of course).  They only had a couple of Brompton’s in stock and I was able to take one for a test drive.  It was very comfortable to ride and I was convinced that this was going to be my next bike purchase.  I decided not to pull the trigger until Harriet arrived and we had a chance to go the second shop.

Westend Bikes in Portland

Westend Bikes in Portland

Hetta and I have been friends since second grade and we bonded over children’s books. Her mom would take us to the library each week and we would both check out the limit, read them quickly and then trade before the week was up.  We still share books, so of course part of the Pearl District’s allure is that it hosts the Powell’s Books flagship store. We always spent a considerable amount of time at Powell’s.

The plan for dinner on Friday was to drive to the Alberta neighborhood to meet up with my friend Lisa and her partner Meg and walk to Pok Pok Noi.  Added bonus, this is the neighborhood that inspired Beverly Cleary’s books (Henry Huggins, Ramona and Beezus).  I found Pok Pok on Urban Spoon and then Lisa and Meg confirmed that it was inspired Thai food.  The menu is not typical thai. We started with the amazing chicken wings and ate all kinds of other terrific dishes with sticky rice.  We walked back via Alberta Street and managed to work up enough appetite for Meg’s truly amazing blueberry and mascarpone tart.

Favorite bookstore on the West Coast

Favorite bookstore on the West

On Saturday we started our day with breakfast at Tasty n Alder. Harriet went for the Korean egg dish–it finished cooking at the table and had yummy, spicy, crunchy bits.

Lisa joined us later in the morning and we walked to Portland State University for the Saturday market. On the way we passed at least 3 parking lots full of food trucks. Portland embraced permissive zoning and as a result it is much easier for creative chefs to get a start.  Many of them have crossed over to brick and mortar restaurants.  The Saturday Market is also chock a block with food stalls.  Even though we were not hungry, we tried a delicious lamb dish.The walking helped, but while I was watching Anthony Bourdain, I had a flashback to the feeling in Portland—too much rich and wonderful food in too short a time.  My stomach felt queasy watching Anthony eat so much black truffle, cheesy and saucy dishes in Quebec.

We parted with Lisa after hugs all around, and continued the shopping adventure. We drove to Hawthorne Boulevard to Clever Cycles to complete my quest for a foldable bike. Eureka! This shop has a huge selection and a real Brompton enthusiast in Todd.  I purchased the bike that I now call “Black Beauty” with Harriet’s full approval.  We drove back via Reed College.

We decided to scale back with dinner and walked to Lardo, one of Portland’s food truck success stories.  I scaled back my order, but I still found room to try Ruby Jewel for a scoop of ice cream. The next morning we eased into the day with a walk to Mother’s Bistro and Bar for a full breakfast.  It was decadent and delicious. Oh boy, my tummy was reaching “tilt”.  

Harriet had a long drive ahead and left shortly after breakfast. I planned to write all day until my late evening flight.  It was raining on and off so I kept one eye for a break in the weather to test drive my new bike. Getting a little exercise helped to balance out a high calorie, high friendship weekend.

 

American as… pie

Pie Ranch on California Highway 1

Pie Ranch on California Highway 1

While driving from Capitola to Half Moon Bay on California Highway 1, I saw this sign and almost broke my axle turning off the road to check it out.

I love pie. I love pie more than cookies, or cake or any other sweet thing. So the idea of a ranch that produces pies sounded like heaven. And it was a little slice of.

I parked the car and entered a large barn. Pie Ranch is a combination of fruit and veggie stand, community center and pie bakery. They had hosted a barn dance the night before and they had lots of individual pies left over. I debated between ordering peach and walnut.  I chose peach pie. The filling was delicious but the crust was too dense. Still it tasted yummy.  And with a cup of coffee it made a great treat.

Pie Ranch is in Pescadero not far from the Ano Nuevo State Park famous for the colony of elephant seals that breed here in winter and an easy bike ride from the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel.

The experience also inspired me to think about celebrating pie at least once a month. I come from a long line of pie baking women and I enjoy making pies. Yet I should not eat a whole pie alone, so I invited some friends to join me at the Wednesday Night Farmers market for “Pie Night.” And last night I made a peach pie with my friend Petrea using the recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

Tonight I took the peach pie, a blanket to sit on and a thermos of decaf coffee and shared my pie. It was delicious and just the right balance of fruit and crust.

Peaches grown in Hughson, pie made by American Julie

Peaches grown in Hughson, pie made by American Julie