After the downpour yesterday we awoke to a lovely sunny day and were sad to be leaving Mount Cook behind as we set off for Dunedin.After leaving the magnificent mountains of the high Southern Alps the journey took us through some wonderful scenery of a different.As we moved into more rolling countryside we had our first glimpse of Maori art (it was nice of them to do the paintings so close to the main road!).The rock paintings weren't really very distinct and some had unfortunately been removed and taken away to museums.But it was interesting to get a glimpse of New Zealand ancient Maori culture. A slight detour further on took us to landscape reminiscent of some we'd seen in Australia; these were the Elephant Rocks which were huge limestone rocks which wind and rain over the centuries had sculpted until they resembled - guess what - a herd of elephants. It was wonderful to walk among them in warm balmy sunshine.This was an unexpected pleasure and precursor to our next planned stop to see the famous Moeraki Boulders on the coast.These are large grey, almost perfectly round boulders nearly two metres in diameter which sit on the beach looking as if they've just appeared from nowhere. The explanation of how they came about is too complicated for this blog - so if you're interested look them up on the internet yourselves.It was a wonderful spot looking down the coastline towards Moeraki village.As this area is renowned for wildlife spotting we decided to pull off the main road and headed for the lighthouse at Katiki Point, from where we walked out to the wild headland.This is another Maori site - a fortified village called a Pa - although nothing of it remains now.It was certainly bracing and, as we ventured over the grassy headland, we spotted a couple sitting quietly on the grass watching what we thought was a solitary penguin down on the beach.However, they were actually watching two Yellow Eyed Penguins (probably the rarest species of penguin in the world) less than ten feet away from them. We sat down beside them and enjoyed such a close sighting, as well as some other Yellow Eyed hopping up the steep grassy slopes having come ashore to spend the night in their burrows.We also spotted a very large seal coming ashore and lounging on the beach - strange to see seals and penguins in such close proximity given that seals EAT penguins.We headed further out to the headland passing one or two other penguins at very close quarters, and an extremely huge seal (might have been a sea lion) lolling around on the grass. It was invigorating to spot so many penguins, seals and birds but the wind chill was the deciding factor and we headed back to the car and onward to Dunedin.
We found our hostel, the Stafford Gables, and were allocated a really comfortable room on the top floor with our own little terrace.As we stowed our food away in the kitchen we saw that it was very well equipped, but as it was late in the day we decided to head out for a bite to eat.One of the key things to do in this area is to visit the Royal Albatross Centre to at the tip of the Otago Peninsula. This is the only mainland colony of Albatrosses in the world.Although this was not the best time of year to visit we were thrilled to spot a few of them 'fishing' just off the coast and a few (large) chicks sitting on their nest greedily waiting for their parents to return with food.They certainly are large and impressive birds (3 metre wing span and fly wing-tip to wave) and a certainly the first ones we've ever seen (apart from stuffed ones in museums). A return journey across the splendid Otago Peninsula took us to New Zealand's only castle sitting at a wonderful spot with fantastic views over both sides of the peninsula. Larnach Castle and the Larnach family who built it have an interesting but extremely sad history - William Larnach, an MP, shot himself in the New Zealand Parliament building - although it's reassuring to see it's now in such good hands.The building, contents and gardens are exceedingly well maintained by the new owners who also lovingly restored it to its present grand and impressive condition.
Another attraction in the Dunedin area (and also out of town) is the Taieri (pronounced like Tiree) Gorge Railway trip to Middlemarch.This sounds like a bit of a railway buff trip but it does take you into the wilds of New Zealand.This is really good example of New Zealand's enterprise and amazing engineering feat that has been preserved for people to enjoy today. The train journey starts and ends at Dunedin Railway Station which is a gem of a building - it too has been lovingly restored.With a couple of hours to spare we managed to fit in a tour around Olveston House which is, as the Rough Guide describes it, 'Dunedin's showpiece historic home' - and it is certainly a gem not to be missed.It was the home of the Theomin family and has been beautifully preserved as it was when they lived there (it reminded a bit of Chartwell) and is filled with personal family treasures and works of art collected from all over the world.After hearing the sad history of the Larnach family it was comforting to hear that the Theomin family had enjoyed such a happy life.
On our visit to Olveston House we'd been particularly impressed by the Theomin family connection with New Zealand artist Frances Hodgkins, some of whose works were on display. Our Dunedin 'day' when we'd planned to see some of the sights within the city included the excellent Dunedin Public Art Gallery.We've really enjoyed the art galleries in Australia and New Zealand and this was another one to add to the list.Apart from an exhibition of paintings of women through the ages and how their depiction in artistic terms has changed, there was an excellent exhibition of Frances Hodgkins' work.This included, for us at least, a very innovative audio-visual item.A computer allowed us to listen to extracts from her letters and diaries through various stages of her life and travels throughout the world - and a very interesting life she seems to have led.Next stop on 'See Dunedin Day' was the Otago Settlers Museum.It has some really good exhibits but we found that the section on Maori and European histories really contained too much written information to take in.However the mock up of the settlers' journey on the old sailing ships was excellent, as were the displays of women settlers' dresses (even E liked that), steam locomotives and old cars. The old road safety public service broadcast with chimpanzees as the main 'actors' was a hoot and brought back memories of similar things back home, back when. And having a go on the Penny Farthing was good fun (even though M's short legs hardly reached the pedals). The whole thing is based in what used to be Dunedin's transport depot and it's great that they have retained all the original Art Deco features of the main hall.Our plans to visit the Dunedin Museum were cut short due to the proximity of closing time and, possibly more importantly, we came across a sale in an outdoors shop - could we resist?!
E M xxxx