In my pre-trip planning I experienced some frustrations in trying to line up penguin experiences. The Otago Peninsula in
Dunedin is one of the few places in New Zealand guide books where penguin experiences are specifically called out, so I was a bit mystified that it was such a challenge to arrange. I was not able to arrange a yellow-eyed penguin tour so I signed up for Blue Penguins Pukekura at the Royal Albatross Centre.
The drive on the Otago Peninsula Low Road was an adventure. Even though I had a firm grip on the wheel part of me had to smile at the “at your own risk” road. Not a great place to be in a storm unless you have a life jacket in the car. Also, stay sober! Driving all the way to the end to the Royal Albatross Centre is worth it. The Centre is interesting and I recommend arriving an hour before sunset so you can watch the albatross arrive to their roosting area for the night. (There is also a cafe to grab a bite to eat or hot drink).
This particular evening the blue penguin viewing started at 6:30 p.m. Thumbs up for the jackets provided as an extra barrier against the cold and for the Maori welcome. The stairs are also well lit to the platform at the bottom of a gentle beach along the harbor. Unfortunately, this is not a wheelchair accessible experience.
The sandy beach was easily visible from the viewing platform and we only had to wait a short while before the first raft of penguins arrived. Because of the gentle approach, the penguins could assemble in the bay and arrived on shore together. About 100 yards off shore we could see their dark shape and the thrashing water signal their approach. Nothing however prepared me for their burst on to shore and sprint to the grassy area about 15 yards beyond the surf. It was so charming and funny. They are adorable. Again flash photography is prohibited.
Everyone was in a super good mood by the time we started the steep climb up the hill. We handed our jackets over and began the “fun” drive back the coast road. It was actually not as worrisome as I expected.
The next day I serendipitously discovered the office of the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust on Lower Stuart Street. They are celebrating their 25th anniversary of restoring habitat, funding research, and promoting penguin appreciation and education. I have seen other communities celebrate an individual (Rio Vista humpback whale Humphrey, Dingle dolphin, and of course the Loch Ness monster!), yet I found it sweet how Dunedin and the Otago region embraced their special stewardship of the yellow-eyed penguin.
Dunedin is sometimes referred to the Edinburgh of New Zealand because of its Scottish roots. It is also a university town, with most NZ doctors trained at the medical college here. It seems redundant to say it is a beautiful location as everywhere in New Zealand is in different ways. I really enjoyed the central business district with the interesting railway station and the Octogon in the center of town. Dunedin is also one of many cities in NZ that prides itself on its gardens (Christchurch, Wellington to name others). My main purpose was to see the penguins but if it had not poured rain I would have also gone to the Dunedin Botanic Garden or the more recently planted Dunedin Chinese Garden. There also was not time to go to the only castle in NZ–Larnach Castle and gardens. All give me reasons to return.
New Zealanders are also known for their love of sports of all sorts. Rugby is king, and Dunedin’s skyline is dominated in the harbor area by Forsyth Barr Stadium, built for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. The All Blacks beat the Springboks (South Africa) in Auckland on September 14, as part of the Investec Rugby Championship and they were facing Argentina in a few days in La Plata. The sports commentators were buzzing about this and that to do with rugby, but the eyes of the nation were firmly fixed on the America’s Cup.
When I arrived in Auckland the race was being broadcast on every television in the Auckland airport. I had already been “educated” by Kiwis on my flight who were returning from watching the race in San Francisco. I already knew that the average Kiwi was way more passionate about the race than 10 Americans put together. And I learned quickly not to argue with people who clearly knew way more about the competition and sailing than I will ever know. So I asked questions like, “Oh, how did the American’s cheat?” When I commented that I hope the Cup returns to NZ so I can watch it in Auckland, they would nod vigorously and launch into a detailed explanation of how NZ will change the rules to make it more competitive. As one fan pointed out to me, when they hosted the America’s Cup in 2003 there were many more nations participating and some women-only teams.
By the time I arrived in Dunedin (after my time in Oamaru) the American team had roared back to tie up the series and there was just one race left–sudden death. Bad time to be “American Julie” in New Zealand.
Coincidentally I decided to see if the railway station was as lovely inside as it is outside and stumbled upon the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame. (It is.) The admission is just $5NZ, and the friendly older gentleman who was at reception was enthusiastic about all sports. For a country of 4.4 million, they have a remarkable number of world-class athletes. You might think the Hall of Fame is dominated by rugby, actually, there are terrific athletes in a wide variety of sports, including sailing. There were several handouts provided including one confirming that the All Blacks got their name from their “sable and unrelieved costume” as early as 1893. And they have performed the pre-match haka as early as 1888, but did not become a ritual until the first World Cup in 1987.
My host pointed out that the Americans had done a remarkable job recovering from the NZ team’s 8-1 lead in the America’s Cup and I could feel the sting in his voice. So later when I saw a list at the exhibit for Sir Edmund Hillary of the most important sportsman of the 20th Century (as voted by American sportswriters), and I saw that the great mountaineer and inductee was 9th, and I saw that Lance Armstrong was 2nd, I crossed out Lance’s name and showed him that Hillary was actually 8th. We had a lovely chat about sports and sportsmanship.
It made me think about the sporting paradoxes in the USA: we love an underdog, and everyone loves to hate a team (like the Yankees) when we feel that they “bought” their championships, and yet, people are lined up to buy a team and spend billions to have a championship too. We have many gracious sportsmen/women, and we tend to forgive some very bad behavior, like John McEnroe and Tiger Woods because of their sports prowess. And we tend to turn a blind eye to cheating if everyone is making money, and then express outrage when the person gets caught.
As much fun as I was having, I had a date with penguins that evening, so I drove to the Hotel St. Clair in the beach suburb St. Clair. I found it on Trip Advisor and this hotel property is terrific. My room had a great view of the sea and a television. In the morning I was able to watch the final America’s Cup race at 9 a.m. before checking out. If you saw the race then you know that after the first turn the result was never in doubt. The NZ sports announcers grumbled a fair bit about the technological advantage and about “Herbie” the hydraulic system that helped the Oracle boat get on its foils more quickly. (I read later that this was greatly exaggerated.) As the American team celebrated their victory, one announcer made a snarky comment that since Brit Ben Ainslie was on the team, Britain would no doubt say they won.
I expected people to be disappointed and Kiwis were really demoralized. They would hear my accent and they would congratulate me on the American team’s win. I realized from previous conversations that it did not help to point out that people in the US were not nearly as caught up in the America’s Cup as they are in NZ. I had my own “shock and awe” at how much faster the American boat was in the last 9 races, so I nodded when they talked about the technological advantage. I also tried to point out that there were Kiwis on every team, so really they could not lose, but that fell on deaf ears.
One woman I met was still holding her “lucky bear” she got when New Zealand won the cup in 1995. She was near tears when she talked about the loss earlier in the day. On Friday when I walked with the American women, one of them shared that she read in the paper that psychologists are concerned that Kiwis over-identify with sports teams confusing their own self-esteem with how well their team plays. Hey, I used to be on that emotional roller coaster when I followed USC’s football team more closely. In a country where most of the population lives very close to the sea, and most people have a rudimentary understanding of sailing, and a heritage of sailing (whether you harken to the amazing Polynesian/Maori traditions or the British Navy), so sailing is probably always going to matter more to most New Zealanders.
I was glad when I got to Auckland that people were recovering and celebrating the achievement of fielding a terrific team and coming close to winning. There was mostly praise for the Captain Baaaahker (Barker with a NZ accent). The Auckland Museum honored the team by lighting the museum with their team colors for 3 consecutive nights. And hundreds of people greeted the team at the airport.
The New Zealand Herald is still covering the post-race “news”, but the All Blacks win over the Pumas in Argentina helped to soothe the national psyche.
My friend UK Sarah and I spotted the Trelise Cooper dress shop on our way to the cable car to ride to the botanical garden. “Shall we go now or later?” Now. From the moment we walked in, the clothes got my heart pumping.
Sarah is looking for the right dress and coat to wear to her daughter’s wedding in a British springtime. We happily fossicked around for quite awhile looking at all the possibilities. Roseanne worked tirelessly to find different designs in Sarah’s size. Meanwhile I browsed the sale rack.
After a very happy hour, Sarah found a beautiful brocade dress and a linen jacket that looked stunning on her. Penny, the shop’s owner joined in helping Sarah determine the best size and adjusted the cuffs on the jacket. I cheered her on and affirmed that she had the winning combination for the Mother of the Bride.
Meanwhile, I found my own deal on the sale rack. I am now a fan of Trelise Cooper designs.
P.S. While walking to the World of Wearable Art performance and awards we saw this bus stop billboard!
My friend Kate and I were walking along the beach at Mission Bay when I saw this crazy contraption! What will people think of next?
I laughed and ran down to the shoreline to take a closer look. The boat owner had just pedaled from Mission Bay to Oeraki and back at about 6 km an hour (walking pace). He said it is designed by Italians and it is the first of its kind in New Zealand. It can all be deflated and folded up and fit in a backpack.
I knew Kate’s husband Barry would find this fascinating and I was right. He googled Shuttlebike right away to figure out how it works. (Santa will be getting a request!)
I was planning to do a yarn crawl in Dunedin. I researched several yarn shops in advance. On my first day in Dunedin I had a little bit of time, so I went to the first couple of wool shoppes on my list. The first was unfortunately typical of New Zealand. Here I am in the land of the best wool in the world and the yarn and patterns are all targeted to Grandma. It is shocking how the fashion knitting craze has completely evaded NZ thus far.
The name of the next shop held some promise: Seriously Twisted! I walked up to the Octogon and found the shop. At first I thought it was only ready made knit wear, albeit of good quality. Then I spotted Janene Weir working on a project in the rear of the shop. She was weaving what looked like luxurious fur into a crocheted scarf. It was lovely. I quickly learned that the shop owner and knit wear designer Linzi Irving created a way to take the pesky possum and treat the fur to make it look remarkably like mink.
Possum were introduced in NZ by some demented person years ago and now threatens native bird and bush species. You can feel good about wearing this fur as you are doing something for the environment. It is a hollow fibre so it holds the heat and provides warmth. It can be combined with merino wool for the warmest gloves I’ve ever owned. Or used as a fur trim as Linzi does.
At first I was focused on the beautiful scarves, and then Janene showed me a beautiful wrap. I tried it on and it was so light, and soft, I did not want to take it off. After wearing it around the shop to look at their lovely NZ yarn selection, and other sweaters, I realized that it was the perfect topper for my World of Wearable Art outfit.
Linzi arrived about now and the three of us had a fun conversation about the status of knitwear design in NZ, the World of Wearable Art, my blog, and a dozen other topics. It is amazing how knitting can foster kindred spirits. I left the shop quite pleased with my purchases and happy to have made two new Kiwi friends.
P.S. I did find a couple more yarn stores and they were all like the first–too much acrylic! and too many designs from 1980.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.