We arrived at Port Chalmers, a nearby town to Dunedin, under low clouds and drizzle. A very early 7:15 a.m. train ride into the Taieri Gorge was loading up right on the pier below our balcony. It was different seeing the train pull onto the pier. Our 9:15 a.m. excursion, Nature’s Wonders Wildlife Safari, bused us through the outskirts of Dunedin and out the long winding road to the end of the peninsula on the other side of the bay. The road seemed narrow, had no guard rails and driving on the left gave Mac an exciting view straight into the water 20 feet below. We passed one small village, Portobello, and the rest of the land was essentially uninhabited except for a few “holiday” shacks that required rain water to be captured in a cistern or purchased.
The wildlife site was on the hillside and the bus driver maneuvered the climb with precision. After a brief rest stop and view of the gift shop, we climbed aboard an 8-wheel drive Argo vehicle (ATV) and donned a rain/mud slicker. The driver enjoyed driving as fast as the muddy rutted path would permit, mostly downhill for 10 minutes, to the cliff edge overlooking the endangered New Zealand fur seal breeding ground.
Despite the rain, it was very interesting watching the 3-month old pups navigating the rocky out-cropping and chasing the seagulls away, while mommy seal napped on a soft rock nearby. We watched this playful activity for a while, then re-boarded the ATVs for another bouncy wet ride through muddy trails to a penguin and albatross overlook.
The tour company has built a wooden encased walkway, a tunnel actually, down a steep slope for about 200 feet. It had openings at eye level to view the beach and cliff slopes for wildlife. The hills are a nesting area for the endangered yellow-eyed penguin, only about 18 inches tall at maturity. We got to look through binoculars at one in the grass. There were several small cut-outs in the cliffside wood wall that opened onto penguin nests where we could quietly see a mom next to a fur-ball little baby, feeding it and keeping the baby warm. This was special, being just a few inches away and peaking through a slider into the nest. The adults had recently molted as well and did not have their shiny water-resistant feathers yet, and thus could not swim anyway. No pictures were allowed to avoid disturbing the penguins.
The return ride on the ATV was uphill and just as exhilarating with rain and mud flying around as the driver avoided some of the deepest ruts. For clarification, they offered a sane enclosed mini-bus that arrived at the same locations but without the thrills of off-roading.
On the return bus trip, the driver detoured to the high road back to Dunedin on the chance we might have scenic views of the ocean and mountains, but the weather did not cooperate. For another diversion, he brought us to a Maori marae (meeting house) for a street view. As a consolation, he drove us through downtown Dunedin and pointed out the highlights. As I am writing this, we are receiving a two-man bagpipe send-off on the pier as the ship is departing at 3:30 p.m.
This afternoon, while Mac was downloading and labelling photos, I went to play some deck games that were moved inside- Carpet Bowls, where you and an opponent each try to get the closest to a small white ball. I won a point by coming in third. This was followed by Croquet Chaos. I was eliminated here.
Speaker Warren Fahey, a Conde Nast writer, spoke on “Travel Tips and Stumbles,” mostly about how travel has been revolutionized over the past ten years. There were 1.25 trillion tourists in 2017. This is expected to double in 20 years. Innovations like Airbnb, budget airlines, and especially mobile devices have made this possible. Folks can book hotels and airlines, translate languages, and check many travel websites with their smartphones. The cruise business is more popular than ever, as more than 25 million people took a cruise last year and that figure is expected to grow much larger.
Tonight, Lance Strauss performed Elton Jack in Concert a tribute to Elton John. He dressed as a look-alike and sang and played songs such as Daniel, Tiny Dancer, Honky Cat, Rocket Man, Crocodile Rock and others. He was very good.
Tomorrow we will be in Milford Sound National Park during one of 2 sea days it will take to get to Sydney, Australia.
Yours in travel,
Pat & Mac