New Zealand- Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 374 (184)

Oamaru

Thursday 17th March (2005)

We meet some strange people whilst on the road and the eccentric Swiss character that runs the hostel in Milton is certainly one of them. By the time I was up and about this morning, he was out in the back yard giving yoga and stretching class to some of the women in the hostel. As we were all finishing off breakfast, he took our dishes to be washed up and then insisted that nobody would be able to leave today without mastering the art of juggling. It was a jovial atmosphere as everyone took turns to try keeping three balls in the air. Fortunately, everybody was finally able to leave. We said goodbye once again to the Israeli travellers. With them heading off in a different direction, this would definitely be the last time that we would bump into them. Michiel, the Dutch kid travelling with us since yesterday, will be continuing on with us again today. He may very well remain with us now until we make it all the way back to Christchurch.

We set off towards Dunedin, the next major town along the South East coast, and spent about an hour on the road. We didn’t stop for any diversions this time and quickly sought out the information office in the centre of town as soon as we arrived. We’ve been on the trail of wildlife since we reached the South coast and although we’ve now seen some sea lions and plenty of seals, we still have yet to catch sight of any penguins, at least not out in the open. One of the tourist maps that we have with us shows plenty of locations on the Southern and Eastern coastline where Yellow-Eyed and Blue Penguins are supposed to be found but they remain thus far elusive to us.

The friendly man at the information office was quick to send us over to the Otago Peninsula, which is apparently one of the main draws for tourist into this area. The peninsular is something of a nature and outdoor lover’s paradise and full of promise of such wonders as penguins, seals and sea lions as well as the New Zealand’s only land colony of albatross. Now armed with a map complete with a few helpful scribbles, the three of us set off towards the peninsular, via a rather protracted jaunt around town to first find a petrol station. Apparently, there are no filling stations anywhere on the peninsular.

With the pursuit of penguins still very high up on our agenda, we first stopped at a beach location. In actual fact, the beach itself was quite a walk from where we could park the car and we had to trek across what looked like a moor with bulls and sheep in the way. Sheep by their very nature are timid and frightened animals that run away when you approach them but none of us were too sure about the bulls so we gave them a wide berth. We made it to the beach after about half an hour of climbing up and down hills and through heath land. Even after spending some time wandering up and down the beach and shoreline, we didn’t see any evidence of penguins but we did find quite a few fur seals. When we first arrive in New Zealand and explored the Kaikoura coastline, we were jumping up and down with excitement at spotting fur seals but we’ve now seen so many of them that we’re finding it difficult to remain quite as enthusiastic. Still, we were able to get real close to these ones and that made for some interesting photography.

Having made our way back to the car again, we continued on down towards the very end of the peninsular and to where the land-based albatross colony was located. By now, all three of us were quite fatigued from the exertions of the day and we were content to just wander around the museum-like exhibits that are on display in the albatross centre but we were reluctant to each spend the asking price of NZ$30 (€17,40) to get to spend ninety minutes on a tour, at the end of which we would get just a few minutes of time at the actual albatross observatory – which is so far from the birds that photography is very limited anyway. We’ve already seen a very nice albatross up close when we were on the whale-watching boat so we didn’t really think we were missing out on anything. Instead, we turned back around and started making our way back to Dunedin.

Along the way back, I called ahead to a hostel in Oamaru and booked us a twin room for the next couple of nights. Our plan is to stop dead for a day or two and do absolutely nothing. It’s high time that we re-charged our batteries and took a break from the travelling for a while. The reason we chose Oamaru is that there are supposed to be plenty of penguin colonies there so we at least stand a chance of spotting them there.

Back in Dunedin, we dropped the car off at the train station, where the parking was at least free for a couple of hours. Michiel had picked up a amp depicting a couple of city walks and so he and I set off to explore the city whilst Sandy went off in her own direction to amuse herself for an hour. Dunedin is a nice place and is built on a steep hill. The steepest road in the world is said to be in Dunedin and we certainly walked up and down a few energy sappers as we walked around the city. Many of the buildings in Dunedin are Victorian of style and age and are reflective of the early European settlers that colonised this country. The last thing I did before we all met up back at the car again was to pick up another couple of calling cards. The one we’ve been using so far has not been very kind to us in that the local access number provided has not worked in any of the places we’ve been to. As a result, we’ve had to use the eight hundred numbers that attract a ten Cent per minute surcharge on all our calls. Instead of paying just seven Cents per minute, we’ve been seventeen.

We all thought it might be a good idea to stock up on a few days' worth of food at a supermarket here in Dunedin before leaving town. Many of the smaller towns that we’ve been passing through have very slim pickings for supermarkets and they are often either closed early, expensive or both. The supermarket that we found was quite a big one and we racked up about NZ$66 (€38,28) at the till by the time we left. We bought enough food for at least a couple of days but we also stocked up on some longer-term items too.

The drive up to Oamaru turned out to be just about an hour. We found what turned out to be a very elusive hostel and checked in for a couple of nights. At just NZ$44 (€25,52) per night, this is actually the cheapest hostel we’ve stated in to date here in New Zealand. We had expected there to be beaches where we could go and find penguins for free but the that wind was somewhat knocked out of our sails when the woman that checked us in told us there the nearby colony was under the control of the local authority that charges a NZ$15 (€8,7) per person fee to have a look.

It was still early enough for us to be able to sit and unwind a bit after cooking and eating dinner. The chocolate cake that I picked up at the supermarket went down a treat with everyone that we shared it with. The nice thing about this particular hostel is not only that it is cheap but also that they have free Internet access – even if there is just the one computer and a very slow dial-up phone connection. I was less enthusiastic about the scattering of sandflies that were hovering around in our room. I showed them no mercy and swiftly dealt with each one that I could find. It was very reminiscent of the hostel we stayed at in Nairobi, where I stayed awake much of the night staring at the white walls and ceiling in search of the one mosquito that I kept hearing buzz around my head. I’ve paid for two nights here and the plan is to do absolutely nothing tomorrow. I’m very much looking forward to doing exactly that.

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