The journey by bus took 6 hours through amazing scenery, in the distance, snow covered mountains flanked us on both sides as lush farmland nourished cows, sheep, deer and alpacas either side of the road.
Bags dumped we headed back to town or a wander round. It had a very strong resemblance to Edinburgh, the buildings are similar in style, the streets, suburbs and shops all have Scottish names, the weather was decidedly Scottish too with an icy wind and rain.
We took a walk around the Otago museum, a really nice little place packed with masses of information about the local history, people and wildlife. There was also a small exhibition on Sir Edmund Hilary, in which many of his personal effects from his ascent to the top of Mount Everest were on display.
As well as the historical side of Dunedin, there is also a big draw to see the local wildlife. We booked ourselves on a tour to the peninsular where the hillsides and beaches are. If we were lucky, we'd see albatross, seal lions and fur seals.
Early on, the guy who took the tour explained that unless we were booked on the separate albatross tour (we hadn't), it was unlikely that we'd see any today, "here we go" we thought, like manta rays and whale sharks in the Gili islands, another trip where one of the main selling points wasn't going to be a reality. He also mentioned that there are only 26 female sealions in the area and the chances of seeing one was negligible. What had we signed up to?
It was a 45 minute drive out to the peninsular, the road snaked alongside the edge of the lake. The lake itself had been formed inside the rim of a now dead super-volcano and so in fact we were driving around the edge of a vast crater. The road climbed and at various points there were tell tale signs of the recent heavy rain. We saw a couple of homes that were having water pumped out of them, the road had crumbled into the lake in certain areas and small land slips poured mud and rocks onto the road in others. Not a great situation for the locals.
We arrived at the albatross conservation site, one family went in to see the chicks, leaving 5 of us standing outside with Sean, our guide. The temperature had dropped and a couple of flakes of snow fell from the thick grey clouds above but below us lay emerald green fields surrounding the crystal clear waters of the lake. Simply stunning.
As Sean was mid sentence explaining the albatross feeding habits an albatross soared up over the hilltop and over our heads, everyone gasped as we were directed where to position our cameras. Nothing can prepare you for the first time a 3.5 metre wide bird flies over your head, everyone was fingers and thumbs and I doubt if anyone got a decent photo on that occasion. Fortunately, our luck was in, we saw 4 or 5 albatross at close quarters and if our day had ended then we'd have been pretty happy.
Back in a the van and we drove a short way to some farmland. The rolling hills of grazing meadows led all the way down to the sea, even on this cold, grey day it was a place of intense beauty. We walked down a steep track toward the bay, from a little way up the beach looked deserted, a few large rocks separated the sand and the grassy banks, a scattering of seabirds picked at shoreline but other than that, nothing. The track narrowed until we had to walk single file at which point we stopped. We got our first sight of a rare yellow-eyed penguin. This little chap apparently had had a pretty hard time of it, attacked and badly injured by a shark, his 2 chicks had not survived, his first partner had been killed, his second partner had gone missing. So now each day he stood on the bridge that led to the burrows so that all of the unattached females have to walk past him on their way to their nests. Seemed to us he should be avoided like the plague.
We finally got on to the beach and no sooner than we had a huge black shape appeared in the surf. A male sea lion, back from feeding made his way onto the beach. We stood for a few minutes waiting for him to come further up the beach but he languished in the surf, rolling over and over on the sand.
As we approach the rocks, they start to shift, they were seal lions and they were enormous. The stench of digested fish and flesh was almost overpowering. Breathing very shallowly, we approached to within a few feet. They weren't in the least bit bothered by us and dozed contentedly.
Up on grass two more huge males slept deeply, only waking to cast a blood red eye over our group and giving a wide rotten-toothed yawn.
Back on the beach and our amazingly good fortune continued. There camouflaged against the sand were two of the 26 females. They too were sleeping sporadically. They shifted around a bit until they got comfortable and they were sparko again. That was until one of the males from the grass came bounding down. He barked in their faces, they barked in his face, he propped himself up high on his flippers, the females looked away, noses pointed snootily upwards from the big furry-framed face until he piped down. They all fell back into a deep worry-free slumber.
As we headed off the beach another two males came surfing in on the waves. The first wasn't huge but was in a boisterous mood. He feinted a charge at our group and we were told to move a little further away. The seal lion charged again at Sean stopping just inches away from his legs, then fell on the beach and coated itself in the fine sand.
The second sea lion was far bigger and it was clear the he just couldn't be bothered with all the fuss, he lollopped up the beach and paying no interest to anything, he too fell asleep almost immediately.
Up in the hills sheep shared the homeward track with 6 or 7 penguins that were headed back to their burrow for the night. Seeing the stumpy little birds climbing the hillside was so wonderful and the sheep seemed as surprised as we were to see them up there.
Light was failing and we had to hurry back up the track and down the other side to catch a glimpse of the fur seals.
We arrived at their rocks as dusk set in, we got a brief glimpse of their furry faces before it was dark and while it was great to see them, everyone was still buzzing from the sea lion encounter.
From sea lions to skiing, we were bound for Queenstown.