Otago Peninsula

Toroa Int’l House (the set of flats where I’m living in Dunedin) had a trip planned for yesterday to the Otago Peninsula. Toroa has been really good to us in terms of organizing free local trips like this for those who want to go.

We first went to Taiaroa Head, site of the only mainland Albatross colony in the world. Some people paid $25 for a tour of the Albatross Centre, but most of us could not afford it and instead wandered around the point, enjoying the beautiful views and watching the seals on the beach.

On one side of Taiaroa Head is Pilots Beach, a tiny (seriously tiny, maybe 50m long) beach where we relaxed for a while.

Prashna (one of my flatmates) and I decided to explore further along the coastline, so we climbed up onto the rocks and followed the shoreline a short ways.

We found a really nice natural sitting area on the rocks by the water and sat down in the sun, with the wind howling around us. We both fell asleep for a few minutes and after some time relaxing decided to head back to the bus. Good decision.

As we were walking up the road to the parking lot, taking our sweet time, the bus came down toward us with everyone on board, about to leave for Sandfly Bay! He stopped to let us on, and we continued on our journey. We thought we had 30 minutes more than we actually did, so we were very lucky. Had we missed the bus, we would have had no problem hitchiking.

We arrived at Sandfly Bay, a different location on the peninsula, about 45 minutes later. Once the driver had parked the bus, the passengers broke out singing the Birthday Song for the second time (they had done so before leaving Toroa earlier). Turns out Vania had made me two Swedish mudcakes (really chocolatey chocolate cakes) for my birthday and brought them on the bus. With the help of Toroa staff and some students, everyone on the bus, including the driver, got some cake and juice, and napkins which were very much necessary.

The cake was delicious and after satisfying our sugar cravings, we began the 15 minute walk down the beach. It took about half an hour to reach the penguin hide (little hut with small viewing windows so the timid penguins can’t see you) at the far end of the beach to watch the yellow-eyed penguins come ashore at dusk to sleep on land. I’d been there three times aleady, even slept a night there, but it was fun to go again with this different crowd of people.

As we walked along the beach, we saw a penguin walk from the water up the beach and inland a few hundred metres ahead of us. When we arrived at the track to the penguin hide, there were three Americans taking photos of a pair of Hooker sea lions (an endangered species, also known as New Zealand sea lions) at a distance much shorter than recommended by Dept. of Conservation guidelines for encounters with such animals. The stupid guys were trying to get as close as possible to these sea lions for photos, and sea lions being territorial, massive, much faster than they appear, and prone to anger, the Americans were not very welcome by the large beasts.

They finally gave up with their photos and eventually left the beach. One of the sea lions then decided to move further inland, crossing the path that leads to the penguin hide and going quite a ways inland to sleep in the grass.

We spent quite a long time in and near the penguin hide, and I got to take care of Tom, an energetic little boy who came along with one of the staff members. He was quite disappointed that I couldn’t go back to his house with his family to hang out :-)

We saw two yellow-eyed penguins. There aren’t many, as YEPs are an endangered species. The most I have seen on one occasion so far was five plus one dead on the beach. Apparently, in the middle of the winter (June-July), there are more penguins at the beach, sometimes 15-20.

We also saw a sea lion come ashore from the water and make its way up onto the beach to rest.

As the sun was setting, the last few of us decided to leave the penguin hide and head back to the bus.

There were five of us: me, Mark (Toroa’s maintenance man/gardener), Namiko (Japan), Khaing (Burma), and Rosalit (Mexico). We walked along the beach and after some time noticed a grey seal (Mark thinks it’s a female sea lion – I have yet to come to a conclusive answer) sleeping not too far from us. We had seen it from the penguin hide as it chased after three other Toroans who left the hide before us.

With seals and sea lions, it is important never to stand between them and the water as that is their escape route and if you stand in that space they tend to attack. This seal was far from the shoreline so we could not go around back of it and decided to walk near the water and see if it noticed us, as it appeared to be asleep. Wrong choice.

This seal saw us and decided to come over and pay us a visit, and not a very friendly visit, though we found it humorous nonetheless. As it ‘ran’ toward us, I took photos until I decided it was too close for comfort and retreated. Mark, Khaing, and Rosalit took this opportunity to run past behind it near the water as it was chasing me and Namiko.

We decided to go inland along a sand dune valley and then loop back around to the beach again. As Namiko and I walked inland calmly, the seal waited and watched, glaring intensely after us.

We found a place to turn to loop back to the beach and I began to climb a steep but not too high sand dune. At the top I turned around to offer my hand to Namiko, and about 4-5 metres behind her, trying to climb up the sand dune, was the angry seal.

It tried to climb up but the hill was too steep and it slid back down all the way to the bottom of the ravine. After another attempt it eventually ran off further inland and over a ridge out of sight.

The sunset was beautiful and the ride home in the bus at night was nice. All in all, we had a very relaxing outing and it was a good 21st birthday.