Archive for the ‘Otago Peninsula’ Category

As Tim is still recovering from his cold, we each have had a double bed to ourselves for the last couple of nights.  Last night I slept fairly solidly only waking once briefly, but the others (sleeping at the other end of the house) were disturbed in the middle of the night by two cats fighting!

We had a fairly slow start to the day.  We showered, had breakfast and I made our picnic sandwiches.   This was then followed by packing mainly food items and the girls’ rucksacks.  As we were nearly finished, we noticed we were also supposed to strip the beds of sheets and pile them up in the laundry room, together with the towels, and clean the house.  Fortunately, we had only been here for a short time and not much cleaning needed doing.

At around 10.45am we made our way up the windy Highcliff Road towards the only castle in New Zealand.  As the weather was dry and slightly sunny, we decided to only visit the gardens and give Larnach Castle a miss.  As we neared the building, a young lady behind us commented on the rather small size of it.  “Oh, is that it?  It looks more like a big house.  It’s not a castle at all.  It’s rather disappointing!”  Well, I was rather pleased we didn’t pay the extra $44 to visit the castle itself.

We spent a good 30-40 minutes walking around the different gardens (patterned garden, raised lawn, flower area, and the south seas garden), photographed Alice in Wonderland statues and had a peep inside the ballroom (which also doubled as cafe and shop).  Both girls (and grown-ups) were disappointed with the ballroom, which again was pretty small.

Larnach Castle.

Cheshire Cat.

Living next door to Alice.

Queens of Hearts.

On the way back to the car park we noticed a nice picnic spot and decided to have our sandwiches there.  After one last little wander around and a few more nature photos we were ready to leave the Otago Peninsula behind.


After a smooth and rather uneventful car journey we arrived at the Moeraki boulders.  The girls were ready to let off some steam on the beach and loved sitting and standing on top of these big rounded stones, but were slightly alarmed when the sea came in and surrounded their boulders!


Vitruvian Man on holiday.


This is how busy it really was…

We went back on ourselves to Moeraki village itself in order to have coffee and cake at Fleur’s Place.  This eating place was mentioned in one of the many guide books on New Zealand and also in an article I read about the journey from Dunedin to Oamaru.  It was not very well signposted and Tim spotted it by chance.  I was disappointed as it was more like an eating place that served mainly hot meals and only an extremely small selection of cakes.  Not even one single muffin… so as far as cakes and coffee this place is overrated in the guide books.

Before the seagulls got there.

We settled for rhubarb and cream cheese scones for the grown-ups and chocolate cookies for the kiddies.  Fruit juices for H, E & T and a capuccino for me.  Even more shocking was the $26 this came too.  Never mind, the setting was brilliant.   We enjoyed the warmth of the sun and the blue of the sea and simply relaxed.  We wanted to take the left over scone and biscuits with us, but as soon as we left the table to have a closer look at the rocks and sea opposite us, 6 to 8 seagulls attacked our table and were fighting over the food!  Bye bye left overs …

Only another 40 minutes car journey and we arrived in Oamaru.  After a slight detour we arrived at Humber Cottage.  First impressions were positive, I liked the decor (1930s?) and it was spacious enough for the four of us.  It also had a good-sized garden.  But we’re not as close to the blue penguin site as we thought we might be, and there is a railway track running opposite our house and no double glazing!  Yes, we do have a sea view, as long as we’re standing up.

We all felt like eating fish and chips for supper.  So out we went in search of a take-away.  We wandered down Thames Street (one of the main streets) to find everything closed.  It was only 6.30pm on a Friday night.  Where was everybody??  We found three elderly locals sitting on a bench outside the i-site building so we asked them for the nearest Fish & Chips place.  No, there was nothing around here, but we could find a KFC walking back the way we came.  Humm, not quite the same …

We decided to retrace our steps and carry on a little further.  As we crossed one of the side streets we spotted a Chinese take-away that also did fish & chips – and it was only around the corner from our house!

Loaded with two portions of sole and chips we headed to the comfort of our kitchen.  The food tasted really good, if only a little too salty, and we ended up with four empty plates and still had room for apple & rhubarb crumble (more like a cake than proper crumble).

Hannah and Ellen chose books from the vast array provided and had 15 minutes reading time before bed.

Tomorrow might be a quietish day with a possible visit to the library to update our blog and check our emails.  We’re also thinking about visiting the Whitestone cheese factory.

Lets just hope the trains don’t run overnight or early in the morning …


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The sound of rain as we surfaced to consciousness this morning. No matter; this would be an indoor day. So sometime around 10am we negotiated the tortuous coastal road into Dunedin and found ourselves a parking spot in Dowling Road for $2/hour. First stop the i-Site; should have been straightforward, but they have temporarily moved, so we criss-crossed the central Octagon rather more than necessary to find it.

Question 1: where is the library? (On the opposite side of the Octagon – where we’ve just come from…) Question 2: can we book a penguin tour for tonight? (Yes, and there’s a small family discount.)

The rain was holding off so far so we bravely left our rain jackets in the car and walked down to the Otago Settlers’ Museum.

Free entry (donations welcome) and the girls were given a ‘Cadbury’s Crack the Code’ activity with the hint of a promise of something free and edible at the end of it. But they had to work hard for nearly two hours to decipher the eleven messages written in Morse, Braille, etc., part of the difficulty being finding the messages (hidden around the museum) in the first place. I’m not sure how much they took in of the exhibits, but it gave us time to browse around while they looked up symbols one by one in their code books.

A curious assortment of rooms; one was devoted to closely-packed portraits of 19th-century Scottish settlers (the rich done in oils, the poor by photograph), but others included the history of road transport (including a splendid 1940s caravan), Freemasonry in New Zealand and Engineering in Otago. The toilets were also worth a look, being housed in a 1930s former bus depot built in the ‘streamline’ Art Deco style. The same block had a children’s dress-up section where the girls had great fun.

With the time approaching 1pm we left in search of lunch, choosing a cafe on Princes Street where we had a sandwich and a cake. Kirsten caught sight of my parents walking past (they were doing their own thing in Dunedin today) and raced out of the cafe and down the hill to catch them. We compared notes (John had lost his St Helena cap) and then found the library for some blog-posting and email-checking.

Except (i) there was no WiFi in the library (‘try Starbucks’) and (ii) the free machines there did not permit access to webmail accounts (internet for research purposes only). The girls enjoyed the vast range of children’s books (with a five-aisle non-fiction section alone, complete with Dewey guide), while locals could also borrow – for free – posters and framed paintings suitable for a child’s bedroom – what a good idea! But it was a waste of time for our online needs.

We returned to the car and set off north to find Baldwin Street. This is a suburban road much like any other around Dunedin, apart from its unique claim to fame; it is the world’s steepest street. We parked at the bottom, relatively flat bit and walked a little way up. We’ve done Clovelly, we’ve done Shaftesbury, and this one is prosaic not picturesque. No cobbles or honeyed stonework; its tarmac and concrete just gets straight to the point and climbs at a mean gradient of 1 in 2.86, as authenticated in the Guinness Book of Records 1998 edition, page 186.


Photos up the road look vaguely kind of steepish, but to get the full effect you have to aim your camera across the street instead.

I had a voucher for a free ‘I’ve climbed the world’s steepest street’ certificate, so we went into the ‘certificate shop’ to claim it. The curt German owner told us that nothing was for free in his shop and we’d have to pay two dollars. We harrumphed out again empty-handed and resolved to concoct our own certificate on the computer. As we left the street and rounded the corner, we came upon another souvenir shop – perhaps this was the right one? (Something about having flags outside it.) This time the Chinese owner was happy to oblige and filled in a far more colourful certificate for us, ‘signed’ by the Mayor of Dunedin, no less. We didn’t buy anything but I’m sure that the coach-load of tourists who came in just then made up for us.

Back home via a photo stop at Dunedin Railway Station, just in time to give the girls a hairwash and to put a chicken in the oven for tonight’s roast meal. My parents joined us around 5pm and kindly paid for our forthcoming penguin excursion – as well as washing up after supper while we made a hasty getaway to ensure we arrived there by 7.15pm.

Big vats of chocolate?

Dunedin railway station.

Our wet day had been something of a pleasantly dry squib and by the evening the sun had come out for us. We parked at Penguin Place and waited for our guide while watching a video explaining how penguins are with us throughout our lives (shot of a child cuddling a toy one, then a row of Penguin paperbacks – trying too hard there, I think…). Tim the guide arrived and talked us through the life cycle and geographical distribution of the Yellow-eye (they’re rare and only found from Christchurch downwards, including the islands south of New Zealand). We were also shown an adult female they are feeding up prior to release.

Then onto the bus and down farm tracks to the viewing area. No difficulty in spotting penguins – many adults had already come ashore and the large, woolly chicks were waiting in their creches. The network of camouflaged trenches was impressive, allowing us to nip from hide to hide without disturbing the birds. Okay, so you weren’t allowed to pick up a penguin, but plenty of chances to shoot them at point-blank range (photographically speaking) in their shelters or else from a sniper’s viewpoint up in the dunes as they absent-mindedly made their way from sea to nest. (It was hardly a purposeful waddle; they’d stop for ages in the middle of the sand, preen a bit, turn round the other way, go sideways a bit – dangerous loitering given the sea lions that are about.)











Everywhere we went, more penguins. All four of us were snapping and zooming away, enjoying and appreciating the tour and the location and the weather… Must be Nana and Grandad’s magic touch. We were the final tour of the day and so got to see more penguins coming ashore, as well as having a bit of bonus time at the end because there was no tour to follow us. We were also fortunate that only six other people had booked along with us.

So it’s penguins – tick; seals – tick; sea lions – tick. Dolphins and whales next.


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DIY Subway

We had a leisurely start this morning, heading into the outskirts of Dunedin around 10.20am to stock up with food supplies from the Woolworths on Andersons Bay Road – two meals big enough for six, in case my parents wished to join us (they have no self-catering facilities at their nearby B&B).

Back for lunch; the girls enjoyed constructing their own Subway sandwiches (just buy soft white rolls instead of a sliced loaf and let them do the filling – will that work for packed lunches once they are back at school?). My parents replied to our voice message and we arranged to meet up at Taiaroa Head at the end of the peninsula (there’s a word that gets mis-spelt in the Rose Cottage Visitors’ Book – with a terminal ‘r’ or even a missing ‘n’). We made good time and met them in the Royal Albatross Visitor Centre where they had just had a snack for lunch (no, not regurgitated by the waitress).

They had waited at Pilot’s Beach last night from 9pm onwards to catch a glimpse of Blue Penguins coming home from work, but it was nearly an hour before any emerged from the sea and returned to their nests up in the cliffs – might be tricky to do with our girls, and it was chilly. Then today they had been on a Penguin Place tour to see Yellow-eyed penguin chicks at close hand from a network of camouflaged viewing trenches; no adult birds at that time of day, though.

It was grey and blustery at Taiaroa Head so we drove across to the other side of the peninsula to find the walk to Sandfly Bay, a spot where sea lions and penguins can be seen. But no, there was just as much of a gale there, too – might blow the sandflies away, though. We parked and scrambled joyfully down dunes (just like Chile, we thought) to the beach where a sign assured us that the name of the bay derives from the sand flying in the breeze. Yeah, right – until we got our free exfoliation treatment as we walked the one-kilometre length of the beach.



At the far end we spotted sea lions lazing on the rocks. These particular sea lions are also endangered but the protection programme is so successful that they now pose a threat to the rare penguins with whom they share the coastline – and whom they eat. You can’t win, can you?

We squinted out from the penguin hide on top of a dune, but it was still far too early; only 4pm, and they recommend the two hours before dusk. So we retraced our steps while subjecting ourselves to another 1000 metres of sand-blasting, struggled to climb those ‘fun’ dunes and finally collapsed in the car with a biscuit.

Once we got back to Rose Cottage it was time to put our jacket potatoes in the oven and have some playtime/rest/a shower. My parents found us at 6pm and we compared notes; they too had tackled the dunes of doom but hadn’t made it to the far end of the beach. I rang up to enquire about the Penguin Place tour but they had finished for the day; we might try to book for tomorrow evening, weather permitting.

If tomorrow starts off wet as promised, we’ll do some undercover activities in Dunedin; the Otago Museum, the Settlers’ Museum, the railway station (the Cadbury’s chocolate factory tours may well be sold out).

That aforementioned Visitors’ Book has a Bruce Williamson quote on the front cover:

Walk in the rain,
smell flowers,
stop along the way,
build sandcastles,
go on field trips,
find out how things work,
tell stories,
say the magic words,
trust the universe.

I reckon we’ve ticked all of those boxes on our trip, don’t you? I mean, anyone who’s travelled by taxi in Bolivia clearly places huge trust in the universe…

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We walked home last night after our lovely meal with John and Angela, a feeble attempt to calm the girls’ excitement.  Fortunately, once in bed they fell quiet very quickly and were still sleepy and tired this morning.  It’s a travel day today, so they could have a rest in the car.

At around 9.45am we left our comfy Te Anau apartment and headed up north to our next destination, Portobello, Otago Peninsula.

Our first stop was at Bracken Hall Cafe in Mossburn.  It was recommended to us 9 years ago by Bill Jackson (Tim’s colleague) and I fancied a coffee.  The girls settled for a slice of chocolate cake and Tim and I shared a lemon and cream cheese muffin – freshly baked!  We had a little snoop around the shop but left empty handed and with full tummies.

Our plan was to have a lunch stop at Gore, but Lady TomTom had other ideas for us.  A little while before we would have reached Gore she sent us off the 94 into even quieter countryside.  It took us a few minutes before we realised she was probably making us bypass Gore.  We decided to disobey her and follow signs to Gore instead, only to find we reached the main road again at the other side of the town!  Urrrgh!!

We carried on down the “Presidential Highway” to Clinton, which was a pretty empty town.  No food outlets, a petrol station without petrol pumps – so hardly worth stopping in.

We had more luck in the next, much bigger town of Balclutha.  Driving down the main street we spotted a cople of petrol stations and a … Subway!  We had a relaxed lunch in our favourite sandwich bar (where the girls decided they wanted to sit separate from us), filled up the car and swapped drivers.

A rare stretch of motorway.

As we reached Dunedin we became slightly confused about Lady TomTom’s instructions so again we ignored her and decided to follow signs to Otago Peninsula.  Because we didn’t drive into Dunedin we missed the opportunity to stock up on some food.  Instead we halted at a little foodstore but only bought a bottle of milk as none of the other items looked anywhere near appetising.  We carried on along the windy road, at one point having to reverse uphill to let a big coach pass on the narrow road.

Just before afternoon tea time we found Rose Cottage (after overshooting it first).  A beautiful, three bedroom house with lovely gardens packed with scented roses.  The girls chose their beds, Tim and I chose our bedroom and explored the garden and little wendy house.  I know it sounds boring, but one of the first things I did was put a load of washing in as my clothes got covered in tomato ketchup last night.

Tim discovered another Shrek movie in the drawer which the girls were keen to watch, and we grown-ups enjoyed it too. Time for supper, bathtime for the girls and catching up on diaries.  Soon after each of the girls chose another four cuddly toys to sleep with (there was a good selection of cuddly toys in their bedroom) they crawled into bed and quickly went quiet.

We’re hoping for a dry and sunny day tomorrow and plan to do several things as Thursday might be quite a washout.

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