Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Some years ago our friend Allison moved from Brisbane to Dunedin. Her mother Cherry is also staying with her temporarily.

We found her place without any trouble, on the side of a steep hill (like most streets in Dunedin!). Indeed, her house is quite high up above street level, with quite a steep walk to get to the front door. Several exhausting trips later, we had our things in our room (actually Allison’s bedroom!) and were ready for Christmas Eve.

After briefly meeting a couple of her friends who dropped by, we played some games including Ticket to Ride and had a simple dinner. We were pretty worn out after our long drive from Gore.

On Christmas morning we got ourselves up in time to go to church. We had chosen a likely one just a couple of blocks down the road by looking on the internet the night before. Of course, we didn’t know whether the website was up-to-date nor whether the Christmas Day service would be at the usual time of 10:00 am…

We wandered down the street (“down” being exactly the right word in this case), going a little past the New Life church we were aiming for to also check out the beautiful Anglican building on the next corner. The Anglican service had started at 9am, so we were far too late for that. We walked back to New Life and went in at about 9:50 - and discovered that they’d started already! Ah well, not to worry. It turns out they’d started not long before, and indeed their website was quite out of date.

Nevertheless they were friendly and welcoming and we enjoyed the service. Then of course we had to walk back up the street - and then the front path and stairs! - to get back home to Allison’s.

Christmas lunch was a quiet get-your-own affair, because she’d invited friends over for a big Christmas dinner. We opened some presents, and handed over ours for Allison (some Australian bubbly wine). In the afternoon we played more games, first with Allison and then with her friends when they arrived. Cherry prepared the meal and Allison and Cherry even made their own Christmas bon-bons!
Dinner was delicious! Cherry had made us a nut loaf to go with the roast vegetables, as well as a date loaf with extra fruit (making it more like a Christmas pudding) served with soy ice cream. We were well fed, and the company was cheerful. A fabulous evening!

On Boxing Day we made ourselves a packed lunch and headed out to the Otago Peninsula. At Taiaroa Head at the very end there is a wildlife reserve, the only place in the world apparently where albatross nest on a human-inhabited mainland. These are Northern Royal Albatross, weighing about 8kg and with a wingspan of around three metres. Taiaroa Head has also been of military significance for both the Maori and European people here.

The road out to Taiaroa is narrow and winding along the very edge of the Peninsula - a beautiful drive.

The reserve is well protected and you can only go past the visitor centre as part of a guided tour. The visitor centre itself has a large gallery full of interesting details and lovely photographs. We did the Unique Taiaroa Tour which included a short informative video about the albatross followed by a walk up the (steep!) hill to the observatory, then a walk further up the hill to Fort Taiaroa. We were there in incubating season and from the observatory we saw one albatross sleeping on a nest. They also showed us live video from a camera around the corner from where we were, of three others also sitting on their nest. Solitary animals at any time, they were all quite a way from each other. Mother and father take about week-long turns either incubating or out at sea feeding. Apparently the young, when they are mature enough to fly (mid next year), will spend their first five years entirely at sea, not once making landfall! When they eventually return to where they hatched, they’ll have their juvenile tag replaced with an adult tag and will then be closely monitored. We also saw a colony of shags (what we would call cormorants) and a few spoonbills.

On the way up to the Fort we had to walk past a seagull colony. It’s funny, you never really think about seagulls nesting, but obviously it has to happen somewhere! The young chicks were absolutely gorgeous, cute little fluffy things with dark feathers (or speckled as they grew older) and far less bold and brash than the adults. The parents were understandably very protective and nearly burst our eardrums with their loud warning calls.
Inside the Fort we were impressed by the “disappearing gun”, which is raised hydraulically to fire its 100 lb (!) shells then lowered back underground for reloading. We also got to see another nesting albatross not far from the windows of the observation post, which were about at ground level and about a foot high.

We had our lunch outside (watching carefully to avoid seagull droppings) and looked out from the cliff on the eastern side - to see a seal rolling in the water far below! We also saw some black ducks, but no penguins from where we were (apparently they nest a bit further around).

Then we set off for Larnach Castle, the only castle in New Zealand - which claim we found amusing; does Australia even have any castle? This one was built by an Australian whose parents were Scots. The current owners are trying to restore it and have done a good job of making it an interesting tourist attraction, as well as revitalising and extending the surrounding gardens. We did the (self-guided) tour of the castle itself, enjoying the eclectic d├ęcor, lovely tiled floors and kauri wood furniture, hanging spiral staircase (plus the tight twist up to the tower) and the view from the top. Actually, all the bedrooms get a very good view.

In the garden we followed the Native Plant Trail. We liked the detailed information in the brochure and enjoyed the “hunt”, managing to find all but one of the marked plants.

Then it was time to head home. Dinner was left-overs from the night before. We played a game of Bolivia with Allison.

The next morning it was time to pack our things up again. Several more trips up and down the steep front path! We said our goodbyes, then went off to see a couple more things before leaving Dunedin.

The train station down near the docks is a lovely brick building from 1904, with tiled floors and stained glass windows. The train waiting there to take tourists up Taieri Gorge will have to wait until another time for us, unfortunately.

Then we drove north past the botanic gardens (pausing briefly to wash the seagull poo from the day before off our windscreen) to the lookout atop Signal Hill, and then around to Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world! (According to Guinness at any rate.) Yes, it was very steep. Somehow just seeing it was a challenge, so up it we had to walk.

And then finally we left Dunedin, stopping for a picnic lunch soon after and then again to see the Moeraki Boulders, which are most interesting spherical stone boulders scattered along the beach.

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