Posted tagged ‘Horizon Tours’

Super Natural Dunedin

October 2, 2019

As we sailed out of Eden on our way to Dunedin I was hanging over the rail and managed to capture this portent of things to come. I had signed up for a tour based on the area’s nature and local Maori lore, and I was really looking forward to it.

I can’t decide whether I’m a blessing or a curse to local tour operators, but once again I was the only person on the tour. In these cases I know they’re losing money on me, but I can’t help but love having a local person all to myself to answer my endless barrage of questions.

Lyndon, my guide, first drove me through downtown Dunedin. This is the famous railway station, opened in 1906, and made out of locally quarried basalt and limestone. I wish we’d had time to go inside, as it’s supposed to have quite a splendid interior as well.

On our way out of town we also passed this gate to the Chinese Garden. Dunedin, mainly known for its Scottish ancestry, has also been home to a significant Chinese population since its gold rush period, beginning in the 1860s. But really, pretty as these baubles are, they are nothing compared to the absolutely gobsmacking gorgeousness of the surrounding countryside. Here’s some eye candy for you, from our drive on the Otago Peninsula.

That pretty yellow plant covering parts of the hillside is gorse, an introduced and invasive species that is the bane of local folks’ existence, however attractive.

We went down on this pristine beach looking for New Zealand sea lions, considered to be perhaps the world’s rarest sea lion, of which there are only about 200 in the area. Lyndon was interested to hear that we generally consider sea lions to be pests, stealing the salmon from the orcas as they do.

We didn’t find sea lions, but did see a couple of fur seals, hoisted up on the sharp, volcanic rocks, and blending in so perfectly that my camera couldn’t see them at all. I tried barking my quasi-sea lion bark at them, to see if they’d wake up, but I’m afraid they didn’t understand my accent.

Evidence of the area’s volcanic origins is everywhere.

Next we stopped by the Otakou marae. Marae is the Maori word for meeting place, and today this one is used for ceremonial functions like funerals. We weren’t able to go in, but it was a peaceful spot that hummed with history and power.

Part of the tour was a boat trip out around Taiaroa Head to see an albatross colony. Although the Monarch can take 50 passengers, we had her all to ourselves.

It’s hard to imaging a more stunning spot. We were looking specifically for the Northern Royal Albatross, which has an astounding 10-foot wingspan and is the world’s largest sea bird. There had been 12 chicks hatched in the colony this year, and 11 of them had already flown away from the nest. Just one chick was left, occasionally flapping his wings and looking like he was going to fly at any moment. Alas, we didn’t get to see that, but I hope that by now he’s found his way into the air.

We did see lots of Buller’s albatross, soaring gracefully, still impressive with their six foot wingspan, as well as petrels. I’m not a birder, but seeing them was really special.

This part of the trip was watched over by the Taiaroa Head lighthouse, which I was sorry to hear is now fully automated. If ever there were a place I’d want to be a lighthouse keeper, this would be it.