“Snow,” I exclaimed indignantly! We are traveling to escape snow, not to have it dumped upon us. Actually, it wasn’t dumped upon us – just nearby, like on the landscape a hundred meters above. The white on the formerly (like last night) brown hills was quite spectacular, but disconcerting. We did NOT travel umpteen jillion miles to have snow dumped on us.
After breakfast and a coming to terms with the white landscape, we headed to nearby Mt. John, where there is an observatory because it has the clearest air in New Zealand. There is a concerted effort to minimize light pollution throughout the area. The views from the top were great—360 degrees. It was also cold and extremely windy. We decided this was not the day to go to Mt. Cook, the highest mountain in NZ. Not only was it cold and windy, the clouds were low, so there wouldn’t be much to see. (Note: The road to Mt. John was maybe the worst road I’ve ever driven; extremely steep with numerous switchbacks and 1-lane besides. “Down hill drivers must give way.” And I was driving a camper van that would lose a drag race to a tortoise on a good day. That’s not to complain, of course. Great view. L)
We did drive to Lake Pukaki, at the turnoff for Mt. Cook. We were winding through hills/mountains and came around a curve and boom! there it was, with the sun on this beautiful turquoise water! No viewpoint to capture that first impression, though. Because it is glacially fed, it is full of rock flour, making it an opaque turquoise.
The valleys between mountain ranges seem to be mostly flat, with pasture lands (few crops). We stopped at Omaramu for lunch—a battered hot dog, a chicken and apricot sandwich, a long black (espresso with extra hot water), juice, and a brownie and a cookie. I also bought a necklace in the gift shop.
From there we headed for the coast, stopping once to look at some Maori rock art. Unfortunately, it was not very well-preserved, and was hard to make out. In Oamaru, we went to the i-Site (visitor info) to find out about viewing yellow-eyed penguins and also finding our camping park. The woman there told us 7 pm was the time to go see penguins come up out of the water onto the beach. She also said it was a small colony and they were quite rare, so we might not see any. So we checked into the park and checked our email before heading out to see the penguins.
There were quite a few people there, despite the cold wind – the STRONG cold wind. I think we got there about 6:45pm. We were watching from atop a cliff down to the beach, so as not to disturb the creatures. There were a couple of viewing sites, both full of people in spite of the weather. Our fortitude was eventually rewarded. We saw one penguin standing on the beach alone, and several sea lions lyin’ about. (Sorry.) Eventually another penguin came out of the water and stood around the beach for a while. By 7:45 we had had enough—we did see 2 penguins, and at least 7 sea lions. So we went back to camp and fixed supper in the camp kitchen next door to our site (we may as well save our gas for when we don’t have a kitchen handy).
We have a powered site tonight, and we also have internet, so we will upload tonight and be charged up to go in the morning.