BootsnAll Travel Network

The last few days

I’m back in Christchurch for the third time now and staying again at what I think I’ve decided is my favorite hostel in New Zealand, Dorset House. Since I didn’t have too much planned for my last day here, I really wanted to sleep in and get some rest, but I was awoken early this morning to, of all things, hail pounding against the window. It was really strange, the weather here usually isn’t so violent, just rain or sunny etc. But it was really coming down, and everyone in my room woke up and watched it come down. I managed to go back to sleep for another hour or so and when I woke up again, it was sunny but cool and really windy, just like September in Chicago.I arrived from Dunedin yesterday afternoon, and since I have already been to Christchurch before, I didn’t do a whole lot. I was craving fish and chips for some reason for dinner and was actually unable to find a fish and chip shop anywhere near the city center. I did however manage to find a fairly authentic Mexican restaurant called South of the Border and decided to satisfy that craving that I didn’t even have at the time. I was pleasantly surprised how good it was, and they actually had a decent margarita as well. This food wouldn’t win any awards in Chicago, but I wasn’t expecting Frontera Grill or anything and it did the job nicely. After getting back to my hostel, I watched a bit of the Olympics finally and called it an early night.

My last few days in New Zealand have been slightly lackluster, just with trying to save a bit of money at the end and sort of winding down to my flight  tomorrow. The main reason I went to Dunedin was to do a wildlife tour there on the Otago peninsula, where you see 4 different rare animal species: the Royal albatross, the yellow-eyes penguin, New Zealand fur seal and the Hooker’s sea lion. Birgit was also with me, and we signed up for the tour together. The first stop was the albatross colony, and I didn’t know too much about the albatross before the tour. Pictures of it made it look like just a big seagull, but they are really quite regal birds. They have the largest wingspan of any bird, up to 3 meters and are really flying birds. They are known to cover up to 1800 km of flight a day, and one bird was tracked flying 190,000 km in one year. London to New Zealand is about 19000 km, so that is quite a lot of flying. They are the largest of the albatross species and New Zealand is the only place where they have a mainland breeding colony. The rest are in the sub-Antarctic islands. We were lucky we actually saw one or two flying past the cliffs, as you aren’t guaranteed to see them if it isn’t windy enough. They are glorious fliers but unfortunately we didn’t see enough of them and I didn’t manage to get a photo.

 We boarded the bus again and went to the next stop, where you see the other animals. The yellow-eyed penguin is one of the rarest birds in the world and again, found only in New Zealand. They have a yellow stripe along their eyes once they reach adulthood, and if you’ve never seen penguins up close before, they are so cute and wobbly. The adults go out swimming all day to feed, and at dusk come back to shore to regurgitate some of the food to feed their chicks. It was really strange, as their nests are on the grassy hills along the beach, and the penguins have to wobble their way up these steep hills where they have left their babies among the sheep of all things. It can take an hour or two to get up there, and the chicks wait patiently for their parents to return. The company had special hides that we had to stand behind as to not to disturb them, and as you can imagine, this is where a telephoto lens would come in nicely. My little camera didn’t have the zoom capability necessary to get close up shots of them, but on our way to see the seals, we came across one adolescent penguin who was really close to us, and I got a few good shots of him.

I could have watched the penguins for hours coming out of the surf and wobbling up the hill, but there were other groups waiting to use the hide, and we moved on to the beach, where there were some sea lions resting. We got really close to them, about 15 meters and there was a huge male there keeping guard of some younger males. Most sea lions also live in the sub-Antarctic and this is the only place where they have females coming ashore to breed. There is a bit of consternation among the conservationists, because one of the females (there are only 10 right now coming ashore) seems to have developed a taste for the yellow-eyed penguin, and they are debating what to do about that. Our guide told us that if it was a male sea lion, they probably would have killed it already, but since it was a female, they are waiting to see how much of a problem it becomes. That is a really interesting thing about New Zealand, is the balance between the species and their control of them. The introduced pests like the possum, rabbit and stoat are systematically killed by conservationists to help the native bird species. Even many animal lovers and such are all too happy to help in the cause of ridding New Zealand of these pests by roadkill or whatnot, and it was interesting to hear our guide discuss which animal was more important to save. We didn’t see any female sea lions or their babies, but we were told they hide the babies in the grassy hills away from the males, as they sometimes kill them.

We made our way across a steep hill to the NZ fur seal colony, and it was great time to go on the tour, as the seals had their babies about two months ago, and this rocky outcrop was absolutely teaming with little seal pups frolicking and playing around. It was hard to get pictures again, as not only were they kind of far away, but they also blended in with the color of the rocks. The fur seal was almost wiped out by the settlers in the 1800’s, but with conservation efforts have made a great recovery and are thriving, one of the few native New Zealand animals to do so. We made our way back to the bus, and also saw a couple of blue penguins in their little hutches on the beach, but they didn’t come out. On our way back to town, we saw some dolphins swimming in the harbour and passed an inlet where many rare wading birds were feeding. It was really a great tour and well worth the trip down to Dunedin.

Since Dunedin is a big university town, it has a definite young vibe to it. We happened to be there during their orientation week, and as we walked through the old university grounds, it was packed with young students signing up for classes and activities, much like Quad day at U of I. It really brought back some memories, but also made me realize how old I am! The University of Otago is the oldest in New Zealand, and Dunedin and the university have a very obvious Scottish feel to it. The entire surrounding area had rolling hills like Scotland, and it was very plain to see why the Scots chose to settle there. Aside from a little window shopping and walking around the University, Birgit and I also went on the Speights brewery tour. Speights is one of the oldest breweries in New Zealand, and the tour was really interesting, with of course a nice sampling at the end. After finding out I was American, our tour guide asked me to taste a beer that was actually a mixture of two beers, and asked me, as an American, what I thought of it. I thought it was a bit strange he singled me out, but he explained that this beer would be sold under the Trader Joe’s brand so he wanted to see what I thought. It was pretty good actually, but he didn’t know what it would be called.

The rest of the day today will be spent finishing up a few loose ends, mainly buying a couple of souvenirs and things like that, and Birgit is arriving today so we’ll go out for one last dinner before I leave for Australia tomorrow morning. There is plenty to buy here, but the two main things tourists buy is jade, or New Zealand greenstone and wool products. Almost everyone buys some jade while they are here, and most people buy necklaces with traditional Maori designs. Prices can range unbelievably, and it pays to shop around and take your time. The other thing is wool and mainly merino wool, which is insanely soft and insanely expensive. It is a nice thing to save room in your pack for, but depending on what you buy can really eat into your budget. I don’t want to take any more money out and I need to have enough money for my airport shuttle and dinner tonight, so I probably won’t buy too much. But I have all day to browse around and see what I find. It is sort of a strange day, since I’m really sad to leave New Zealand but really excited to go to Australia. Hopefully I won’t be disappointed, but for some reason, I highly doubt it.

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