Ten minutes later, Bryan and I sat in the car, frazzled and slightly disoriented from our whirlwind checkout. We decided to assuage our guilt by getting some breakfast and then heading to a wildlife sanctuary. We drove toward Orokonui Ecosanctuary and stopped at one of the only food places we saw along the way, which happened to be the oddly named Blueskin Cafe, attached to a garden center. It seemed like an odd place to eat breakfast, but as is the norm in New Zealand, they were serving everything up hot and fresh, and with a smile. I had a great omelette, and Bryan ate some more bacon as I sat there wondering how much bacon a man could consume in a week without getting sick. But bacon is not something that Singapore does well, so I knew he was loving it.
With full stomachs, we drove the weaving back roads to he ecosanctuary. It wasn't far, and we parked quickly and were walking around in the ecosanctuary in under ten minutes. It's an enclosed space, so there's an admission fee. It was established a few years ago as a space to rehabilitate local wildlife, and it's enclosed to keep out things like invasive rats and mice, but the birds can fly in and out freely. We didn't see much wildlife at first, but eventually we started hearing lots of chirping. We came to a feeding platform with LOTS of birds around. Some of them turned out to be pretty amazing.
|Two bellbirds adorably sharing a drinkspout|
The bellbird looks pretty nondescript at first, but then it starts singing. Its song is so lyrical and complex. Some people say it sounds like bells, but I don't really hear that (you can listen here). I thought they were called bellbirds because when they sing sometimes they kind of puff out, and they look a little bell-shaped.
|Doesn't it kinda look like a bell?|
Another bird was hanging around, making all sorts of bizarre robot sounds. We finally caught sight of the tui, which, in my opinion, sounds like it's seriously short-circuiting. But it's very pretty. Fun fact of the day: The tui is also known as a Parson bird because the little white tuft on its neck looks a lot like a priest collar! You'll thank me someday when you win Trivial Pursuit with that tidbit.
|Tui, aka Parson bird|
Also hanging around was the cute little silvereye. It's just so petite and adorable and nice. If the birds of New Zealand had a pageant, I think it would win Miss Congeniality.
|Sweet little silvereye|
OK, prepare yourself because I'm about to lay something awesome on you.
Did you know New Zealand has PARROTS?!
NEW ZEALAND HAS PARROTS!!!! Wild, native parrots! Isn't that cool?! I've always thought of parrots as something you see in the tropics, but NZ has several species of arctic parrots, and I think that is just super neat. Especially because we got to see some with our own eyes! The ones at Orokonui were called South Island kaka. Quite a name.
|HOLY JEEZ! A WILD PARROT!|
Is it funny that we live in the tropics and had to go halfway to Antarctica to see a wild parrot? I don't know. But it was really exciting. They're big and beautiful. They look like their feathers are a dark grey, but the longer you look, the more variety you notice- orange patches on the cheeks, red on the stomach, an iridescent blue on the wings. We saw several as we walked through the ecosanctuary, and every time it was thrilling to encounter such impressive creatures. Sadly, they're endangered. Doesn't that just make you want to run out and plant a tree?!
It took us a long time to drag ourselves away from the feeding platform, but eventually we did, only to discover that there were several feeding platforms scattered about, mostly being frequented by the same types of birds we'd seen at the first one. It was very peaceful as we walked along the trails - we never saw any other people until we were heading back to our car. We made a pit-stop in the Visitor Center, where Bryan spotted a tank full of cool little frogs, which succeeded in sidetracking us for a few more minutes.
We headed back to the car to get on the road for the day. Bryan and I really miss the freedom of hopping in the car whenever we want to go somewhere, so it was great to have that back again, if only for 11 days! That day we were heading toward the Catlins Wilderness Area, where we planned to spend the night. But half the fun of road trips is taking interesting turnoffs whenever they pop up, and that's just what we did that day when we saw signs for Nugget Point. After lots of bumping along over narrow dirt roads, we reached another turnoff for a penguin viewing area. Who can resist that? We stopped and walked along a very windy coastal path. The views were phenomenal, but it was a little vertigo-inducing to stand high on a windblown bluff, looking so far down into turbulent waters.
|WOW...hey, do you see those little white dots? Guess what those are!|
As we admired the view, another couple passed us on the path and told us to keep an eye out for three yellow-eyed penguins between us and the shore. Man, our penguin luck was just not running out!
|Those white dots on the hill were penguins!|
After some more penguin admiration, we hurried back to the car to get out of the wind, and then we drove up a steep hill and parked again. We couldn't see much of anything from the carpark, but as soon as we came around a bend in the path, the view was positively stunning. There was a lighthouse on a strip of land jutting out into the water, and waves were crashing onto the rocks below. It was breathtaking.
|All kinds of awesome|
This already amazing place had more surprises in store. To approach the lighthouse, we walked along the path that had a sheer drop down to the water on one side. As we looked over that edge, we saw some brown lumps that could only be fur seals. To make matters better, a posted sign informed us that the area is frequently used as a fur seal NURSERY! THERE WERE BABY SEALS DOWN THERE! Parrots and baby seals in one day! :::Cool wildlife overload:::
|Can you spot two seal pups?! Hint: They're with their lumpy mamas|
|Trying not to get blown away|
We walked around to the front of the lighthouse and the views from there were great. I could see why they'd installed a lighthouse there so long ago- the waters around us looked like they'd be awfully treacherous for a boat! The waves were big and choppy, and all over the place there were rocks sticking straight our of the surf. We could see shadows of more menacing rocks lurking just below the surface, looking like they were just waiting to punch a hole in a hull.
|Rocks just beyond the lighthouse|
|Bryan at the Point|
The sun was starting to set, and we didn't want to be stuck driving along those rugged dirt roads in the dark, so we hurried back down the trail back to our car. We continued our journey, and decided we'd stop for the night when we got to Owaka. But our adventure wasn't quite over for the day. As we whipped around a bend, both of us exclaimed at the same time, and Bryan slammed on the brakes. SHEEP! In the road! Right in front of us! Luckily Bryan stopped in plenty of time. I snapped away with my camera as a woman in a big car drove slowly along, kind of herding the sheep with her car. She waved at us apologetically, and when the sheep moved on, we did too.
|Hey! You guys so do not have the right of way!|
We managed to get the rest of the way to Owaka without any major sheep incidents. Owaka turned out to be a teeny town, so it wasn't hard for us to find a place to stay. We chose the reasonably priced Catlins Area Motel, which was more of a little apartment than just a hotel room, but even so it was cheaper than some of our other rooms. Plus the lady who runs the place is, like most New Zealanders, incredibly friendly. After chatting with her and dropping our stuff off, we went out to get some dinner. Despite the fact that it was only 7:30, almost every place was closed!! Small town stuff, right there! We did manage to find the cozy Catlins Cafe still open (kind of...the very kind person working said she was closing at 8, but would be happy to serve us!). I had low expectations for vegetarian food in such a small town, but she served me up some of the best vegetarian lasagna I've ever had (after my mom's, of course). It was full of pumpkin and spinach and pepitas. So. Good. Bryan's burger was pretty standard, but we were grateful to both leave with full stomachs before the whole town shut down! We spent the rest of the evening sipping hot chocolate and perusing the bird guides the hotel owner had loaned us. Another successful day in New Zealand!