Today we explored Dunedins Otago Peninsular, which we visited to view the wildlife, but is also well known for its walking and cycling tracks of varying difficulties & Larnach Castle. This peninsular is for the most part open farmlands and reserves, with the inside coastline being populated. This is also the main road to the very end of the peninsular where our first stop was to be. We took the high road on the way out, and it certainly was an experience driving along a road fairly high up a steep hill, with no roadside barrier like we would see in Australia. The road was fine, and we were in no danger, with beautiful views over the surrounding landscape. Its well worth taking the high road, at least in one direction. At times the road is just wide enough to pass another car coming the other way, and has no centre line marked. Part way along this road joins back on to the inside coast road, and you wind around the very edges of the inlet. It took us over an hour to reach the point, Taiaroa Head, we did have a few photo stops but these did not take very long.
Natures Wonders is a nature reserve that provides guided tours on 8 wheel all terrain vehicle (ATV). It sits just around the very tip of the Otago Peninsular, Taiaroa Head, and is pretty easy to find because of this. We went on a small tour with two vehicles and around 7 people. The guides were very knowledgeable and could answer every question that was thrown at them. They gave us a close up view of a colony of New Zealand fur seals and described how they lived, fed, raised young and more. We had great opportunities to get some fairly close images of the seals and seal pups as they played and rested on the rocks which were surrounded by mats of kelp floating on the surface of the water.
Afterward we moved to a long hide, that went down close to a beach. There we saw some rare yellow eyed penguins. Human contact is strictly controlled on the reserve in an effort to help this species of penguin breed. We saw a couple on the beach as well as one swimming on the surf. You’ll need a long lens to get a close shot as they are shy, and the hide does not cover the whole beach. There are actually two penguins in the image to the right, although one is so well hidden it shouldnt be counted. On the left side of rthe image around middle, just in the greenery is another penguin. We could only see it when it moved, otherwise it looked like sand and shadow. These penguins are pretty hard to spot, even through a lens.
The guides are very passionate about keeping these animals protected from unprotected human contact. How a constant stream of tourists on to an unprotected beach will mean damage to the landscape from worn trails, litter etc., as well as potential spreading of disease from the close contact, as an unprotected beach will mean tourists will get as close as they want to nest sites. The trails they use with the ATVs are off the shore so they dont impact the coastal life.
We both really enjoyed the tour with Natures Wonders and would recommend it to anyone. Overcoats are provided to help keep the dust or rain off you. Despite the overcast day, it was still pretty dry on the peninsular when we went. Just in case someone gets the wrong idea from the picture of the 8 wheel ATV, no you don’t get to drive it.
After we left Natures Wonder we went back down to Taiaroa Head where The Royal Albatross Centre sits. As we had a pre booked cruise coming up we unfortunately didnt have time to take the tour here. We did wander through the very informative centre, as well as stop for a very tasty lunch.
Following lunch we boarded the Monarch for a cruise inside the Otago Peninsular as well as out past Taiaroa Head. This was a great cruise as outside putting around we got visited by a few Albatross as well as a Yellow Eyed Penguin, and this was while we were drifting that these animals came close to the boat, they didn’t chase them. It’s worth the trip on Monarch to see some of the coastal wildlife up fairly close an undisturbed. We had excelent description of what we saw, and all questions answered, very knowledgeable.
On our way back through Dunedin we went down the coast to find Tunnel Beach. This is a small beach with cliff walls, and only accessable via a hand carved tunnel down to the beach. It was carved in the 1870s so the family of John Cargill could have access to a beach near his home. Rumoured to be a birthday gift to his daughters, the tunnel gave access to a secluded/private beach. Since the wet weather continued after our cruise, we had a very slow wet walk down to the beach and back. Give yourselves plenty of time (and energy) as the walk is fairly steep. A good workout.
This was enough for us for the day, and we returned to our hotel, and found some more wonderful food. I dont think we had one bad or even just below average meal in New Zealand. It was all wondreful, tasty, and fresh food.
Dunedin, will will be back to explore some more.