Hot Springs, Hot Chocolate and lots of Penguins

1 02 2010

The city of Nelson was our first port of call in the South Island. This area seems to alternate each year with Hawkes Bay on the North Island for the ‘Sunniest place in New Zealand’ award so we were keen to check it out for a potential place to live. Unfortunately the weather was being uncharacteristically rubbish and half of New Zealand were having their summer holidays here so we decided to postpone our stay here until everyone’s gone back home!

Heading south we stayed for a few days in Nelson Lakes National Park, managing a couple of good walks in between whole days of torrential rain!

Further east we arrived in the alpine town of Hanmer Springs where we finally found the sun. Our campsite also had an extensive collection of classic 80’s VHS’s in the TV room which was another good incentive to stick around!

Here we made the most of the good weather, tramping up mountains, biking around the forests and soaking our muscles in the Hot Springs which for once were hot clean water and not the typical NZ pools of unappealing brown gunk!

Travelling down the East coast we bypassed Christchurch in a bid to get to Southland while the weather holds. One of the nicest places we found was Oamaru, at one time one of the most important towns in New Zealand thanks to the port and lucrative exports of dead sheep to the UK. The market collapsed with falling sheep prices and most abandoned the town leaving the grand Victorian stone buildings untouched for decades. Only in recent years has the area seen a resurgence and the buildings are now refurbished as impressive art galleries and cafe’s, visits to which have become increasingly frequent for our daily dose of latte bowls or glasses of hot chocolate and marshmallows!

The other big draw for the town is the local colonies of little blue penguins and the rare yellow eyed penguin. We spent an evening watching the latter waddle ashore and hop their way up the steep cliffs to their chicks. We loitered in the increasing darkness once almost everyone had left and managed to find out where one of the nests were, poking our heads into the big thorny bush to watch the fluffy chick’s squawking requests for regurgitated fish completely ignored by both parents as they settled down for a snooze!

It was now dark but we decided to go and check out the Blue Penguin colony at the harbour on the way home. Official tours have you sat in a grandstand while the penguins come ashore for the night on the beach in front of you. We found several stragglers who had taken a different route ashore and were now trying to nervously cross the road to their nests in the old train sheds. Obviously related to Tyrannosaurus-Rex, they didn’t seem to notice us if we stayed still and so sat there by the side of the road for a while as they shuffled around our feet, oblivious to the fact that we could have p..p..p..picked up a penguin if we’d wanted!

A little further south, we arrived in the 1 horse town of Moereki. The reason for the stay here are the Moereki Boulders, a handful of large spherical boulders sat in the crashing surf on the beach. They’re pretty bizarre – some have split open and show their honeycomb and partially hollow centres and make for good photo’s if you can position yourself without getting wet! I spent several hours trying to achieve this seemingly impossible feat, regularly just getting setup when a freak wave would accelerate in and send me running back up the beach, often not quickly enough!

Continuing our route down the East coast we reached Dunedin, one of the largest cities in the South of New Zealand and good for a couple of days of tourism. Baldwin Street, the worlds steepest, kept us busy for 5 minutes and we also took a tour of the Cadbury factory before they convert their production to cheese slices. The neighbouring Otago Peninsula is another wildlife haven being home to seals, penguins and the worlds only mainland colony of Royal Albatross. The heavy fog prevented us seeing anything more than the huge stuffed ones in the visitor centre however.

Further around the peninsula we took a walk down to remote Sandfly Bay with the hope of spying more yellow penguins. Having just negotiated a field full of excitable sheep, and still 5 minutes from the sea, imagine our surprise when we turned the corner to be confronted by a pair of rather large sea-lions! The big male made it very clear he was going to defend his little patch of the narrow path so we were forced to hack through the surrounding bushes to avoid a mauling!

Leaving the peninsula behind we headed into Southland and the Catlins coast, one of the least visited areas of New Zealand…

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