Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Otago Penninsula, New Zealand

The gorgeous Otago Penninsula, located along the lengthy, narrow Otago Harbour and near the University city of Dunedin, is one of New Zealand's most underrated jewels.

Volcanic in origin, it forms one wall of the collapsed crater that now forms Otago Harbour. The peninsula lies due east of Otago Harbour and runs parallel to the mainland for 30 km. Its maximum width is 12 km. It is joined to the mainland at the south-west end by a narrow isthmus a little over one kilometre in width.

The suburbs of Dunedin encroach onto the western end of the peninsula, but for the majority of its length it is sparsely populated and occupied by steep open pasture. The peninsula is home to many species of wildlife, notably seabirds, and ecotourism is an increasingly important part of its economy.

When I was touring New Zealand, I made an effort to fit this wonderful place into my plans. I was excited to see sea lions, penguins and the famed albatross on the Elm Lodge Wildlife Tour. This small tour group was the perfect way to experience all the beauty and grandeur that the penninsula had to offer.

First stop on our journey was just to admire the gorgeousness of the harbour. The first photo I took was the photo that would soon sum up everything about New Zealand. I think it's one of my favourite photos, ever.

(as usual, click on pictures to englarge them)

Next we stopped by a beach where I got to see a a box. I don't know where the photo of it went but I assure you it was a penguin in a box. The box was placed there by the Department of Conservation to provide safe nesting places for the blue penguin.

Anyway, our guide lifted up the lid and low and behold, a teeny tiny blue penguin peered up at us.

As if to outdo the penguin, we looked over to the bay where an enthusiastic sea lion provided entertained us with charades.

Here he is being a "torpedo":

Here he is being a "shark":

And here he is doing "yoga":

After the sea lion antics, we visited the Northern Royal Albatross colony, where the mighty albatross come into nest. This is the mainland colony for the albatross in the world.

These mighty birds might look small in these pictures but rest assured these are massive birds that weigh up to 19lbs and have a wingspan of nearly 10 feet! They live to be 40 years old on average and are considered in a "vulnerable" state, though kept off the endangered list thanks to colonies such as this one.

Aside from the albatross - such a stunning sight to see, by the way - the cliffs also housed various other birds, like these gannets:

After we saw the albatross, we drove four-by-four style across some farmers sheep paddock, heading towards a gloriously lit cliff and beach below.

At the beach we came across another sea lion, this one rather close up and "sleeping" - we were safe as long as we didn't get between him and the ocean. Though I think we did!

The main attraction here was the Yellow-eyed penguins that came ashore at dusk every night. Imagine our delight when these mighty birds waddled on shore, like tuxedoed men wearing yellow carnival masks.

And then we saw the sight that could only been seen in New Zealand. An intersection where penguins meet sheep:

If anyone is heading to New Zealand, a tour of the Otago Penninsula is a must-do.