It was time to to leave Wanaka and head on to the Fiordlands. We went to the information center to check on the weather and learned that it was going to be miserable for the next several days. Seeing how we were planning to do some multiday hikes in this region we decided to get creative and see if we could outrun the weather. So it was off to Dunedin (the opposite direction of the Fiordlands) for what was predicted to be a partly sunny day. The drive wasn’t bad but as we pulled into Dunedin we thought must be in the wrong place–partly sunny was no where to be found.
The thing we were most looking forward to in this area was seeing yellow eyed penguins in their natural habitat. We drove out to the Otago Peninsula and thought for sure a hurricane was hitting land nearby but it didn’t discourage us one bit. We were going to see those cute little penguins even if it meant battling wind, blowing sand, angry seals and a 40 minute hike to possibly but mostly likely not see a penguin. One guy we passed on the beach said that he had been to this spot, Sandfly Bay, several times and had yet to see one of our tuxedoed friends. This didn’t discourage us but when we arrived at the hide the people that had been waiting a hour and a half to see one might have just a little. As we settled in at the hide they decided to call it and let us take over the watch. Sitting there we realized the patience of great nature photographers who must live in places like this for days waiting for the perfect shot. Luckily for us it only took 15 minutes.
John saw something gracefully swimming in a wave and at first glance assumed it was one of the diving birds we had seen on other beaches. At second glance as it hopped up on the rocks, we realized we were face to face (actually more than 300 meters away but lets not squabble over meters) with a yellow eyed penguin. We spent the next 40 minutes watching him hop, scoot, and flop his way up the side of the hill to his nest, taking hundreds of pictures as he went along. We knew it was a lot, but come on this is a yellow eyed penguin, one of the most rare penguins on the planet! We were documenting what others that came before us didn’t get to see. It was very exciting to see our first penguin in the wild and are considering sending some photo’s to National Geographic:). After the peguin went into his nest we couldn’t see him anymore (just hear him). We figured one penguin was enough and went to find a place to sleep for the night.
We chose a holiday park on the north side of Dunedin (because of our 10% discount) and drove in as the windy conditions picked up. No sooner had we pulled into our new home (or campsite) for the night when Erin opened the door and yelled “Hey!” across the way to some people walking by. Right away John knew why–it was Clair and Wij, a couple from the UK we met and spent some time with in Fiji! We knew they were in the South Island and we had been keeping track of each other, hoping to meet up somewhere along the way, but had resolved it wasn’t going to work out because of timing and different routes. But the timing couldn’t have been better on this night. It was a great surprise to see them and pretty wild considering there were at least five other holiday parks in Dunedin. We spent our evening catching up with them, staying up later than usual, hearing about the things they have been doing and seeing in New Zealand, and sharing some good laughs. The four of us decided to spend the following day exploring the Otago Museum together.
The Otago Museum was pretty incredible and a great place to spend a blustery day. We visited quite a few of the exhibits: The Maori exhibit, Pacific Cultures exhibit, the Chinese dragon exhibit, the People of the Southland area, the Egyptian collection, and every dead animal in that museum (and there were a lot!). In all we spent nearly 5 hours wandering through the museum and there was still more to see, but we were museum-ed out. It was a great way to share the day with Wij and Clair and we enjoyed their company. We split ways in the afternoon–our route taking us south to the Catlins and theirs remaining in Dunedin another night before heading north toward Christchurch. We are looking forward to the next time our paths cross.