[Dunedin and Otago Peninsula] Where The Wild Things Are


What an honor it is for me! To be invited into this amazing blog that has been bringing you all incredible and memorable stories of Mr. Sebastien's Journey to the Antipodes! This southbound journey had finally come to a turn when we hit the southernmost point of the South Island, as Mr. Sebastien has been continuously emphasizing, that we simply absolutely unquestionably could NOT go more South!


And so it is my greatest pleasure to recount on our journey of how we swooped up from the Southland, then reluctantly but gradually made our way up to the exciting city of Dunedin, as well as the start of Autumn!

Let the wild rumpus start!

(Momo's latest improvement to go with the Dunedin vibe)

We had already tried to get the most out of our wildlife experience in the Catlins, but there was so much more to surprise us around this area! Starting with the most unexpected encounter on a beach at Toko Mouth - a "bold and boisterous" sea lion chilling by itself right next to us!


Since we were already back on the east coast, it seemed like there was no excuse to miss a sunrise, especially on a good day.

So on one morning we got up just before the sun did, found a nice spot on the white sandy beach, and watched the big glowing ball of light rising intently over the horizon and spreading its warmth over this beautiful land.



And then we never did anything like that again.


We did however make many stops on the coastal drive up to Dunedin, enjoying the views of the Pacific Ocean, chasing oyster catchers at Taieri Beach and Seb went for (another) swim near Brighton.

It is actually a very strange feeling to exchange mountains for the sea, leaving the backcountry tramping life behind us and crashing a city.

(Clubbing, backpacker style!)

And by "city", I mean a REAL city.

Dunedin, the first settled city in New Zealand, named after Edinburgh of Scotland, is the real center of excitement and activities. Boasting the largest university in the country, Dunedin is a true student city, and what this means for us is: cheap food, great clubs, good music and a LOT of fun!



Since we've been here, we have ... eaten 1/2 meter-long pizzas (each), pounded the city streets and shopped around at all the op-shops (where Momo got an amazing upgrade), went for a real date at a Mexican restaurant, had Decadent deserts after hours, fulfilled our thirst for Strictly good coffee, boosted a bit of our "intellect" by visiting the university campus and second-hand bookshops.




Most of all, we've made up for the lack of city night life ever since ... well ... ever since.

We enjoyed an amazing jazz session with inspiring swing dancing at our favorite cafe (our greatest aspiration at the moment is to watch Youtube videos and teach ourselves to swing dance).


Went club-hopping around the Octagon which was a scene transformed after 10pm. Crashed at a bar owner's birthday party. Danced to music from an internationally-known DJ in town.


And we smashed it on the dance floors every night, showing these university kids how it's done! (After the third night, the bouncer had to give us a VIP pass!)



It is hard to believe that within an hour's drive from all this bustling city life, we could also have the greatest encounters with coastal wildlife also!

If the city of Dunedin is the hub where all the students go wild, the Otago Peninsula is THE hub where the wild gathers for their own party! Here we have an abundance of Little Blue Penguins! Yellow-Eyed Penguins! Sea Lions! Seals! And the most unique of all, Royal Albatrosses!


We arrived at the very tip of the peninsula to visit the Royal Albatross Center one day, hoping to spot an albatross. Before coming here, this creature called the Albatross hardly meant a single thing to me, and now I am completely in awe and amazed by the very existence of these majestic creatures.

From what I've learnt, the Royal Albatrosses can live up to 60 years, almost just like humans. They find a mate for life and raise their chicks together, almost just like humans. When chicks mature into their adolescence, they travel half way around the world to party for a few years in South America, almost just like humans. And they can fly great distances, up to 500km a day, as well as spend up to 6 days without landing on land or water at all due to their incredible biological design ... not so much like humans, but incredible!



The most important thing I've learnt at the the Royal Albatross Center probably is about how endangered they are all over the world. Mostly due to a fishing technique called Longline Fishing.

By dropping a long line of hooks in the sea to improve fishing efficiency, many seabirds could be caught incidentally in the hooks, drowned and killed for our insatiable demand for seafood. Such awareness for wildlife and environmental protection has become increasingly evident ever since we've reached the Pacific Coast.

And this should be the point where Seb might start reconsidering me writing a guest post because I might be getting a little too serious ...


But ANYWAY! Instead of paying to go in, we were super lucky to witness many of these spectacular birds flying around the Center. We were already jumping and hugging each other with glee when the first albatross came flying towards us over the waters!

Later, at least ten more of them put on a great show for us, flying in and out of their nests, always taking the same route over the hill to our left, and circling above the Center for a long time. Seb, with his impossibly good eye vision, saw several of them floating in the waters in the distance, and I was apparently blind in comparison.


Just when we thought that seeing the albatrosses was already the highlight for us, in terms of wildlife, we later stumbled upon the best wildlife scene ever, at Sandfly Bay: Yellow-eyed Penguins climbing a massive sand dune!


This is unquestionably the cutest thing I've ever seen!!! We hid in the sand dunes watching three YEPs (who we named Johnny, Charlie and Stephan) arrive on the beach after a day of fishing, and another one (Georgina) standing on top at the nest waiting for her food.



We then watched with amazement as they shuffled and scrambled up the sand dune (in a direct fashion) to their nest at least 50m above! They would burst into action for a few seconds and then freeze for another 10-15 minutes, possibly catching their breath (and I know exactly how it feels to clamber up such a massive mount).

This whole journey probably took them at least two hours! Why they make this arduous effort to make it home every evening is probably rewarded with the amazing slide down to the beach every morning!


We figured that these YEPs are probably doing this in punishment for getting too friendly with their neighbors, the Little Blue Penguins, who are half their size and always coming home after dark. LBPs may look way cuter, but any one who comes home only after the sun sets and moves in a squad is probably one to be cautious about!

That's why we shouldn't mess with the Little Blue Penguins!



(Georgina, waiting at the top of the sand dunes)

On another day, we waited with much patience as the sun set and night arrived, just for the Little Blue Penguins to come home. We watched from a distance, away from the tour group, stared intently at the gently lit beach.

And finally, in a flash of a few seconds, we saw a small gang of LBPs arrive on shore, then they sneakily scrambled across the beach with much stealth and in an instant, disappeared into the darkness of the night ...


You guys might start to think that all we have been doing on the peninsula is a lot of sitting, and watching ... and staring ... and waiting ... and waiting ... for some wildlife action ... which we did ... most of the time.

But we also managed to explore quite a lot of the peninsula, including its many beautiful beaches and rocky cliffs and ridge-top drives.


We discovered the most beautiful view near Lover's Leap (which we're pretty sure the officials confused with the Chasm) that overlooks all the best elements of the peninsula thrown together: Allan's Beach white and crescent with its endless succession of waves, Hooper's Inlet with an unique wetland, the rolling hills with the Otago Harbor just beyond, a nameless bay with startling turquoise waters.


We explored the stunning wetlands and inlets.


We ran up and down enormous sand dunes.


Made friends monstrous sea lions and grumpy seals.



We danced on the beach in a brilliant sunset.



And we saw the mesmerizing city lights at night when finally leaving the peninsula.


And of course with all this time in Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula, we did a bit of hiking at the famous Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world with a slope of 35%!

 


It was a most eventful day when we were there, when an enormous truck charged with full speed up the street, and then backed down again in reverse. It was the most intriguing scene to watch!



This area really is a marvelous mesh of wildlife and urban activity! When you think about experiencing the beauty of New Zealand, it is easy to forget about how cities are home to most of the human population. And when you're used to all the cows and sheep dominating the rest of the country, it is also easy to forget how New Zealand is home to a great variety of other wildlife, including the many little creatures living along the coast!



I'm sure that we've gotten the complete experience of partying in Dunedin with all the locals: the students, the penguins and the albatrosses! And I think that all our time here, we've really been living this quote to the fullest:


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