Tuesday: Gooooooood morning Dunedin!
There appears to be a cruise or two in town today. The train station is packed with Middle Aged tourists from all around the world. We couldn’t catch the 9.30 am Taieri Gorge train because it’s fully booked, so we booked the afternoon train and the scenic morning train together, (which includes a 10% discount). In total, it’s $131.90 for both train journeys. It quickly becomes apparent that we will be the youngest people on these trains by a modest margin!
Okay, I spoke too soon. There are a few families and young people. I can’t say I have ever taken a particularly spectacular train journey, of course, there are plenty on my list. Once when I travelled to Cardiff from Nottingham a deer was running alongside the train in a neighbouring field. But I digress, this looks to be pretty exciting!
The station itself is a work of art! Affectionately known as ‘gingerbread house’ as it was designed by architect George A Troup who was famed for this style of house. Upstairs there’s an affordable art exhibition, unsurprisingly there’s lots of seaside and beach landscape paintings and birds of course.
We’re taking the 10 am Seasider train which goes from Dunedin to Waitati. We’re promised views of; Dunedin’s picturesque harbour side suburbs, views of Port Chalmers and Carey’s Bay, Mapoutahi cliffs, Blueskin Bay and of course, Waitai.
This small island is called ‘Rabbit Island’ situated in Blueskin bay. The bay is said to be named after the Maori chief of the area who had a huge tattoo across his face, making his skin appear blue.
The only downside to the train is that the right hand side of vet carriage has far greater views than the left hand side. I felt pretty excited to have the window seat and said to my travel buddy ‘we can swap on the way back’ think ‘yes! I’m gonna see it all!’, unfortunately I spoke too soon. As this is a single track train, we also think that perhaps we won’t get to swap seats however I am wrong! The train manager says they come around and turn our seats around and we swap we our neighbours opposite! Yay!
I can honestly say that Dunedin is the place that reminds me most of home so far. And I don’t mean that in the sense that I want to stay here, i mean in terms of the design, architecture and the feel of the place. I actually feel like I’m in the UK here.
We have exactly 2 hours until our Taieri gorge adventure, so in the meantime we’re walking 5 minutes from the station to the Chinese gardens. They’re only one of three in the world outside of China and this is the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. The gardens has a really interesting history and highlight the way the relationship between China and New Zealand has developed over the years.
Over the past few days, the gold rush has come up on several occasions. I can honestly say, I didn’t realise how important this period of time had been for New Zealand, particularly in these small town in the South Island.
The train stops a couple of times on the way, so we got off! I took a photo of this statue of a sheep dog, it’s a tribute to the fact that sheep dogs have been working in this area for the past 150 years.
At some point in the 1900s, there was a landslide, which created a dam. Although it was naturally occurring, the railway managers became worried about losing the train tracks. They decided to blow the dam up in 1979, reportedly causing a six foot wave down the Taieri river!
We headed to Dunedin I-Site today and spoke to a lovely gentleman called Peter. He was so helpful and friendly! We asked if there were any evening activities we could do this evening, and we are in luck! We’re off to see some blue penguins and I am ridiculously excited!
Our guide picked us up from outside the I-site and she is lovely! Extremely knowledgable!
Unfortunately we have had to take an alternative route to the penguin centre because the weather is, for lack of a better word, miserable!
“Somethings happened… Our weather is changing”. Our guide told us that she used to be able to plan things in advance, but now it’s not possible because the weather is just too unpredictable. It’s pretty misty as the sea fog is coming in, but on the plus side, we’ll get to the centre sooner so I think it’s a win win situation!
Everyone here in Dunedin is so knowledgable and friendly, they are clearly passionate about their city. And the British influence is impossible to ignore as we ironically drive down portobello road! It’s a lovely winding coastal road.
MacAndrew Bay – sounds so Scottish! It’s a very small village and reminds me of The Mumbles in Swansea. It’s a popular area with locals because it’s only 15 minutes out of town but feels like you’re on holiday.
Apparently Dunedin used to have two castles, the other was in St Clair (the beach area – apparently there are shark nets in the sea out there because there have been shark attacks here! Back in the day). Virtually nothing is left up there now, just ruins but this may change…
In south Dunedin in May, there were three days worth of rain in one day! This caused a huge flood defence wall to collapse and has just been rebuilt! The little island in the middle is called ‘pudding island’ because of its shape. Apparently at low tide you can walk across to the island!
FACT: There are no petrol stations on the peninsular! None at all!
We saw a royal spoonbill! A blue heron and black back seagull. We saw bunnys but apparently to keep numbers in check, they have ‘bunny shoots’ where they go out and hunt them instead of poisoning them.
When you get to Herrington point, you can see yellow eyed penguins – they’re rarer than blue penguins.
This is the only mainland colony of Royal albatross! They mainly breed on islands, eg there’s one off Christchurch. We’re super lucky, the windy is bloody howling but on the plus side, we’ve seen three albatross already! We’ve only been here two minutes!
Pukekura means ‘red rock’ or ‘red land’ in Maori. This land has been given back to the Maori people and has been transformed into a nature reserve. In the 1600s this land was a Maori settlement.
We’re looking out for a ‘raft’ of little blue penguins! They’ll swim all together towards the land! We’ve also be pre-warned about sea lions in the area, they’re cute right? Well, no in fact, on this occasion we definitely do NOT want to see one as they’re predators of the penguins so… Nature may take its course. I’m hoping not to see a penguin massacre tonight
I’ve spotted a few fur seals and now my first little blue penguin of the night! It’s absolutely magical! They’re so little! I’m sure he’s going to get blown away, it’s bloody gale force down here! I saw a tiny blue head poke out of the water and elegantly stumble on shore, through the mass of noisy gulls!
Then a raft of 51!!!! 51 little blue penguins charged up the hill to get home to their ‘hides’. I spotted a fur seal swimming around and prepared to close my eyes but luckily they don’t eat the penguins, they just disrupt them and scare them! Poor little guys! Sometimes the little blues just appear on the beach and other times they seem to leap frog out of the water and up over the many rocks on the beach. This is truly magical.
These guys just surfed on to the beach! Just like the animation that I forget the name of… Then the fur seal appeared… He was big, mean and angry. Charging across the beach at surprising speed (for such a lump!), scaring the poor little blues and making waves in the sea. Luckily it turns out the seals are wrestling with each other on the beach!
In total, roughly 120 penguins came up tonight, there were still a few little heads bobbing about out to see as the seals on the beach were putting him off. This is honestly the best $65 I’ve spent. It was so amazing!
Disclaimer: I probably should have mentioned this when I started blogging about the Kiwi Experience and Bottom Bus, essentially I have not been asked to write these blogs, I’m not being paid or getting anything in return, this is like my diary for this trip and I want to share all of my favourite experiences with you guys!