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NZ trip - part 6 of 7

Okay, back to this! (Previous parts avail. under the travel tag, etc.)

There's a picture-postcard view, huh? That was Lake Te Anau the next morning, looking north towards the mountains beyond which lies Milford Sound. Had we in fact gambled and just waited out the day before, it looks like we would have had perfect weather that Sunday for doing either Milford or Doubtful. But there was no way to know that at the time. And actually no way to know whether the road was indeed open, even if the morning looked fine. (And of course no way to know whether we would have made it to the sounds but found it raining *there*.)

That spot just to the south of Te Anau was where we'd gone the night before (after the Doubtful Sound trip) for one of only two changes I really got to stargaze in NZ. (Other times we didn't have clear enough skies at night.) That was pretty exciting, too -- the Milky Way was very visible (I've only actually seen it once or twice before in my life), and each time, I also got to see shooting stars. Plus, I was ridiculously excited to learn to identify and then find again the Southern Cross -- although, like most celebrities, it is smaller in real life than you think it's going to be.

(The Southern Cross is exciting to me for a few reasons. One: ooooh, cool history-of-navigation thing! Two: it's really neat that there's this famous constellation that you can *only* see from the southern hemisphere, so that seeing it makes you really feel like, hey, I'm in the southern hemisphere! for real! And three, possibly most significant, though I blush to admit it: I've always really liked the CSN song, which lends a romance to the idea of the thing and always made me want to see it.)

So we got up and lit out of Te Anau, heading for Dunedin, which actually promised to be a fairly short drive (not like the 10 hours on the road of a couple days before). I wasn't that excited by the idea of Dunedin itself, although I did want to see the famous train station, and perhaps the albatross colony. And it was a goal because we were going to visit Andy, an alpaca-breeder whom Stephen and Tamara know. He'd offered to let us stay overnight at his place, and also, he has a pair of guanaco that had recently had a baby, that I wanted very much to see. More on that in a moment.

We rolled into Dunedin along with some rain (of course!), and with some time to kill before we were to meet up with Andy. So we headed out to the tip of the Otago Peninsula (which shelters Dunedin's harbor), in order to visit the only mainland albatross breeding colony in the world, on Taiaroa Head.


In the picture immediately above, the little white dots visible on the hillside -- those are royal albatross chicks. Really. Leaving Stephen with his book, Tam and I paid up for the hour-long tour which consisted of hiking us up to the top of the hill and into a blind (thank god, because the winds felt gale-force out there, although it had mostly stopped raining and HAILING by that point), from which we could look down on the chicks.


I post this URL because without a doubt, you will find MUCH better pictures of albatross there. :P The thing was, completely understandably, you weren't allowed (i.e. supposed) to use your flash from the blind, because that could disturb the birds. And my camera doesn't take very clear pics without the flash. *shrug*

Albatross nests are not elaborate affairs. You can barely tell there's a nest there at all. At the time we were there, the chicks were about a week or so out from being able to fly -- so, full-grown, and in fact what they needed to do was lose a bit more baby-weight before they could become airborne, or even actually walk. So they sat there and occasionally spread and flapped their wings -- strength training. We were extremely lucky, because the adults only come back once every few days or so to feed the chicks, and while we were there, there were *two* adults circling and circling around.

You will have to believe me when I tell you that that was the *best* shot of an adult flying by the blind that I got. (I have many more, even more blurry and usually managing to capture just a trailing wingtip.)

None of this does justice to just how freakin' HUGE albatross are. I have left out the picture of me standing next to the life-size wings-spread model of the albatross that we were shown (because it was such a perfectly AWFUL picture of me that I can't bear it), but again, if you go on that site above, I'm sure there are pics of them next to people and... DAMN, they are BIG. Their wingspan is 9 FEET. And they look like seagulls but their bodies are, like, the size of a *swan*.

So, from there we drove through Dunedin (like Wellington a very vertical city) up to Andy's farm, to meet up with him and get to see his alpaca and his guanacos. In addition to the guanaco baby, he also had a fairly new alpaca cria:


And then it was time to meet the guanacos, who were off in a separate pen on their own. Guanacos are one of the two wild species of South American camelid (the other is the much smaller and slighter vicuna; the two domesticated ones of course are the bigger llama, developed from the guanaco, and the smaller alpaca).


Andy had a guanaco pair because there was some petting zoo way up north that had an over-abundance of them, and was getting rid of these two. (Tam and Stephen in fact thought about buying them, then discarded the idea, then got a phone-call from Andy saying, "Um, I've just bought some guanaco, can I use your farm as a rest-stop for getting them back down south?") Soon after they arrived, they turned into a *breeding* pair. They have to be kept separately from the alpaca at the moment, because they can JUMP, so they have to be kept within an enclosure that has deer fencing (which is 6 feet high, as opposed to regular stock fencing).

The male was immediately interested in whether we had treats, and left off screaming and rearing at the male alpaca in the next pen over to come and find out. The female was pretty hinky, but she did eventually take some treats from my hand. The baby (apparently when it's a guanaco, you don't call it a "cria", but Andy couldn't remember what the proper term was and we failed to look it up... "chulengo", apparently?) While out there, it started hailing on us again. (The farm is at elevation, so, hail instead of rain.) Andy kept insisting that it had been sunny and very warm just that afternoon, but we didn't really believe him.

By this point in the trip, we were very much aware of the days slipping away, and of wanting to get up to Kaikoura in time to do a whale-watch before we had to be even further north, back at Picton for our ferry reservations. So we didn't spend a lot of time in Dunedin. That evening, we went out to dinner with Andy and his daughter to a good Chinese restaurant in town. In the morning (woke up to a white-frosted world on the farm), we went into downtown Dunedin to find breakfast and to get a look at the train station, which is extremely pretty in a big, stone, Victorian way.


(The very similar building to the right, which is located across the street from the railway station, is the Law Courts.)

After breakfast, eschewing an opportunity (texted to us by Andy) to go see an alpaca cria that had been born overnight, we started hightailing it up the coast.

The next must-stop was the Moeraki Boulders on Koekohe Beach about an hour north of Dunedin. They are frankly really freaky things. They're all fairly regularly spherical, so much so that they don't look natural, scattered across the beach. A number have been cracked open along various fault lines, and the whole effect is of some prehistoric field of the stone eggs of monsters, some of which have hatched and the others of which are just waiting.


Above, Stephen stands next to the eroded hillside that backs the beach, illustrating where the things come from -- they're eroded out of the muddy/sandy cliff. There are who-knows how many more of the things, waiting to come out someday.

According to the wiki above, formations like this aren't *unique* to Moeraki -- but they still seem to be darned rare. It's the kind of thing that I find freaky to contemplate, because, like the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki, it leaves you wondering, "Why? Why HERE and not elsewhere?" (Or, why in only a few places?) Clearly, the kind of wondering that makes some people take up geology as a career... though I personally wouldn't go that far.

The beach itself was also really fantastic for fossicking for shells, which Tam and I proceeded to do. It was really weird, because it was just *covered* with these really little (half-inch diameter and smaller) spiral shells with pretty iridescent and striped colors (I mean, in some places you were walking on beds of these shells as thick as sand underfoot), and again, you have to wonder, what is WITH the metric TON of these things, here, now? We both picked up a bunch of those, and some other neat shells and driftwood and stuff. We probably would have spent a LOT more time out there, to Stephen's dismay, but now that we were on the east coast, we were getting hit with wind coming straight off Antarctica, and DAMN it was cold.

Another bonus of stopping there -- I got to scritch an elk! Well, a red-deer/elk hybrid, probably.

NZ does have a fairly extensive deer-farming industry, still; some farms do wapiti (elk), and some do red-deer, and some do hybrids. When we pulled into the Moeraki parking lot, I noticed a pair of does grazing nearby, and I thought, here's my chance to get a relatively close-up picture of some deer, if they don't go bounding away.

Well, far from bounding away, one of the does came *right* up to the fence, rubbing against the post and happy to have us scritch around her ears and stuff. And she stuck her big wet nose through the mesh opening and licked my hand! Deer are interesting to feel, especially after so much alpaca-handling -- deer hair is very coarse. But neat!

From there, we sped up to Christchurch, where to be honest, we did not linger. We did get out and walk around a bit, saw some of the downtown and cathedral square and all. We had been aiming for the Arts Centre, an old boys' school in the Gothic mode, converted to an artists colony and galleries -- but we got there after it had closed. In the end, we didn't even end up eating there. We had one full day left, and were determined to get to Kaikoura, so we arranged for a motel farther north, and drove up to Amberley for the evening, where we cooked dinner in.

One lasting memory of Christchurch: the discovery of Wigram Brewing Co.'s Captain Cook's Spruce Ale, based on the 1773 recipe from Cook himself, and containing flavoring from the native rimu (sort-of a pine, but really a podocarp) and manuka (tea-tree) plants. Really delightful, strong and thick with a hint of smoky flavor, not too overpowering, and just a hint of pine, also not too overpowering. I am at the moment desperately trying to figure out how to obtain some here in the States. (I tried my local beer importer but they say they can't get it.)


So, the next part will very likely be the last! Some pretty snow, and sperm-whales, and a few odds and ends from the trip.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Sep. 25th, 2007 10:09 pm (UTC)
More wonderful photos! I even like the albatross, partly because it shows the depth of the weather. And oh, birds in flight are HARD. Especially in that light that turns everything to mush. *hugs*

I also love your descriptions. Thank you for posting these.

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )