Saturday, October 22, 2011

New Zealand Day Three: Oamaru and Dunedin

I woke up nice and early the day after our penguin adventure/proposal, thinking, of course, "HEY! We're engaged!!" Then I tended to some important business - calling my parents! I'd tried to call them the night before to tell them the good news, but I hadn't given much thought to the time difference so I ended up calling at around 5 AM and they didn't answer. This time I got through to my mom and made her cry with joy. It was a bummer that my dad wasn't around, but I knew my mom would tell everyone within minutes, so I let her go wild. Then we got ready for the day and reluctantly checked out of our awesome hotel room.
Oh hey! Have you seen my new BLING?!

We decided to revisit Bushy Beach, where we'd gotten engaged the day before. Some sheep greeted us when we parked the car.
Green pastures on a beautiful day

We had been at Bushy Beach in the evening the day before, and had hiked along a trail, but beach access is closed after 3 PM  to give the penguins some privacy to come ashore. So we headed back to check out the beach!
Trail we walked the day before
To the beach!

It seemed strange to be on the beach in jeans and a sweatshirt. I guess we've grown used to Southeast Asia, where the only thing that ever keeps you out of the ocean is a thunderstorm. It was nice to be on the beach for once without feeling hot or worrying about sunburn.
Cliffs at the beach
Jagged rocks in the water

The beach was lively in the morning, with lots of little birds flitting around.
The dunnock, introduced to New Zealand in the 1800's and now thriving
Bird tracks in the sand
The variable oystercatcher. Some varieties are mottled, but this all-black variant is more common in the south

As we walked along the beach we noticed some hulking shapes back toward the brush...FUR SEALS!!!!!!! I've decided that these guys rank high on the list of the world's most unintentionally hilarious animals. The ones we saw on the beach were rolling around slowly and awkwardly, basking in the sunshine. They reminded me of big fat men who had just eaten way too much turkey at Thanksgiving dinner.

Because the fur seals are so cute and appear so harmless, it's often tempting for tourists to approach them very closely. However, it's important to remember that they're wild animals and you're intruding on their territory uninvited. Always give them a wide berth, and never block off their path to the sea- if they feel intimidated, that's where they'll want to run to make their escape.
Adorable tub of blubber

We moved on past the seals and ventured further along the beach, looking around for penguins and other wildlife. We heard a strange, loud scurrying sound and we both turned around to see a fur seal making a ridiculously awkward break for the water. With his big bottom and long flippers, he certainly didn't look very well adapted for running, but once he got going he could go pretty fast!
Having a bad day? Search YouTube for videos of seals running. For serious.

After I finished pointing and laughing, we continued down the beach, stopping periodically to admire great views and random birds.
It's hard not to fall in love with New Zealand
Common shorebirds, the great black-backed gulls

Just as I was deciding that Bushy Beach is one of my favorite places in the entire world, another sighting sealed the deal. Yellow-eyed penguins! We spotted three of them, up in the brush on the hill next to the beach. Some people come to New Zealand and never even see one of these guys, and here we were, spotting multiple ones two days in a row! After Bryan proposed next to these penguins, they'll always have a special place in my heart.
There are only about 4000 of these guys left in the wild.
Someone's keeping tabs on this one- see the band?

We'd headed to the reserve first thing that morning, and all the walking had made us hungry, so we decided to bid farewell to the birds, seals, and fluffy sheep, and head back into town for some grub. When we saw a big banner that said FOOD, we made a beeline for it. It turned out to be the cozy, historical Star & Garter Cafe.
Next to "quaint" in the dictionary, they should just put a picture of this place

So far the food in New Zealand had been seriously delicious. Everything always seems to be fresh, hot, and full of local produce. This meal was no exception. We dined on pork roast (for Bryan) and yummy vegetable quiche (for me).
Hearty lunches and postcards to our families

Once we were finished eating, we set out to explore the town on foot. Oamaru is a very historical town, with lots of well-preserved buildings, but it's also got a kind pf punkish/alternative vibe. The self-proclaimed "STEAMPUNK HQ" in the center of town is perhaps the most obvious indication of that. The punked out steam engine out front looks like something out of a Stephen King novel (in fact, the dark aspects of it made me think of Blaine the Mono from The Dark Towerseries). The building itself looked almost (but not quite) abandoned, with a big padlock on the front door. We poked around outside, where there was some other art in addition to the modified steam engine.
Steampunk HQ
The tricked out train lights up and makes sounds if you feed it a little money
Grisly conductor
Funky art installation

Next to the mysterious building was a path that led along a stream and through some small gardens. We followed the path and ended up in an old, forgotten train yard. Rusty trains and weathered buildings gave the area an old west feel.
Old grain store by the tracks
Doesn't an abandoned train seem like a great location for a haunted house?!
Creepy skull graffiti

We crossed out of the railyard, and popped out near a historical district called Harbour Street. In the US, historical districts like this one are usually really well preserved and are often populated by people in period dress doing things like dipping candles or darning wool. Harbour Street was a little different - it was still preserved, but in such a way that it still looked old, with crackling paint and faded store signs. The shops still sold the kinds of things they would have had in the 1800's (wool, secondhand books, breweries) but the people working in them were dressed normally. I liked the more casual approach- it seemed as though the historical district was well-preserved and the people in it were enthusiastic about their history, but it didn't come off as cheesy, the way women in hoop skirts dipping candles sometimes can.
Looking down Harbour Street
The stately Victorian Heritage Center
Weathered sign for a livery stable and forge
Fancy carriage
Loads of wool in storage
A somewhat sinister-looking jester

The best place in the historical district was Slightly Foxed Secondhand Books. It had everything a used bookstore should have: creaking wood floors, that musty old book smell, sagging shelves overpacked with books, and lots of nooks and crannies. It even had an exquisitely hand-painted Alice in Wonderland playhouse under the stairs for the little ones. We hung out in the nature section for quite a while, leafing through well-thumbed New Zealand bird guides, trying to identify some of the wildlife we'd already seen.
I Old Bookstores

I could've stayed in the bookstore all day, but it seemed like we should probably get on the road to Dunedin, where we planned to spend the night. So we tore ourselves away and weaved our way out of wonderful Oamaru. The drive along the Otago coast is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and it wasn't long before we got sidetracked by some signs pointing the way to the Moeraki Boulders. We followed the signs and parked the car at a sandy trailhead. Aftter a short walk along the beach, we found the incredibly bizarre, perfectly spherical, oddly placed boulders.
It looks like aliens dropped them here
Some of them are huge!
Boulders in the shallows
A broken boulder, covered in what looks like dried glue

The tide was coming in and strong winds were blowing off the ocean, so we decided to follow a sign up some wooden stairs to a cafe. While we sipped our Flat Whites, we read over some of the posted information about the boulders. I still don't fully understand the geological processes that led to these perfectly round rocks on the sandy beach, but I did learn that the glue-like stuff is mostly calcite, which does function as a sort of adhesive to hold the pieces of rock together. Pretty neat. I like rocks. Not as much as baby penguins, but they're still pretty cool.

We also learned that there are two entrances to the Moeraki Boulders- the free Department of Conservation entrance where we'd come from, and another, commercial entrance through a gift shop and cafe, where they ask you to pay $2 per person to go down to the boulders. So if you ever find yourself on your way to the Moeraki Boulders, be sure to follow the (much smaller) DoC signs.

After our boulder adventure, we got back on the road. But it wasn't long before we were diverted again, this time by some signs for a lookout called Shag Point. We turned off the main road, parked on the designated patch of dirt, and walked around, taking in the gorgeous views.
Rocky Shag Point
It was chilly, especially for those of us accustomed to the tropics!!
Bryan handles the cold more gracefully than me

There were great views of the water, and of a small island full of shag (the bird for which the point was named), but I was more excited about the abandoned building I'd spied back a ways, down a hill.
View of the dilapidated building from the top of the hill

Of course we made a beeline for the building. It was in its own scenic little nook, and on the rocky cliffs nearby, we spotted several lazy seals, lounging in the sunshine.
Lovely view from the old building

Much to Bryan's chagrin, I climbed over some piles of rubble to peer through some broken, rusty sheeting into the building. There was really neat stuff inside!! Best of all, there was an abandoned boat!! Who would desert such a cool treasure?!
If you look closely, you can see that someone before us wrote "BRYAN" in the thick dust of the boat's cabin. Cute!

There were lots of birds circling the rocky cliffs, including lots and lots of these guys:
A silver gull! Very common along the sea.

For the third time, we figured we should get back on the road to Dunedin. So we said goodbye to beautiful Shag Point and got back on the road.
Can we just live here?!

This time we managed to make it all the way to our destination without any distractions. We drove straight into the middle of Dunedin but we were a little daunted by all the traffic and the lack of parking, so we turned around, drove back to the outskirts, where we checked into the Bella Vista Motel. After dumping our stuff in the room, we headed out on foot. The town was easier to navigate without a car. We walked to Velvet Burger, where we had an excellent dinner. I know you won't hear a vegetarian singing the praises of a burger joint very often, but the place was great- they made, hands-down, the BEST vegetarian burger I've ever had, with some seriously good sauce, and Bryan really liked his meaty meal too. We went next door to The Bog Irish pub, where we washed our dinners down with a couple of Mac's. It was so cozy to sip cold beers by a roaring fire. We had had a long day, so we called it a day early and headed back to the hotel, where we drank New Zealand wine and watched Piranha. Piranha is one of those movies that's so bad that it's fun to laugh at, so after some serious movie mocking, we finally went to sleep.

1 comment:

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