Monday, March 8, 2010


Our final full day in New Zealand did not go as planned. We had arrived in Dunedin late in the afternoon and had thought of visiting some of that city's attractions, especially Lanarch Castle. However, we awoke to fog and drizzle. Despite my insistence every half hour that it would clear off within half an hour, the crew stopped believing me as 11am rolled around. So we decided to head up the road about an hour and a half to our next destination, Oamaru.

I promised them all that the clouds would leave us around noon, and it was duly noted that the sun broke through at 12:04. Nonetheless, some in the back seat continued to remind me that I had been wrong all morning and couldn't claim victory with a single correct forecast.

As it turned out, though, Oamaru was a great choice for the day. According to Wikipedia, Oamaru is Maori for "home of Maru". Unfortunately, no one is quite sure who Maru is, so it leaves the town with a bit of an identity crisis.

This small-ish harbor town (and yes, it is about the same population as Rutland) has dealt with its identity by getting seriously into its historic past. The old warehouses in the port have been converted into shops for artisans and craftsmen, and the historic district goes so far as to have penny farthings leaning against the walls of the old buildings.

To be honest, there didn't seem to be heaps of stuff to buy there - unless you want a penny farthing, and believe me I don't - but somehow LK still ended up needing help with her packages. We couldn't resist that picture at the top of the post. It was a sign in the antique store, but it seemed a perfect backdrop for LK's picture.

But the real tourist attraction of Oamaru is its wildlife. There were signs along the road warning people that penguins may be crossing. There are actually two colonies of penguins that live here. One is blue penguins, and the other is a flock (if that's the right word) of yellow-eyed penguins.

At 6:30 we wandered out to blinds in the hills above the beach where the yellow-eyed penguins live.

Around that time, we had been told, they start rolling in on the high tide and waddle their way across the sand to the shrubs in the hills at the back of the beach. The penguins, though, didn't get on stage until about half an hour later. The opening act was some very fat seals that pretty much lay on the sand until the water got close. At that point, they slid into the sea. It wasn't a great act, but it did give us something to watch.

That little guy in the picture wandered up pretty high and got within reasonable range of the camera, so we were able to get a decent shot of him. We also saw a couple of others roll in on the surf, but they were too far away to be more than a dot in the frame.

Actually, while waiting for the penguins I remembered why I hated hunting and fishing. I guess it's fair to say I am not a particularly patient person. We were told the penguins came in around 6:30, and by 6:40 I was getting pretty bored and starting to resent that nobody ever seems to start a show on time any more.

Then a little after 7, there was a buzz and several people began pointing. Jaki came up, "Did you see him?" And the answer was No, I didn't see him. Apparently everyone else was able to catch the first penguin's act, but not me. And that brought all the memories of my few forays into hunting, where I never saw the deer, the bird, and often even the tree branch in front of me. I believe I hit the quinella for not being a hunter - no patience and no visual acuity.

Finally, after watching kelp wash back and forth and thinking it was more birds, one real penguin actually did stand up in the sand and wander away. I waited a few moments after this startling observation and then suggested to the crew that it was already 90 minutes into cocktail hour and, having finally seen a penguin in nature, I would like to celebrate it.

The others weren't too hard to convince, either. But then there was some very good news later. While standing on the balcony of our room, I looked over the fence at the backyard of the house next door.

Now many of you will be looking at this shot wondering what it has to do with wildlife. But the sharp-eyed among you may have spotted the wild beast waiting in the shadows to pounce.

We ended up calling her Daisy, and it is one of the wonderful things about this part of New Zealand. In the middle of an urban neighborhood, you can look at the house with the beautifully trimmed back yard and have a pretty good idea that there may well be a Daisy lurking in the shadows.

Next morning, we drove to Christchurch and flew to Sydney. Tomorrow's post will be about Robert and Jaki's Last Supper in Oz.

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