Having spent the last two weeks back in Sydney with Logan, unfortunately it was now time to head back to New Zealand. Due to the flight prices and availability, I ended up flying into Dunedin in the bottom East side of the South Island. Having never been to Dunedin (apart from the airport at xmas) I decided to spend a few days in this city to see what it had to offer. Dunedin was founded by Scottish settlers and hence the name Dunedin which is celtic for Edinburgh. The city is home to New Zealand's first University which makes it a lively place during term time with students everywhere. It took me back to my Uni days in Derby!
Having checked myself into a YHA hostel, yes back to hostels again, having just spent the last two weeks getting quite comfortable in Logan's house, and the month prior to that I was living it up in hotels and self catering apartments with Mum and Peter, being back in hostels again was a bit of a shock to the system again! First things first, find my bearings then check out what activities/tours are on offer!
First stop is Baldwin Street which is listed in the Guiness Book of Records as the world's steepest street! And yes it was steep but a flight of steps up the centre of the pavement certainly helped with the steep climb to the top! Then back to the city for lunch via the Botanical Gardens, taking in the majestic Victorian and Edwardian architecture that seems to be everywhere including Dunedin Railway station which is apparently the most photographed building in New Zealand, and home to the farmer's market that morning!
After a quick bite to eat it was time for the next activity I had signed up for that day - an afternoon with Elm Wildlife Tours! We headed out along the coastline of the stunning Otago Penisula out to Taioroa Head to our first wildlife encounter with the Royal Albatross. Albatross are the largest of the world's seabirds with a wingspan of up to 3.3m wide!! And this colony at Taioroa Head is the only albatross colony that is based on the mainland. In order to see the actual colony you have to take a boat out around the cliff, unfortunately we weren't doing this, we were just there to try and see some Albatross flying above the cliffs. Due to the the size of the birds they struggle to fly by flapping their wings as its too much effort, they can only really glide and therefore rely heavily on strong winds before they can even attempt to get up in the air! As we got out at Taioroa Head our guides were feeling quite positive about us seeing some Albatross as the wind was blowing a fair bit by this stage. After waiting around in the cold for about 10 mins, binoculars glued to the face and cameras poised, we finally saw some Albatross. They gracefully glided overhead and out across the sea in search of food for their chicks. It's hard to picture the sheer size of these birds but believe me they were big!!
Back to the bus and off to the next encounter, this time it was to see some New Zealand Fur Seals, Hooker Sealions and Yellow Eyed Penguins! First was the New Zealand Fur Seal colony - a real success story here as the New Zealand Fur Seals were almost hunted to extinction by european seal hunters in the last century. What was so good about this tour was how close you could get to the animals, they didn't seem to mind (well most of them didn't), as the tour groups are quite small and don't seem to pose any danger to the animals, so they are quite happy about us watching them!! So we stood and watched this colony of seals enjoying life for about 15 mins, they were almost completely oblivious to us being there!
Then it was off to the next colony, this time it was a colony of Hooker Sealions. These New Zealand sealions are the rarest of the world's five species of sealions and are endemic to New Zealand. They are also making a comeback to the mainland after being eliminated by Maori hunters many centuries ago. Sealions are apparently very different to seals, the 'lion' part coming from the 'almost lion like' mane around the males necks! Sealions are very unpredictable as we soon found out when a young male decided he didn't like the look of us and started charging down the beach after us!! After telling us to walk up behind the sand dunes out of the seal's way, our guide (who did his thesis for his Masters Degree on Sealions) walked up to the angry male and somehow managed to calm him down and convince him that we were no longer a danger to him! Quite an amazing scene to witness!!
Having survived being attacked by a sealion, we then made our way to the last wildlife encounter for the day - Yellow Eyed Penguins. These penguins are the rarest of the world's 18 species of penguins and like the Hooker Sealions, can only be found in New Zealand. These are very shy birds so we couldn't get too close and had to watch them from a viewing hide. It was just fascinating to see them come in from the sea (with their yellow 'go faster stripes' across their eyes and round the sides of their heads!) having spent the day fishing, and then climb up onto the grassy banks and stand there airing their coats and making very loud calls to their partners!! Another fascinating wildlife encounter to round the day off!!
The weather having turned a bit the following day, and my last day in Dunedin, I decided to head up to Larnach Castle, the only castle in New Zealand. Larnach Castle is privately owned and the current owners have spent many years restoring the castle back to its original being (which is really a house that has been built to look like a castle!). The building was funded by William Larnach in the 1870's who wanted to impress his French nobility descended wife. He based the castle on various styles of architecture that Larnach had seen whilst travelling around England. It's amazing how well it has been restored back to its original state, but it was just a shame that the weather had started to get worse and the stunning views I had been told about you couldn't see by the time we got there as the weather had turned for the worst!
After a couple of days sightseeing and being a backpacker again, it was time to move on, a few days in Wanaka is where I was heading to, to stay with Pam and John whom we had stayed with for my birthday in March and just spend a few days with them before moving onto Queenstown and finding somewhere to live for the next 6 months - for those of you that don't know, I got the Events job that I wanted for the ski season and start work on May 1st!!