Road Trip Days 2-4: Beaches, Wine, and Snow

December 10, 2014
So when we left off, Kim and I had just driven to Dunedin. Here’s the map, from Oamaru where we left off, through Queenstown, complete with my extremely useful travel notes.

Since we woke up to grey skies and rain, we figured, why not spend the whole day outside?!

After breakfast we drove out to the Royal Albatross Colony, and within 30 seconds of getting out of the car saw 2 albatrosses! That settled our decision about possibly paying to go on the tour to see one of the magnificent birds.

And Kim’s photography skills are unparalleled…

Well, she got a photo and I didn’t. Thats an albatross, take my word for it.

We thought about sticking around to see the Little Blue Penguins, which come up the beach at some arbitrary time between sunset, dusk, and dark. Since it was 1pm, and dark in Dunedin is 10pm, we thought better of the 9 hour wait. So unfortunately, Kim did not get to see any of the world’s smallest, bluest penguins.

She was delighted anyways though, with the country-side scenery. As the rain lifted and the sun came out, the paddocks lit up and glowed against the ocean backdrop. Each crest of the hill was met with a squeal and her camera being precariously thrust out the window to crookedly capture another hillside.

Moving Car photo #1
Moving Car photo #2
I think I stopped the car for this one?

We got out for a moment and hiked down to the overlook over sandfly bay. Not pictured below, 60km/hr winds. We hopped back in the car after 0.3 seconds deliberation regarding continuing the hike.

Oh the irony: sandfly bay is usually too windy for sandflies.

We arrived back in Dunedin without much of a plan, but hungry and sleepy. We ended up stumbling upon the Dunedin Botanical Gardens, which were absolutely beautiful. No photos happened. We sorted out a coffee and a snack and felt refueled.

As we were driving to the Botanical Gardens, we stopped at the World’s Steepest Street. Yes, the world’s steepest street is Baldwin Street, in Dunedin NZ! At its steepest point, the street is 19 degrees, or 35% gradient. According to Wikipedia, there are of course steeper non-paved streets in the world, and there actually is a small section of a street in Pensylvania that is 37%, but it is very short. Also, several streets in San Francisco have a small section with a steeper gradient from Baldwin St, however with distance of steepness considered, Baldwin St. is the steepest “complete” residential street.

Anyways, it doesn’t really photograph well.

With our trusty guidebook (NZFrenzy) in hand again, we next adventured out to Tunnel Beach. I had had this beach circled in the guidebook since before we even moved to NZ, but having only been to Duenedin once before, we had never made it out before.

What a beach we were missing! Tunnel Beach gets its name from the tunnel carved into a bluff, which takes one down to a magical-feeling secluded inlet full of massive outcroppings and jewel colored water. A Dunedin man hand built (or exploded?) the tunnel so his kids could get down to the beach easily. Dad of the Year, 1870.

Hike to the tunnel.
Bluffs above the tunnel.
The tunnel.
The other side of the tunnel!!!
Rock outcroppings making Kim look tiny.

We spent the better part of the area at this little beach, regretting leaving the wine in the car and the cheese at the store. Next time.

Light on the bluffs as we left. When did we teleport to Ireland?

After Tunnel Beach, I declared all I wanted in life was a pizza and a glass of Rose. As if by magic, we drove to the small suburb St. Clair- on the beach, and the first place we walked into was a classy little pizzeria. Full of pizza, wine, and sun, we crashed out hard for the night.

Before leaving Dunedin the next morning, we had time for another flying fox adventure. We vowed to find one in each town we visited and photograph it, but alas, this was the last one we found!

Then began our long drive from Dunedin to Queenstown, via the amazing wine country of Otago. After a beautiful but lengthy drive (see “boring but pretty” on map) we arrived in Alexandra for lunch. The Shaky Bridge Cafe (shaky bridge pictured below) is one of my favorite spots to eat in Alex. Normally I also would have insisted on staying longer, as Alex is a stunning high desert area with awesome rock outcroppings and a river so blue and beautifully juxtaposed against the rocks that it almost makes you hurt.

But it started raining. So we saw, we ate, we left.

Another hour or so in the car and we made it to wine country! Central Otago is famous for its Pinot Noir, and with reason! Where I find most pinots from New Zealand to be super dry, light, and sometimes sour, Central Otago manages to produce a fuller bodied wine, closer to the varietals I miss at home like Zinfandel and Cab Sav.
My recommendations while you are in Central Otago (we were in Gibbston Valley):
I mean, have you ever seen such dramatic wine country?

Each time we walked out of a winery, the sun had turned to rain, the rain to sun, the sun to hail, the hail to wind… Oh, New Zealand.

The weather finally settled on freezing. Literally. I drove Kim to the top of Coronet Peak to see the view, and it started snowing.

Lake Wakatipu, and the general feeling of Queenstown while we were there.

Despite the weather we went hiking the following day, scaling the mountain beneath the Queenstown gondola. Contrary to how it looks in the photo below, it was not warm.

View from the gondola:

Oh Queenstown, we love thee.

We were a little lazy in Queenstown. We hiked once. We went to historic Arrowtown. We shopped. We ate. We drank. We ate more. And we slept. We traded the offerings of the adventure capital of New Zealand for some R&R (slightly forced on us by the cold, grey weather, but definitely much needed!).

On our final morning the sun finally came out. I was pleased, because Queenstown is a completely different place when it puts it’s clouds away:

Same lake as the one before.

Ahhh, so much wine, so much cheese. After this leg of the trip we put our wine glasses away and put on our hiking boots. But that’s for next time.

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