Dunedin and Kaikoura
Well, I arrived in Bluff, and saw the ferry dock... there was no ferry. The terminal and dock were both very small, and I began to get nervous about it. Even if I caught a ferry, could I make it back? Would there be any where to stay?
I decided to continue on to Dunedin, but first, I would explore the public park by the harbor. At the docks, I did see some Stewart Island Shags (cormorants), a few Tuis (an endemic black honeyeater), and most impressive of all: Bellbirds. These endemic birds are brown, and somewhat drab to look at, but they have the neatest call - exactly like a bell. The entire forest was ringing and echoing with these bell-calls, and it sounded like Sunday at the Vatican.
I continued on to Dunedin, and spent my last cash filling up the car. What I hadn't considered was that it was Boxing Day, and no banks were open. There were barely any restaurants open, and those that were wouldn't take my traveller's checks, even though they were in New Zealand dollars. No one would even take a credit card. Worse, I hadn't eaten since morning in Te Anau!
After checking into a motel, and signing up for a bird tour for the next day, I started scouring the town on foot. I needed either something edible that either cost less than $2NZ, or a restaurant that would take a traveller's check. I saw a bakery, but they wouldn't take a check. I couldn't even afford a dinner roll for $2!
I was despondent, until I noticed one of the ubiquitous "Fish & Chips" establishments, and decided to give that a try. That place was a bit scary-looking: a little greasy, and even had a video game that kept displaying a message that the unit was a demo and not for retail use. That was just atmosphere, though. The food was outstanding, and they took my traveller's check.
The next day, I left bright and early for the bird tour. They first took us on a small boat to a peninsula at the entrance to the harbor, where Royal Albatross nested on the top, and several kinds of shags (cormorants) nested on the cliffs. The guide also pointed out a single Little Blue Penguin, which was nesting in some kind of box between the cormorants.
Afterwards, they loaded us on to vans and showed us the Yellow-eyed Penguin reserve. Since these penguins nest under shrubbery, and most of the coastal forests in New Zealand have been cleared, they were attempting to create habitat by constructing nesting shelters for them. Every one of these shelters had a pair of penguins in it, and one or two downy young ones, begging for a regurgited meal!
I was getting tired by now, and ready to go home, but I finally opted to drive to Kaikoura. Coincidentally, it seemed that every Kiwi takes the last week of the year off, so every motel was booked solid. The only room I could find was an ocean-view suite in the most expensive hotel in town. Fortunately, an ocean-room suite at that time was only $120NZ, which worked out to about $70US. I could afford that!
I also attempted to sign up for whale-watching, but was informed that they, too, had been booked up for months. "Swimming with Dolphins" was so full, they wouldn't even take names on the waiting list!! The whale tour was accepting standbys, so I signed up, and dragged myself down to their headquarters early the next morning. I gave them my name, but they told me I was #17 on the list.
I had waited at least half an hour, and was getting ready to give up, when I suddenly heared my name called. I thought it was to tell me to go home. But... it seemed that there was one cancellation, and... I was the only single person on the list! Everyone else was a couple. Yes!!
We set off in an inflatable boat, in search of Sperm Whales . As the guide explained to us, most Sperm Whales hang out elsewhere in large family groups. The ones that remain off the coast of New Zealand all year are single males that are "too small to breed". Sure enough, they found one very quickly, and we were able to get pictures as he surfaced and then dove again.
On the way, the captain also pointed out a White-browed Mollymawk (Shy Albatross) and a Westland Black Petrel. A Pintado Petrel also flew fairly close to the boat.
Then we were all suddenly laid flat on our backs, as the boat took off at full speed. The captain had just received news of a pod of Orcas nearby.
Make no mistake: there are lots of Orcas in Puget Sound. It's just that I've never seen one there. And I hadn't seen a wild one at all up to this point. I was very, very pleased to be able to enjoy them up close, in an authentic, unchlorinated setting.
After they took us back, I returned to Christchurch. I returned the car, and spent the last day exploring the town, especially the botanical gardens and museum. The gardens were full of European birds singing very musically, and by now I no longer minded them. In fact, I thought all those Greenfinches, Dunnocks and Chaffinches were utterly beautiful. There was a spectacular rose garden there, as well as a large and elaborate water garden, among others.
At the museum, I found one floor of exhibits especially poignant: glass display cases, containing one of each endemic New Zealand bird, stuffed.
The extinct Huia. The extinct South Island Kokako. The Black Robin - extinct in New Zealand, but transplanted to the Chatham Islands. The Saddleback and Stitchbird: extinct on the main islands, surviving only on coastal islands. I was getting a close-up look at all the birds I hadn't seen on this trip, and better looks at some of the ones I had.
My final stop was a museum of Antarctica, whose exhibits tried to recreate the conditions of the icy continent for the general public. It was a fantastic experience, but all I can say is: It's how cold? 80mph winds? Thanks, but...
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