Dunedin and the Surrounding Area

Dunedin, the South Island’s second largest town, is quite lively, featuring many museums, theaters, plentiful shopping, lots of restaurants, and two large Universities to boot. Situated at the mouth of Otago harbor, Dunedin was first established for the gold trade; the University of Otago was established during this time period as was the beautiful railroad station of 1908, which still stands today. As the amount of gold being found in the area dwindled some prospectors left, but many found the mild maritime climate as their home.


While in Dunedin our gang enjoyed a several-hour tour of the Speight’s Brewery. This six-story gravity-fed brewery has been around since 1876 and is truly the pride of the south. Well, after a tour provided tasting at the brewery it only seemed right to eat at the Speight’s Restaurant. Speight’s Restaurants can be found throughout New Zealand and could be considered a chain restaurant, but the food is of top notch quality and the presentation is impeccable. One could expect to find venison, several types of fresh fish, lamb, beef, and several vegetarian dishes on the menu as well as the ever present green lipped clams.


Another highlight, while in Dunedin-proper, was our visit to Cadbury World. Greeted by what could only be described as a very excited oompa loompa tour guide dressed in bright purple overalls, we put on hair nets (and beard covers for some of us) and began our two hour tour. He guided us through the chocolate making process, beginning with the cacao beans followed by the cocoa nibs and cocoa butter, adding some sugar and finally the liquid chocolate product. The tour then continued into the different chocolate product processing lines; we saw where they made Cadbury Cream Eggs, Jaffas, and numerous other chocolate concoctions all while inhaling chocolaty goodness. The three nerds in the group were in processing equipment mecca. Most of the processes were done by machine; my favorite machine was the one that had the “eye” to grab a single piece of candy and place it into a slot in a box. At each stop along our tour we were either given a sample (i.e. liquid chocolate) or one of the chocolate products made at the factory. By the end of the tour our bags were full of Cadbury products and Michelle and I were smiling.


Sorry folks, they don't allow photos at Cadbury World

At the aquarium
Our campsite was located half way down Otago Peninsula; a 20-30 minute drive from downtown Dunedin along a very winding road. If you had a Lamborghini Murcielago this would be the perfect road for you, but our Mitsubishi Delica campervan didn’t take curves with finesse so our drive time was a bit longer. Just down the road from our campsite was the Dunedin Aquarium. This small aquarium had some neat specimen including sand sharks and sea horses; it also had an area where you could touch some sea animals but the small size was a little disappointing.


Otago Harbor

While staying in Dunedin we stayed at a campground in a little township called Portebello. Although out of Dunedin proper, the location of our campsite offered us easy access to the plentiful wildlife found on the Otago Peninsula. We had seen a little blue penguin viewing center while in Oamaru, but the entrance fee was quite steep and no photography was allowed so we opted for a free option in Dunedin. One evening, hoping to get a glimpse at the little blue penguins, we made our way to the end of the peninsula towards the Royal Albatross Center. Seeing a gate across the walkway to the penguin viewing site, we thought we were too late and decided to check out the sunset from the Albatross Center. The Center sits at the end of the peninsula, surrounded by 100+ foot cliffs. The howling winds ripped across the rock faces, deterring everyone from the location except some seagulls and some hardy Idahoans. Walking beside a stone wall towards one rocky cliff, hundreds of seagulls began squawking at us as if there were young in their nests, so we made our way to a clearing where we could see both crashing sea and the sky full of birds. Seagulls were perpetually coming in and out of their nesting area, but every so often a bird with the looks of a seagull but with the wing span three to four times that of a seagull would gracefully fly around the peninsula, making the flight of the seagulls in the harsh wind look as if it were their first time flying. Darkness ceased our awe of these birds, but we decided that we’d visit the Center the following day to see these aeronautical wonders during daylight hours. We learned that unless the winds are very harsh or unless the bird has chicks in a nest, an Albatross rarely comes to shore. The chicks had fledged their nests several weeks before we had arrived, so we were quite fortunate to run across the albatross that windy evening.


The following night we made our way, a bit earlier, to the little blue penguin viewing area. We were again met by a closed gate, but were also lucky enough to find a volunteer climbing over the gate just as we arrived. We followed him down to the fence line which protects this, the world’s smallest species of penguin. These penguins come in at dusk and are often difficult to see; about eight bird lovers were already watching as at least two had made their way ashore. As the light dimmed we could hear the gentle calls of the penguins surround us. Four of the twelve inch tall birds were found hiding in the bushes just below the fence line. The volunteer would occasionally turn on his red light flashlight to better show us little ones. Neither flash photography nor white light flashlights were allowed. Every so often one of the birds would scuttle up the hillside to what could only be their roosting area. When the dimness of the cloudy night sky made it almost impossible to see our feet, we decided to make the hike back up the hillside to our vehicle. We turned around took a few steps towards the pathway when we realized we couldn’t see much. Beau pulled out his flashlight, covered the end with his hand as to not disturb any sleeping penguins, and turned on the light. To our surprise, two feet in front of us was one of the little penguins; he looked to be just as surprised as we were. He waddled as quickly as a penguin could, and made his way into the cover of the nearby bushes. We safely, and without interruption to any more penguins, made it back to our vehicle with no acceptable photos but only fond memories of the little blue penguins. As an afterthought, it would have been better to view the penguins in Oamaru; this viewing location has dim lighting which allows visitors to better view the little ones. Photography is not allowed, although the lighting is dim enough that almost every camera/lens would have difficulty capturing an acceptable photo.


While exploring some dirt roads along the south coast of Otago Peninsula we came across a remote beach access; we walked along a short trail which took us through a green field full of grazing sheep, across some rolling sand dunes filled with flowering shrubs and grasses, then onto a gorgeous crescent shaped beach with long white clouds in the bright blue skies above. Just 100 meters to our right was a mother Hooker’s Sea Lion and her two pups dozing on the warm white sand. The pup’s smooth blonde fir, seal sized heads and pointy snouts were in stark comparison to their mother’s dark fur and large round head with a blunt snout. Hooker’s Sea Lions are only found in New Zealand and are endangered so we felt quite privileged seeing several of these goliaths on the beach. Mom kept one eye open to watch us as we moved around her (at a safe distance) to take photos, but soon relaxed as she realized we would cause her no harm. While taking photos of the dozing threesome and a 1000 pound male sea lion further down the beach, a New Zealand Fur Seal swam ashore will little fanfare. We were a little concerned that the big ugly bull sea lion would make a move on the seal or us, but he seemed content covering himself with sand and resting his head on a random chunk of seaweed. The seal seemed to be a fan of the camera and posed for photos as he was yawning, scratching, stretching, and finally rolling on his back in the sand. What I wouldn’t give to be a seal or sea lion on a pristine New Zealand beach…