Funny coincidences happen. I was preparing for a trip to the north coast near Eureka, California and I listened to an episode of Teaching Your Brain to Knit podcast and they extolled the enjoyment of touring the Dick Taylor chocolate factory in Eureka. Then I checked in with my friends the Watloves as to any plans, and Harriet mentioned that Brian wanted to take us all to tour of Dick Taylor Chocolate. A few days later we found ourselves at said premises. There were no tours available but plenty of chocolate to taste.
We tried the drinking chocolate, which was so rich that the sample quite satisfied. One of the salespeople gave us an extensive explanation of how chocolate is produced. I’ve been to the Cadbury factory in Dunedin, NZ and the process is very similar. The main difference is one of scale. As a chocoholic I didn’t mind listening to the magic of how the humble cocoa bean becomes delicious.
All that was left was to shop. They ship for free to anywhere in the USA if you purchase $25 or more of chocolate.
We were in Old Town Eureka so it was easy to proceed to Arts and Drafts where you can do crafts while you enjoy a beer. Or to my favorite print shop and stationary store, Just My Type Letterpress.
The Caitlins are not as frequently visited by foreign tourists as other parts of New Zealand. There are not many motels and restaurants are Mom & Pop places. This adds to the Caitlins’ charms. You can drive for miles through villages, farmland and wildlands, with occasional beach sitings, but nothing very commercial in sight. This is what people think of when they imagine New Zealand.
It is not hard to reach. If you fly to Auckland you can catch one of the frequent daily flights to Dunedin and within an hour you are in the heart of the Caitlins. This area is just off of Highway 1, the main route from Dunedin to Invercargill.
After an excellent day of albatross and penguin, I stayed at a motel in Mosgiel, a suburb community closer to the Dunedin airport than downtown. This provided a full day of fun in the Caitlins. You could easily spend two days in the area if you like to hike or want to spend more time on one of the beaches.
My goal for the day was the lighthouse at the Nuggets. (wait for next post!) I toodled around following local signs and stopping to admire views along the way. It was a lovely, lovely day.
I saw my first Yellow-eyed penguin from the hide at Bushy Point, but I was at least a hundred meters above the beach and even with binoculars it was hard to appreciate their unique size and markings. Several times I tried going on a Penguin Place tour and couldn’t fit it in with the Little Blue Penguin experience at the Royal Albatross Centre. I was determined to make it work this time!
Located on a private sheep farm on the Dunedin peninsula, Penguin Place is dedicated to the conservation and welfare of Yellow-eyed penguins/hoiho. Their efforts to restablish habitat and educate the public also benefits Little Blue penguins. I went in the winter months (April-September) so they only offer one tour a day at 3:45 p.m. In the summer months (October-March) there are 90 minute tours running from 10:15 a.m. to 6:16 p.m.
One advantage of going in the winter is the tour group is more likely to be small. There were just a half dozen of us as we bumped in the bus, through the sheep ranch, and toward the trails that lead to the network of hides.
We had plenty of time to ask our questions as we waited in the hide and looked out at the beach waiting for a Yellow-eyed penguin to return. A large sea lion was hanging out on the beach probably sending “stay away” vibes to penguins. We were not disappointed though. There were two Yellow-eyed penguins who stayed on land all day. One was just a few feet from the hide and another was some distance below the hide but away from the beach and visible to us. We also saw several single and pairs of Little Blue Penguins in their wooden hutches along the trail.
All of the money from the penguin tourism goes back into rehabilitating penguins in the hospital and conserving the breeding grounds. In spite of the extensive efforts by people and the NZ Department of Conservation, the numbers are shrinking. When I first took an interest in hoiho there were 400-600 breeding pairs on the NZ mainland, and now there are just 266 breeding pairs. There is also a sex imbalance with three males for every female. It is hard to state with certainty what is causing the decline but it is likely warming oceans and changing food supply. Participating in this guided tour is a small way to do your part for the species. And we need to all make changes to address the climate crisis.
Before I visited the Royal Albatross Centre I thought of the Albatross as a super big gull. They are so much more AWE-some. They are super big with wings that fold twice. They spend most of the lives flying at sea. The young take a year to mature and when they are ready to attempt flight they just step off a cliff without any training or practice! These are just a few of the wonderful albatross facts I learned on the tour.
Our guide was very knowledgeable and answered all of our questions. She said that if we were lucky we would see an adult coming back to feed their chick.
The Centre does a marvelous job of educating people about the unique grandeur of the Royal Albatross. Both the Centre and the bird deserve the adjective “Royal.” They provide many different ways to communicate the size and majesty of this bird. You can see the folding 3 meter wing span in the skeleton, and the stuffed albatross are weighted to approximate an actual bird’s likely weight. One of my favorite fun facts is the full grown chick actually is too heavy to fly, so the parent begins to force them to walk to dinner to get them to lose some of the baby fat.
There are a variety of tours, with the most basic hour long tour at the top of an hour, starting for $52NZ per adult. It is a steep climb up to the glassed in viewing platform or hide. Along the way there are a variety of gulls nesting on the hillside and sheep mowing the grass. I did see people with some mobility challenges making the trek and taking their time. The visitor centre also has a gift shop and cafe. There is ample parking but it is located at the very end of the peninsula, so allow 45 minutes to an hour to get there on the narrow, windy road with traffic stops for roadwork. It is worth the effort.
As I planned my day in Dunedin I read about a restaurant and garden Glenfollach. I went online and made a reservation without realizing that it was Father’s Day Sunday in New Zealand. I requested a booking before noon so I could enjoy my lunch and drive on to the end of the peninsula for the Royal Albatross Centre. When I first arrived there were only a few people already enjoying coffee and the view. By the time I left the restaurant and deck were full of families celebrating fathers.
Because of Fathers Day there was also a 3 course meal option. It sounded super so I ordered it, along with a ginger ale and tonic and enjoyed the attention to details in the venue decor and table setting.
To say my meal was delicious is inadequate. Every course was very interesting and combined flavors and textures beautifully. I was so thankful to enjoy another great New Zealand meal.
There is a beautiful garden to enjoy if you do have a long wait for a table. Booking ahead is advised. Glenfollach isn’t more than 15 minutes into the Peninsula, so accessible from downtown Dunedin.
My travel rule of thumb: visit a botanic garden, especially if it is free. When traveling on business a good garden makes an excellent place to get some steps in and breathe fresh air. Not all gardens are created equal. This summer I had the opportunity to go to the Missouri Botanic Garden and it is world class. And I started my NZ trip with a stay at the world class private garden, Paripuma. Alas, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens is looking frumpy. It was winter and they have had their hands full with rebuilding glasshouse structures after the earthquakes; nevertheless, even before “the big one” I felt the garden was more Ode to Mother England than a celebration of New Zealand. In the photos above you see lots of lawn, some legacy trees and a lot of (yawn) planted annual beds.
Even with that critique, there is hardly a prettier downtown than Christchurch ANYWHERE in the world. Well, maybe Adelaide, Australia. They have optimized the Avon River and the parks and gardens in a way that you must make time to walk through.
The garden that I’ll be sure to visit again is in Dunedin.
This garden is built on a steep hill (much like Wellington’s) and yet maximizes the attractions with different gardens and lots of plant variety and statuary. Plus I LOVE a knot garden! I just wish there was a viewing platform for the knot garden.
They welcome children in Dunedin and design for their enjoyment: a train, free food for ducks, playground equipment, and space to make your own fun. It was Father’s Day Sunday in New Zealand on the day of my visit and I saw loads of families taking advantage of the garden on an almost spring day.
It seems an almost silly thing, but I found this little stick structure and ended up sitting for a little while admiring it, wondering who built it and admiring their handywork.
The best gardens help you forget that you are in a city and take you into nature. Dunedin Botanic Garden does.
Both gardens are free to enter. Both have cafes where you can get a coffee or tea or something more substantial to eat. Both make their cities more livable and enjoyable.
After pedaling 150 kilometers along the retired Otago Central Railway, it was a treat to ride the rails by train. The Otago Central Railway was instrumental in developing Central Otago as an agricultural region. Today day-trippers and cyclists are the main “cargo”.
As we left Middlemarch I noticed a cute café called the Kissing Gate and Nick explained it was owned by Kate, a Dunedin councilwoman. We are more than 60 km from Dunedin and yet we are part of the greater city of Dunedin. Go figure.
My Off the Rails guide Nick turned off the main road at the sign to the Taieri Gorge Railway; we still had 12 km to go in the middle of nowhere. We arrived a few minutes before the train was due. Nick groaned slightly when he spied the little flea market along the side of the track. Their presence signified that there would be a tour train catering to a cruise ship that would delay our train.
Nick purchased my ticket for me and drove me to Pukerangi. Pukerangi means the Hills of the God in te reo Maori. The isolation does make a person wonder about the choice of the railway terminus (Middlemarch makes more sense). It was raining by the time we reached the station. The train was a little behind schedule and Nick was able to suss out the delay was due to an extra train carrying cruise ship tour groups.
When the train arrived, Nick had a word with the elderly guard Joe. He confirmed that we would experience a delay of about 40 minutes because there is only one track so we have to wait for them to arrive and their cruise ship disembarked an hour behind schedule. Meanwhile people desperate for retail shopping browsed among the market tables. The rain started coming down hard and the vendors covered their goods with tarps. The hardiest tourists continued to browse as best they could.
Our train arrived first and the train conductors greeted us warmly. They had my souvenir ticket and loaded my bags. I had time to stop at the dining car and purchase an egg salad sandwich and some potato chips before the train filled with travelers. There was a family with a baby who screeched. Not the usual boo-hoo from a baby or toddler but a screech like a parrot. Thankfully the rocking of the train seemed to calm him once we were underway.
Too bad it did not quiet the opinionated American woman with the southern accent who responded to a gentle joke from the conductor, “Barrack Hussein Obama is a secret Muslim.” It was apropos of nothing and really awkward. The Chinese-speaking rider across from me obviously understood and caught my eye as if to see if I would respond. I really did not know what to say. I did write in my journal, “Tests for letting people out of the country instead of in.”
The train is aptly named as we passed one gorge after another. The Scotch Broom blooms bright yellow on the hillsides among the tor (rock outcropping). Seats are assigned, so if you are keen to take pictures, request a left side window seat en route to Dunedin and opposite on way to Pukerangi, and if you are afraid of falling off the side of roads request an aisle seat.
Gradually the terrain levels out and transforms into bucolic farmland. Finally we reach the outskirts of Dunedin and see homes and businesses. About 1 hour and 45 minutes later, we arrive at the majestic Dunedin Central Train Station. The station is a gorgeous Victorian era monument to railroads and is centrally located in downtown Dunedin.
Dunedin Railways (www.taieri.co.nz) offers several daily trips from the majestic Dunedin Railway Station to Pukerangi (short drive from Middlemarch) or one train to/from Middlemarch on Sunday and Friday. The fare (as of January 2015) is $89 per adult. Tickets can be booked on line and I recommend you purchase in advance especially during summer season.
The mansion known as Larnach Castle and its extensive gardens are open to the public. There is an admission charge unless you are staying overnight in the lodging. It is about 20-30 minutes on a narrow, windy road from the Dunedin City Centre, South Island, New Zealand. It is worth the effort.
It was built by William Larnach,who was a bit of a scoundrel, in 1871. It took over 15 years to build, finish the interiors and furnish. Larnach was a merchant and politician who ended a bankrupt suicide. The house fell into dereliction for years and then in 1967 the Barker family bought and restored it. Margaret Barker searched high and low for the original furnishings or photos to return the home and its gardens to its former glory.
The home is impressive. I am always more interested in the gardens and they are lovely.
Maybe your headline would say $100 or maybe your threshold is $300 or $400 a night. I thought about this a lot on my most recent trip to New Zealand because I splurged on a few nights at special venues.
When my Aunt and I travelled to Iowa we stayed at a Hampton Inn in West Des Moines. The staff was super friendly and provided great service. The room and beds were comfortable. The bathroom was extra clean and toiletries were provided. There was a mini fridge where we could store our leftovers from dinner and then forget them. All for a bargain price (thanks AARP and AAA) of about $100 a night. What more do you need? And is it worth paying for?
Sorry. You have to decide for yourself. Is it worth spending an additional $200 a night to have more space (a small apartment) at The Rees overlooking Lake Wakitipu? For my Mom and her friends. Hella yes!
When I was planning my most recent New Zealand trip I had Friday to Friday to plan on South Island. I started with a super ambitious agenda that included Christchurch. My Kiwi friends helped me get some perspective, yet I still bit off a little too much. (I will share what I will do next time at the end).
I finally landed in Queenstown, which is the closest airport to Haast and yet it is still a 3-3.5 hour drive to the Wilderness Lodge at Lake Moeraki. As you can tell by my Christmas post on the Fiordland Crested Penguins, I do not begrudge any of the time invested. It was a fantastic experience. It was (gulp) $499 NZ ($387 US) a night for a room that included dinner and breakfast. My room was very comfortable and had a super view of the river. The was the most expensive room I had ever booked and I only stayed one night in part because I had a hard time justifying the expense–even for penguins. Now I realize part of the room rate is because Gerry and Anne McSweeney invest so much in the habitat surrounding the lodge and in providing lodging in as sustainable a way as possible. If I had that trip to do over I would stay at least 2 nights.
I left about 1:00 p.m. to drive about 6 hours to Invercargill in the hopes of visiting Stewart Island. Then I turned around the next day, disappointed and tired without getting to the Island. My neck was torked from driving. I decided to return to Queenstown as quick as I could to enjoy my next splurge: The Dairy Private Luxury Hotel. In February a taxi driver pointed out the hotel and said it was consistently ranked number 1 on Trip Advisor. I was intrigued. The proprietors have taken an old “Dairy” or corner market and several other buildings and converted it to a first class hotel. I called ahead and asked Matt if he could arrange a massage for me in town. It was a Sunday so I thought it might not be possible. He made an appointment for me at the Body Sanctum spa just a few blocks into town from the hotel with Juliana. After the ill-fated massage in the Pyrenees I was hesitant. Wow–best massage I have had since my favorite masseuse Jackie moved away.
I arrived at the Dairy Hotel in time for afternoon tea. It was a very proper and delicious tea with cream scones and fruit (all prepared in their kitchen). The public rooms in the hotel are so comfortable I actually did make use of them. Other guests also read in front of the fire in the evening. My bed was super comfortable. The bathroom was well appointed except that I could not figure out the bath fixtures which made for a bit of contortion washing my hair. When I mentioned it to Paul he explained that I needed to push the button to start the shower before I turned the water on. Oh well. I only wish I could have stayed longer. Even at $465.00 NZ a night. Just to have Matt’s exquisite omelette again at breakfast. And to be referred to as Madame.
The thing about spending more on a hotel night is that it then makes the $290 NZ spent on Larnach Castle accommodation seem like a bargain. Again I justified it with the proximity to penguins. It is only 20-30 minutes from the Royal Albatross Centre–depending on your nerves driving on a windy road where one moment of daydreaming will have you swimming in the bay. The rooms are not in the Castle, which is a historic restored mansion open for tours. The hotel rooms are in specially built buildings and in the retrofitted stables. This price includes full breakfast the next morning but not dinner in the Castle. I pulled out my wallet for the $65 NZ for a 3 course meal with other guests. It includes ghost stories.
My view was impeccable. The windows run the length of the room including the bathroom. There is a short deck too. I could have stayed on the deck and enjoyed the view of Dunedin longer but the gardens were calling. I wandered around the various “rooms” of the garden until it was time to change for dinner. You do not have to dress for dinner. They said “come as you are.” I had packed some nicer clothes and I wanted to mark the occasion of the last night of a very special visit to New Zealand.
I still want to visit Stewart Island. And I have heard enough about the Catlins that I want to explore there as well. So driving from Dunedin to Invercargill is probably the best strategy. I do not recommend trying to squeeze Invercargill in as it takes some time to get there and then some flexibility needs to be built in on account of weather.
I have seen so much of New Zealand. Just when I think I have seen everything I learn about something else. Plus I have not done a Great Walk yet. I am looking forward to my next visit already. It helps to keep the “I’m not In New Zealand blues” away.
One of the challenges of visiting any country where it takes 12+ hours to fly to: you want to pack in as much as humanly possible in your schedule. (My kids say not everyone approaches travel this way. Whatever.) When I was last in Dunedin I really wanted to spend a day cycling the Otago Central Rail Trail. It takes an entire day with the coach pick up from the railway station, the cycling, and the return; plus it was not offered the one day I could have made it work.
So this trip I was determined to make sure to experience the retired railway, now pedestrian and cycling path. After my experience with my Tour de France adventure, I knew I wanted a supported ride and as many days cycling as possible (in between penguin stops).
I started my research at the official website for the Otago Central Rail Trail. Interestingly, some tour operators advertise on the homepage but are not listed on the Tour Operators page. I made a complete list of possibilities. Then I went to Trip Advisor and checked the reviews under Otago Central Rail Trail. It is ranked the number #1 attraction in the Otago region. There were a few more tour operators reviewed here and so I added their names to the list.
Then I began the laborious process of visiting their websites and reading what options are offered and the possible schedules to fill in my matrix. Some options were eliminated because they only begin offering tours in January. Seasons are opposite from North America in New Zealand. (I know, duh.) Early December is not quite summer. I also have some time constraints and some companies have a minimum of 5 nights. Many of the businesses put together all of your reservations and equipment, but do not support you on the road. I believe I found my sweet spot. At a price of $1,200 a person or more, it is worth the extra time and effort to do my homework.
I also discovered that I will begin my adventure in Queenstown. This makes it easier to coordinate my car rental but adds some drive time to my overall adventure. I will take a train at the end of my four days to spend some time in Dunedin and fly to Auckland and then to the US from there.
Making these plans has definitely reenergized my bicycling workouts. I am using the training plan from Bike Your Butt Off! by Selena Yeager with Leslie Bonci.
Have any of you done this trip? What do you think, does it deserve its #5 ranking in AA’s 101 Must-Dos for Kiwis 2012? Any tips to better enjoy the adventure?