...Catlins to Dunedin
15.01.2011 - 16.01.2011 19 °C
After finishing up a few things around the “Food Forest” and Julie blowing their minds with a new way of handling chickens, we part ways, heading to the Catlins to finish exploring the area. Along the way we stop at Cathedral Caves but the tide is high and the gate is locked until the ocean retreats. We plan on returning at low tide so we continue along the southern coast. The Guytons had told us that we must stop at The Lost Gypsy Gallery in Papatawai, and so this is our next stop. The owner has a shop/gallery in an old house truck that is filled with his automatic creations made from reused/recycled materials. It was heaps of fun winding up toys and pressing buttons to see what kind of lights, sounds, or moves the toys would make.
The Catlins area is prime sea lion spotting territory and since we have not encountered any yet we decide to walk the beach at Surrat Bay. Strolling barefoot down the the vast beach, large shapes slowly come into focus. Our first sea lion encounter is a massive male and playful female lumbering across the sand. The size of males range from 350-500 kg and this one must be upwards of 500 kg, his face and build are “bear like”. He lays on the beach and flips sand on his back to reflect sunlight and reduce overheating. Continuing down the beach, mom and dad oyster catchers poke in the sand around driftwood and washed up seaweeds foraging for food and delicately passing it to their two chicks. As we stroll the beach, another sea loin rolls up in the surf and beaches himself on the shore. After a short break he bounces up the beach on all fours to find a suitable napping spot.
We return to the car taking an alternate route along the inlet and find a pack of sea lions barking and play fighting. The males usually have multiple ladies, called a harem, and will chase off contenders that show an interest in their harem. It seems that this pack of sea lions includes a larger male who has rounded up younger ones and is rehearsing behaviour used for maintaining these breeding harems. Surrat Bay is protected land and it was great to see these massive marine mammals. Unfortunately locals ignore the posted signs and rip up and down the beaches on dirt bike and four wheelers, likely completely oblivious to the damage they are doing to this habitat.
The last stop of the day is Nugget Point for amazing coastal views and huge colonies of sea birds, fur seals, sea lions and maybe elephant seals. Spoonbills nest off the point and we observe large eggs in some of the nests through the binoculars. We listen to the seals squeal like children as we watch the bull kelp slither like snakes back and forth between marine life that gracefully swims among the turbulent waters. The views and smells of the endless Pacific Ocean from the lighthouse are soul-stirring.
After a wholesome meal of lamb chops and veggies we proceed to the “hide” at Roaring Bay to watch the yellow-eyed penguins coming ashore. Four penguins waddle up the beach, stopping every few meters to stretch out their wings to dry off, its as if they are asking for a hug. They hop up through the coastal shrubs to feed their hungry chicks. It is great to watch from the hide as it provides a shelter and hiding spot for people to observe from, preventing the penguins from being disrupted. These penguins are very shy and won't come ashore if people are on the beach. If the penguins stay in the water it increases their chances of being predated upon and it leads to starving chicks with the end result being a declining population.
Just outside of Waihola we pull into a picnic area and we quickly transform the car into a hotel on wheels. This freedom camping isn't too bad. You have to accept camping wherever you can find it, there is no such thing as searching for the “perfect” spot. The moon and stars are out and we drift asleep. Suddenly it's Sunday morning and since we saw a church just down the road we decide to stop in to give thanks. We enter into the Waihola United Church and are are pegged as newcomers instantly and greeted with many smiles. After the service we are treated to coffee and snacks before continuing on towards Dunedin.
Along the scenic road to Dunedin we make a few quick stops to stretch our legs and take in the sights. The plan was to explore the Otago Peninsula before checking in with our next wwoofing hosts but heavy cloud cover and drizzle alters our destination. We cruise right downtown Dunedin for a sushi lunch and a tour of some of the historical sights. Dunedin is a university town with tons of 'scarfies' (students). It is said to be the best preserved Victorian and Edwardian (whatever that is) heritage city in the southern hemisphere. St. Paul's Cathedral Church is astonishing and packed with stained glass windows. Its arched ceiling is an amazing feat of construction as is the much photographed heritage train station. The Edwardian style of architecture and the intricate mosaic tile floors of the train station make this hub an amazing site.
Along the road to Tershia and Marvin's, our next wwoofing home, Baldwin Street catches our attention. It is the steepest street in the world with a crazy gradient of 19 degrees. We slowly climb our way up, taking a break half way to check out the roof tops and see if any chimneys need repair. Julie is nervous on the wet slippery asphalt and sticks to the sidewalk of stairs along the road. At the top, the view back down the road is strange since it seems to fall away at the steepest point preventing a view of the entire road to the bottom. After we walk back down the road, we decide to drive it, hoping the brakes don't give out.
We head up another steep winding road on our way to the wwoofers' beautiful property at the top of a hill overlooking the north end of Dunedin. They have a wonderfully packed front yard of flower beds and a backyard loaded with veggie gardens, fruit trees, and a green house. It makes us realize the potential of our property! We get to know the quirky couple over a great curry dinner and a short walk further up the hill through old sheep paddocks. Terisha is passionate about the environment and Marvin about climate change and politics. They have a new documentary about the endangered kakapo that they have been waiting to watch with us. It is an amazing story about the extreme efforts being made to save the worlds largest flightless parrot, including artificial insemination in the wild! We look forward to the week ahead and it sounds like Terisha has some interesting spots to show us and some meaningful work to complete.