So many adventures to write about since the last post, I’m going to have to break this one into two parts. We left TeAnau in a snowstorm. It was somewhat slow going but fortunately not cold enough to make the roads terribly icy. Within 30 minutes to an hour we’d driven out of the snow and there was blue sky and sunshine highlighting the fresh layer of powder on the hills. The drive to Dunedin was through miles of rolling green hills with far-reaching views from the highway. There was one quick stop in Gore, to get set up with a NZ cell phone and have a lovely meat pie coupled with our first taste of a “lollycake” which was quite tasty, I must say. For my taste buds, you just can’t go wrong with any combination of marshmallows and coconut. The dessert was a gift from our car companion, Angela who we were giving a lift back to Dunedin.
We’d booked 2 different accommodations for our weeks stay in Dunedin, the first was in a place along the shore on the peninsula. The drive was dramatic, at least for us who did not grow up around the ocean. One side of Portobello road was against a steep hillside and the other dropped sharply into the bay just a couple feet from the white line and the road itself was very winding with lots of curves. The loft where we stayed was very nice and provided a decent view, but our host let us know that we could take in even more spectacular views from the grounds at Larnach castle.
After evaluating the forecast and attempting to determine what day would be best for getting the best views, we decided to take the “walk” (more like a hike) to the castle the next day. The first part of the trail was actually a paved road with a steep hill, then a steep hill on a gravel road where we came to a driveway that turned into a house, straight ahead was another hill with even more incline with a narrow livestock trail winding up it through the grass all this behind a chain-link gate held closed with a red rope. There was a small, probable 1 ft by 1/5 ft board nailed to a post by the gate with “LANARCH CASTLE” painted in quick short strokes. We unlatched the gate and walked through. Up through the grass and mud we climbed a bit before arriving at another fence. This one we were able to step over. There were signs attached to this gate too–plastic lids from margarine containers with the messages written on the back side in sharpie or something. One read–with some difficulty – trail open all year, please close gate, livestock grazing. On we went up and up past a single wind tower whirring so ferociously in the wind that we could hear it from a good ways off and it sounded like a siren until we got closer and then it sounded more like a small helicopter. To our right was a fantastic view of a large green hill, dotted with sheep and bushes flowering yellow. To the left was an expansive view of the bay and the peninsula. Then there were four horses. I was a bit startled and so was the horse who’d been asleep on his feet when we popped into view. He jumped and skittered over to the side closer to the other 3. As soon as I saw them I started talking to them. Those of you who know me well know that horses kind of scare me and I just have this feeling that they know it too. I just start talking in a soft soothing, nice voice, more to calm me down than them. We slowly made our was pat them and crawled under a hot wire fence before plodding up some more. Then we reached a levelled off spot and could see a house up higher to our right. There was a driveway closed off with a gate labelled private and straight ahead was another hill that tilted our heads back. A well maintained gravel road led up this hill with even more spectacular views of the peninsula. On we went and then the road began winding around the back of the hill and we were treated to a bit of shelter from the wind and a view of the opposite shoreline. On a bit further through the shade and up some more we arrived at the driveway to Lanarch castle. It took us just about an hour but it was strenuous enough that we weren’t too cold.
We spent some time wandering around the gardens before taking a quick self-guided tour of the castle. It was pretty cool, but the views were even more amazing and it was awesome that you could climb all the way up on the tower. We’d hoped to make it back down in time to drive out and see the blue penguins. Apparently the nesting sites of these adorable little creatures are protected and the only access allowed is by guided tour. Worried that the weather was going to turn we wanted to get as much sightseeing in as possible. So we limited ourselves to an hour in the castle before making a 40 minute descent back down the trail I described earlier. This time we had to walk in between the horses, and yes I was talking nonstop until they were well behind us.
The clouds started building as we got back to the loft and we debated whether to try and get down to the end of the peninsula to see the penguins. We decided to go for it and grabbed the laundry from the line, some not quite dry and spread it around in the loft, layered wool, upon wool, upon wool, topped with ski pants, down coats and wind breakers. I had an added thick heavy scarf and hand warmers, thank goodness. The drive along Portobello was the same as the first section, I was thankful to be the passenger and not the driver. Throw in a lot of road construction a bit of traffic, including some big trucks and that made the drive even more exciting, I think I only actually gasped out loud twice.
By the time we reached the wildlife center for the tour the clouds didn’t look as threatening but the wind was atrocious. We got inside and purchased our tickets and the kind lady at the café served us two bowls of soup even though she was in the process of closing. It really was good soup and a very generous serving of it–pumpkin soup. The tour was supposed to leave around 5:15 but they pushed it back to 5:30. Not surprisingly a small group consisting of the 2 of us and a handful of Japanese tourists plus 2 guides. The guides did offer us an extra coat, which I actually considered for a moment even as I stood there in all the layers I mapped out earlier. Off we went on the short walkway down to a viewing platform that was completely unprotected from the ferocious cold wind. To my surprise and delight I was relatively comfortable with all my layers.
The guides had warned us that they had been seeing fewer and fewer penguins in recent days but we’d only been standing on the platform for a few minutes when Paul spotted the first one. The best way I could think to describe them is simply adorable. They are little miniature penguins about a foot tall with dark blue feathers on their back and white feathers on their little bellies. The viewing platform was equipped with special lights that apparently the little guys cannot see, yet it allows humans to watch them as they hop and waddle their way up the shore to find a place to burrow in and nest for the night. Watching them, despite the near freezing temperatures and howling winds has been one of my favorite things so far. We were fortunate to get some video and even though it’s not awesome, we felt like it was pretty darn good considering the conditions. Click for link to video Blue penguins, Dunedin.
The next day, our adventures continued after Paul finished work, the weather was still cloudy and rainy. We decided to take a drive and see about some of the inlets on the peninsula. The first one we attempted, we abandoned part way up the first road since our Camry doesn’t have 4WD and the road was steep, wet, narrow and muddy. Paul found a slightly wider place in the road and did a 8 or 10 point turnabout and we carried on along Portobello road. Then we made our way across the peninsula on another narrow dirt road to go see Allen’s beach. On the way a big tandem dump truck appeared behind us, seemingly out of nowhere going much faster than we were. Paul pulled off the next chance he got to let the truck go around. It was really amazing how those guys can drive that fast on those kinds of roads and keep their truck and load under control. We’d brought all the same gear to keep warm if we chose to get out and about, parked at the carpark for Allen’s beach and put it all on. When we stepped out of the car to head down the trail to the beach we could see and hear the next round of precipitation blowing toward us. Five feet from the car, we did a 180 degree turn and got back inside for another 10 minutes or so while the little pellets pinged off the car. It settled enough we headed back out and arrived at the beach, welcomed by sand blown into our faces. We could imagine what a beautiful place it could be on a nice day, but only stayed long enough to take a handful of pictures and turn around.
Thought we’d try one of the 2 restaurants that our host had suggested for dinner, only to locate one, arrive and find it closed. Not wanting to drive into the city for dinner, we used the last 2 avocados to make guacamole to accompany a couple kinds of crackers and raw carrot sticks to eat from our “table” the trusty cooler that does fit in our car, by the way.