New Zealand- Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 375 (185)

Oamaru

Friday 18th March (2005)

Today is our rest day with nothing planned. We’ve maintained a relatively brisk rate of travel around the South Island so far and I’m now slowly starting to get the feeling that we’ve seen enough. I definitely feel like the finishing post is now within our reach. We still have the North Island to go yet and by all accounts that will be a very different experience to the South. As usual with nothing pressing to get me out of bed this morning, I didn’t much bother to put in the effort. However, as is also typically the case when I have no frame of reference for the time, my body got me up earlier than I would otherwise have expected. As a result, I had more time on my hands with nothing to do but enjoyed simply mulling around for most of the day.

We wandered around town a bit with no particular aim in mind and it hit me that we are going to soon be in need of plenty of American Dollars by the time we get to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. If I understand it correctly, the US Dollar is pretty much the currency of choice in Ecuador and I know for a fact that we are going to need to pay for our cruise around the islands in US hard currency. We currently have US$1,100 (€845) in traveller’s checks and a further US$1,600 (€1,230) in cash that we are carrying with us. It remains to be seen if this will be enough to cover the cost of the Galapagos cruise so I’m keen to get my hands on some more cash just in case. With the recent news of the €900 fees that I now have to make to cover the cost of maintaining the camper-van, the funds that we have in our Dutch bank are now perilously low. We still have plenty in our American bank account but we now have a logistical problem of how to access it. I recently learned that we are being charged an arm and a leg for making ATM withdrawals from non-affiliated foreign banks. I’ve also just learned that there are no affiliated banks anywhere in South America from which we can make withdrawals from our American bank account so we need to withdraw as much of it as we are going to need whilst we still can from here in New Zealand. Once I’ve withdrawn enough, assuming our daily and weekly limits allow, I then need to convert it all the US Dollars. No doubt, I will lose out on the currency conversion but we’ve little choice now.

Even though we have no planned activities today, we’re never very far away from the stresses and strains of travelling and I still needed to sort out somewhere to stay in Christchurch. The last time we did this was on the day that we arrived and it was quite a problem then to get a place on such short notice so I wanted to get ahead of the game already. Fortunately, even though many hostels were fully booked, there was at least one that had a room for the two of us for the three remaining days that we will spend in Christchurch.

Before we set out on this trip, I had numerous discussions with other veteran travellers on the merits of organising things in advance versus just taking things as they come. There’s a lot to be said for both approaches and most travellers tend to have very specific points of view on the subject. Our chosen method of travelling is one that tries to straddle both sides of the fence. On the one hand, we have a fairly set route planned out for our progress around the planet but, on the other, we deliberately leave much to chance. For example, other than the odd notion of a few highlights for each given country that we try not to miss out on, we don’t really know what we are going to do or where we are going to go in a given country until we get there. Since Auckland is the jumping off point for the next leg of this trip, that is where we are going to be flying into when we make our way up to the North Island in a few days. Now that the time is approaching, I’ve been giving at least a little bit of consideration to the North Island and where we are going to go once we arrive there. Having looked over the geography of the island, it seems there is a bit of an issue with the fact that we are flying into Auckland. Our problem is that we want to spend at least a day or two in Wellington, which is all the way down at the other end of the island to Auckland. This means that we will have to travel all the way down there and then all the way back up again to make our outbound flight from Auckland again and that is a bit redundant. It seems that the best solution to this problem is to re-route our flight to take us into Wellington directly. With that in mind, I called the airlines to make the change. I had to pay about NZ$53 (€30,74) for each of our tickets for the re-routing but I reckon that we will make up this difference in savings in fuel for not having to traverse the length of the island a second time. Having successfully changed the flights, I next looked into car rentals from Wellington. Unfortunately, I might have jumped the gun a bit on the flight re-routing since car rentals from Wellington are starting to look like they are much more expensive than for the South Island. That’s planning for you!

The hostel owner came in to ask around for who wanted to participate in the penguin tour for this evening. You aren’t allowed to take photos and at NZ$20 (€11,60) a head, none of us were particular too keen on the idea, so we asked him for some tips on where we can go to see the penguins without having to pay for the privilege. He turned out to be quite full of useful tips, as it happens, and suggested a few places where few tourists are likely to tread but where we could see the penguins. One such spot was about half an hour’s drive south of here near a township called Mouraki. Quite coincidentally, this also happens to be the location of the Mouraki Boulders; a strange grouping of naturally formed stone spheres that can be seen on the beach during low tide. Since we were by now starting to get a little bored with all the nothing we were doing (you can’t win), we decided that a brief trip down the coast was a good idea and we could see both the penguins as well as the boulders at the same time, so off we set.

It was early evening by the time we found the stone sphere clad beach and they really are a strange phenomenon. They are often near perfectly spherical boulders that are odd in that they are have not been eroded into spheres but naturally formed from a crystalline core. They range in size from just under half a metre to well over a metre in diameter. One or two of them are broken apart and the crystal inner structure can clearly be seen. We hung around and photographed them from every angle, all the time doing our best to dodge the occasional influx of tide, before the persistent sand flies drove us off the beach and back into the car. The next stop was just a short drive farther down the coast to where an old lighthouse resides. Being a constant source of attraction for tourists and thus tourist Dollars, penguin colonies are usually very clearly advertised from the highway but this one seems to be completely anonymous. We drove through several Kilometres of unmarked gravel tracks before we arrived at the cordoned off sanctuary and I doubt we or anyone else would have found it unless specifically told of its existence. The colony exists within a small bay, where a rugged coastline of jagged rocks makes approach from the sea by boat just about impossible. In addition to numerous sea birds, the bay was dotted with a couple of dozen or more fur seals, just sitting there relaxing. The little flightless birds nest in the bushes nestled into the hill leading up from the bay and the whole area around it is fenced off for their protection. We walked down the steep hillside to a small hide, from where we could sit in comfort with a perfect view out over the bay. It took us nearly half an hour of tedium before the first Yellow-Eyed Penguin emerged from the roaring surf and waddled up the beach and onto the hillside. It stood there pruning itself for about ten minutes before it continued to waddle into its nest and out of our view. Even though it was a fair distance from us, it was thrilling nevertheless to see it in its natural habitat. It was also a shame that we only saw the one penguin emerge from the sea even though we stayed there for nearly another hour.

Back up the top of the hill, where the lighthouse and another couple of buildings stand, there was a penguin hospital and we were able to see a number of presumably sick and recovering little penguins in enclosures. Although not truly in the wild, it was quite a thrill to see the curious little creatures nevertheless.

We’d achieved our first main goal of the evening of spotting Yellow-Eyed Penguins in the wild but there is also the Blue Penguin that can apparently be seen if you know where to look right back where we started from in Oamaru itself. Where the Yellow-Eyed penguin comes to shore individually throughout the day, the Blue Penguins come ashore in numbers at dusk. With a bit of time to kill before the time was right, we drove back to the hostel and tucked into a spot of dinner. At around nine o’clock and armed with a couple of flashlights and some cameras, we set off through a derelict wood storage yard towards the beach behind the hostel. With very distinctive calling sounds, the Blue Penguins were not difficult to locate. Actually spotting them, however, was a much more challenging problem. They are very small at just about thirty centimetres tall and extremely shy. They can scurry about in the underbrush quite quickly and even though we kept moving around the bushes looking for them, we spent the best part of an hour following sounds in all directions but without actually spotting one. It felt like we were tracking E.T. like they did in the movie. We eventually did spot one, though, and managed to get a few snaps of it. The only reason we were able to do so was due to the fact that it had no escape route in the direction it fled from us. It was clearly frightened of our presence so we left it in peace. It was a bit drizzly all throughout the evening and all the bushes we were walking through were dew-soaked and by the time we were ready to call it a night, we returned back to the hostel nearly drenched. I had to throw a load of washing into the washing machine and dryer in the basement and this was the last thing I did before turning in.

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