Road Trip Day 1: Oamaru, Hamster Wheels, and Yellow Eyed Penguins…

December 7, 2014
As I mentioned in my last post, I was traveling for the better part of November. My friend Kim was visiting from California and I had the pleasure of showing her around the South Island.
The challenge: show off the best of New Zealand in 16 days, while working 4 of those days and not spending every waking moment driving.

After much consideration, I decided on the route below. We spent 6 days doing the southern loop, and 4 days on the northern loop (oh, the driving…), with me working 4 days in the middle (literally) while Kim went off to the Greymouth and adventured around the West Coast.
The first half of the trip was longer, with 5 nights allocated to maximize the best of the south. I settled on 2 nights in Dunedin, 2 nights in Queenstown, and one night near Omarama (between Wanaka and Mt. Cook).
The biggest misconception about traveling in New Zealand is that it’s small enough to “do” by car. I can’t tell you the number of people who have told me they are seeing both islands in 2 weeks. I wonder if they ever even get out of the car! Notice the driving time just for our “south of the south” leg of the journey. 15 hours split by 6 days, and this was done to minimize the driving!

So zooming in further, the next map just shows Day 1 of our road trip. Actually, it only shows what’s depicted below in pictures. At the end of the day we drove to Dunedin.

Right. So if you’ve made it this far… pictures!

The coffee in NZ is seriously amazing and I’m surprised I haven’t posted more photos of my hot drinks. The above photo is of my coffee at Nosh Cafe. Turns out Ashburton has an awesome cafe, which seems to use up the quota for “awesome” allotted to Ashburton.

Actually, untrue. Ashburton also has New Zealand’s longest flying fox.

For you Americans, a flying fox is like a zip line, but more playground appropriate. Don’t get me wrong- they’d still be all kinds of illegal in the States (sue, sue, sue!) but they’re not as massive as what you paid to do on your honeymoon in Kauai. I think they’re great fun, but I’m just a big kid.

Kim on NZ’s longest flying fox (unfortunately longer seems to equal slower):

Yes, this was a video. Yes, she’d kill me if I posted it.
After fueling and caffeinating, we got on the road for the most boring bit of the trip (see “boring” on map above), about 3 hours of fields and hedgerows. But eventually we got to Oamaru, which is a coastal city originally discovered to Captian James Cook. It was eventually settled and built up by Europeans, who used the “Oamaru Whitestone” to build everything. Today the town maintains a bit of a Victorian theme throughout, with weekend festivals featuring Victorian-era costumes and language, pennywise bicycles, old-timey talk and whiskey. Oamaru is also home to the World Steampunk Headquarters.
Whitestone buildings, ready and waiting for thy to pedal thyne bicycle down this robust shopping alley-way. Or something.

We passed up the Victorian life (and whiskey) for some local brew at Scott’s Brewing Co. I guess if my Scott decides to go commercial with his home-brew, he’ll have to come up with a different name.

After a few tasters but before getting on the road, we checked out the Steampunk themed, very adult sized playground just next to the brewery. Again, I have a great video of Kim, the human sized hamster, but I think she’d kill me if I posted it. So here’s a few screen shots to give you an idea of how this happened:

From Oamaru, we headed south for another 30 minutes and then stopped at the Moeraki Boulders. These are large, spherical “boulders” situated on the beach (which seems to always be overcast). The reason they exist can be explained by many varying Maori legends, or here, by Wikipedia. Though there’s not much to “do” there, the boulders are worth a stop to break up your drive.

Our last stop of the day was one of the best during our trip. One of Kim’s “requirements” during her trip to New Zealand was to see penguins. (Other requirements: lambs, glow worms, Milford Sound, glaciers, and unbeknownst to her- baby seals playing in a waterfall.)

There are two types of penguins in the Oamaru/Dunedin area. First, Yellow Eyed Penguins, which are the 4th largest penguin breed and are also apparently the most endangered/rarest species of penguin globally, with about 4,000 birds total, found only in New Zealand and it’s southern islands. Second, the Little Blue Penguin, which are the world’s littlest penguin (33cm tall) and not so rare, with 350-600,000 estimated in New Zealand and Australia.

We actually didn’t see any Little Blue’s, which was a bit of a disappointment, though we really didn’t try too hard for them. For the Yellow Eyed Penguins however, we searched out a colony described in my NZ Frenzy guidebook (get it!) as being great for penguin spotting and very not touristy.

We saw 6 penguins, two building a nest quite far away, two intently studying rocks for no apparent reason (not pictured), one preening and slowly making his way to his nest, and one sleeping and very grumpy about our finding her nest (maybe she shouldn’t have chosen to nest on the trail! Just a thought, penguin…).

So, according to my calculations, we saw approximately 0.15% of the world’s population of Yellow Eyed Penguins that afternoon.

Anyways, pictures:

“Think I can get closer without getting eaten?”
“Yep, I think I can stand on his head…”
“You march back down here and help me build this nest right now!”

Oh yeah, it might be worth mentioning that these little guys with their little penguin legs hike all the way from that beach (below) to the bluffs where they nest. They journey up and down daily, spending the day in the water and the night safely sleeping in the tussocks.

We watched this guy preen and relax for a good 40 minutes before he waddled up to his nest, which was a solid 300-400 meters from the sea!

“No photos! I’m sleeping!”

Other fun Yellow Eyed Penguin facts (thanks, Wikipedia):

– They are believed to be the most ancient of all living penguins.
– They can live to be 20 years old.
– The sex ratio is 2:1 males to females, because females only live around 10 years.
– They can dive up to 120 meters (394 feet).
– They nest separately from each other, preferring privacy of nests instead of social colonies and parents take turns guarding eggs and chicks while the other hunts.
– They weigh 12-18 pounds, varying throughout the year depending on feeding and molting.
– The Yellow Eyed Penguin is depicted on the back side of the NZ $5 bill.

Following our penguin adventures, we drove down to Dunedin and checked in to our flat. We scarfed down a massive dinner and a glass of wine each, before passing out cold.

Next time, days 2-3: Dunedin.

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