Dunedin was never a planned destination for our post-Te Araroa travels. Dunedin was the Plan B when Mother Nature decided New Zealand should have the shortest fall ever and go straight into winter, thus axing our the last of our backpacking plans.
We went from the snowy West Coast mountains to the rainy East Coast shoreline. Dunedin is a hilly city on the eastern coast with the South Pacific Ocean in view. Dunedin had the second largest Maori population on the South Island until the 1840s European settlement. As it turns out, the settlement came from those of Scottish descent, and their influence remains today.
There is a lot of interesting architecture in the city, including the railway station, featuring mosaic tile floors and stained glass windows. What once was NZ’s busiest train station, it now only operates as a departure point for scenic train tours. It also has the claim as NZ’s most photographed building.
We found plenty to fill our 2 unexpected days in Dunedin.
First, we toured the Cadbury factory, a good rainy day activity, especially for chocoholics like myself. The Cadbury family started their chocolate business in England (which is why their brand color is purple–color of the Crown). The Dunedin-based factory has been here since the 1930s. The tour was delicious. Literally.
The other thing we put on our agenda was wildlife viewing on the rural Otago Peninsula. We took the Elm Wildlife Tour, which bused us from the city out to the head of Otago Peninsula. Along the way, we spotted tons of NZ birds we have come to love along the trail, including kingfishers, oystercatchers and pukekos. But, the mother of the bird was waiting at the end. And that would be the albatross.
The truth is, I never knew what an albatross was. I always thought it was some sort of sea creature. Nope. It is a MASSIVE bird. It has a wing span of 3 meters (9 feet), making it the largest bird in size (not weight though – that’s the condor). Albatross spend 85% of their time over the sea, so typically they are found on remote rock masses/islands in the middle of the ocean. But the Otago peninsula is a breeding ground for the Northern Royal Albatross species, as it is surrounded for thousands of kilometers of sea to the south and east and has that nice Antartic breeze to go with it. Albatross and their hearty wings can fly for 4 days straight with the help of the wind! At Tairora Head of Otago, there is a colony of 150 or so. Spotting them wasn’t hard because their size is just MASSIVE (did I say that already?).
Albatross were not the only exciting species found on the Otago peninsula–there were penguins, sealions and fur seals, all of which gave us private shows.
The yellow-eyed penguin are the rarest of the world’s 18 penguin species and their population is declining. They will probably be extinct in 25 years. They can only be found in NZ. We got to watch about 7 penguins as they returned to their nests with full bellies after being out to sea to feed.
You can probably agree, Dunedin turned out to be an unforgettable Plan B!
Now we are in route to Christchurch, our last NZ stop before flying out to Australia on Friday.