New Zealand Rugby

Rugby is huge in New Zealand. It isn’t uncommon to see kids playing rugby in fields at a very young age and people tossing a rugby ball around on the beach. It is actually more common than basically any other sport, with the possible exception of cricket and skiing.

Kiwi’s are also quite fanatical and proud of the All Blacks, New Zealand’s rugby team. It probably helps that the All Blacks stand largely undefeated, with Australia and South Africa being their largest opponents.

Forsyth Barr Stadium Field
Forsyth Barr Stadium Field

We’ve been learning the sport slowly, and discovering the differences between league, union, super, 7’s, 10’s, and all the other numerous variations. It is quite a lot of fun though! I have always enjoyed watching the CFL and rugby is basically like football without breaks every time the players get tackled.

For Christmas, Andrew and I got tickets to see the British and Irish Lions vs. the local Dunedin team of the Highlanders in June. We tried to get tickets to the All Blacks, but they are popular enough that ticket sales are generally by ballot/lottery to be able to purchase them. The last time the Lions faced off against the All Blacks was back in 2005 and it was quite the game!

Andrew and I had the opportunity to see a Rugby league game when the Warriors came to town. Usually league games don’t come to as small of a town as Dunedin, but we got lucky since the Adele concerts forced a change of venue.

Almost a try.
Almost a try.

Andrew’s boss’s boss had corporate tickets in one of the boxes and invited both of us to join him. He had initially invited only Andrew and Andrew’s boss but one of his coworkers passed up the opportunity so I got invited as well.

It was so much fun! We had watched rugby on TV in the Octagon, but this was our first live game. It surprised me that there was no commentary in the game, which made it a little bit more difficult to figure out what was going on.

Rugby!
Rugby!

Thankfully I don’t mind playing the part of the ignorant girl, so I kept asking the guys questions on the game. Towards the end of the game I was starting to understand the rules.

It also looked like a fair bit of fun. Andrew and I have both been missing playing sports. He had been looking into hockey, but it doesn’t make sense to\buy all new gear or ship gear here until we know whether we can stay. So…we decided to join a rugby club in the area. We are both Pirates now!

Final Score
Final Score

Our first practice went well and we have been invited back to play. I’m on the women’s team and Andrew is on the seniors team (basically the non-premiere less competitive league). I have realized that I have lost a lot of endurance since being a part of the awesome Flux gym in Regina.

Warrington Domain Freedom Camping

Ah…free. Those words are some of the best words when you are looking for somewhere to camp. New Zealand has an amazing tradition of freedom camping, allowing people to find a beautiful location and stay the night.

In recent years it has become slightly more regulated since, with a rise in popularity, issues were starting to arise in popular locations due to the number of campers and potential cleanliness.

Warrington Domain
Warrington Domain

Rules for Freedom Camping

  1. Campers and Caravans must be certified as self-contained or park in areas designated as free for non-self contained units (defying this will result in a $200 fine!)
  2. Campers must park in designated self-contained areas. If in doubt, as locals or check with the regional council.
  3. Most locations limit stays to 2-3 nights in a 30 day period.
  4. Pack in, pack out! Please don’t leave a mess as this will limit the possibility of freedom camping in the future.
Our cozy little camper
Our cozy little camper

Camping in Warrington

Warrington, NZ, is a small community located about 30 minutes north of Dunedin. Perfect for a weekend escape, there is a nice surf beach and day-use facilities, as well as a large field, dump station, drinking water, and outhouses available for both self contained and non-self contained campers.

You can rock up on your bike, pitch your tent, and have a free night! Or in your campervan or caravan as well. All are welcome at the domain.

Eowyn trying to catch the Frisbee
Eowyn trying to catch the Frisbee

It was a lot nicer than Andrew and I expected. We had visited Ocean Grove, the other free camp near Dunedin, since it seemed to be closer to town.

The camping area can get crowded, so it is best to arrive early. In summer (December-February) you would probably need to arrive before 2pm to get a decent spot, whereas in the off seasons there are still spots available around 5pm. Andrew and I noticed that cars coming in after 7pm had a slightly more difficult time finding space to park, but there were still a few spaces left when we went to bed. Parking is open, first-come, first-serve, but try to make sure you leave some space between your unit and the ones next to you.

The cat's back room
The cat’s back room

The beach itself is fantastic. The ocean is starting to get a bit chilly for surfing without full wetsuits (around 10C in March), but on a good day Warrington is a pretty good surf beach. It is also great for shell collecting and relaxing in the sun with bright blue water, local birdlife, and soft white sand.

Nearby there is also a small inlet that opens up onto a broad bay that is teeming with native birdlife. During breeding season (January-ish) it is also relatively common to see seals and sea lions on the beach. Keep pets on leash and away from wildlife at all times.

Sleepy kitty
Sleepy kitty

We did take our kittens down to the ocean. They were fine in the tall grass leading up to the ocean but were quite uncertain about the big open space that the beach presented. We eventually coaxed them out and Tauriel promptly decided that the ocean waves required attacking. We dried our kitty back at the campsite, saved a lab from Eowyn (who thinks she can take on dogs, apparently), and made our dinner.

Losing a game of Stratego to Andrew...again
Losing a game of Stratego to Andrew…again

Andrew and I then settled down to an evening of board games and chatting with the other campers in the domain.

Forest in Warrington
Forest in Warrington

Camping in Warrington turned out to be a much better experience than we expected and one that we are certainly planning to repeat on nice weekends! I wish we had discovered it before summer was nearly over!

30th Birthday in Dunedin

Last week I celebrated my 30th birthday in Dunedin, New Zealand. It was awesome!

Milestone birthdays do have a tendency to make one think though. I don’t feel old enough to be 30! When I was 20 I knew what path my life was on: I was in university training to be an engineer.  When I was 25 I was newly graduated and starting my career with my new husband. I figured by the time I was 30 I would have a house, a kid or two, pets, and be settled on my life path.

Sockless kittens
Sockless kittens

This certainly hasn’t been the case. The last two years have thrown a few curveballs at Andrew and I that have made us re-evaluate our life goals, lifestyle choices, and the path that we would like our life to follow.

It is rather silly in a way. We ask children with relatively limited life experience to decide what they would like to do with the rest of their lives! After 3 years of working in the oilfield I determined that, while I would like to be an engineer still, I would much prefer to be a design engineer and that I will not deal with the idiocy of the oilfield unless I am completely desperate.

Special pancake breakfast
Special pancake breakfast

Well, now that the existential life stuff of dealing with a milestone birthday is out of the way…how was my birthday? It was a lot of fun. I told Andrew that what I really wanted was to have a stress free weekend where he dealt with the day-to-day planning and organization of stuff.

He was a good sport about it and made our weekend quite enjoyable. It started with taking the cats to the vet to have their post-neutering check up (and their socks off…yay!) and groceries. Both quite necessary!

Fish fingers and custard for dinner
Fish fingers and custard for dinner

We then did our bi-weekly game night with friends back home, with a twist. Andrew let me DM the game! It was my first time running a game, so Andrew helped me out with the 5ed rules, but it went fairly well.

He then cooked me an awesome dinner with an incredible dessert that he made from scratch.

Home Made dessert
Home Made dessert

The next day we had planned to go to the pool but we both woke up feeling kinda lazy. The day was instead spent playing games and watching movies with each other, until the evening. Andrew invited a few of our friends from the holiday park to one of Dunedin’s Escape rooms.

Escaped the Room!
Escaped the Room!

I won’t say too much so that I don’t spoil the puzzles for others, but it was a lot of fun. We did the Contagion room, where we were challenged to find the vaccine and then escape the room to save humanity. We did it too! The puzzles were well set up and the ambience of the room was a lot of fun. I got to play with an endoscope and Andrew had a thermal imaging gun, among other fun tools for puzzle solving.

Pizza from Ratbags for Birthday dinner #2
Pizza from Ratbags for Birthday dinner #2

He also got me an amazing ice cream cake and a balloon to top off the evening.

Beautiful ice cream cake!
Beautiful ice cream cake!

Thanks everyone for the birthday wishes!!

Things You Need to Know Before Visiting New Zealand

New Zealand is beautiful. It has a wonderful reputation for its stunning scenery, friendliness, and adventurous activities. Being part of the Commonwealth, it is easy to forget sometimes that you are indeed in a different country. So what things are different that might culture shock a traveller?

No Tipping

While this might seem odd, especially for tourists from Canada and the United States, New Zealand does not have a tipping culture. The minimum wage is high enough that even the lowest paid professions make a living wage.

Now, if you want to tell the taxi driver not to give you change or drop the change from your beer into the jar on the bar, nobody is going to object. But don’t worry about tipping the wait-staff, bell-boy, hotel cleaners, or other services.

Hotels and Camping

A vast majority of people choose to camp in New Zealand rather than stay in hotels. There are campgrounds everywhere, with most cities playing host to at least two or three. Most small cities will have a campground and one or two hotels, making travelling easy.

Camping in NZ
Camping in NZ

Pay Per Person

One major difference is that you will pay for accommodation on a ‘per person’ basis. Want to camp in a holiday park with just 2 people? $20 per person. Want to squeeze your entire extended family onto 1 site? $20 per person.

The Department of Conservation also has a few hundred campsites scattered across New Zealand, offering very basic facilities (i.e. pit toilets and maybe drinkable water). These will run around $5 per person.

You can also try your hand at freedom camping, but for this you will need a certified self-contained unit. Some of the larger campervan rental companies will provide a self-contained unit. This lets you camp for free in designated areas!

It Gets Busy!

It is important to be conscientious of timing when travelling. Even in the largest cities, every single hotel and campsite will be booked out during a large event like a rugby game. Particularly if you are attending a large event, you will need to book accommodation weeks or sometimes months in advance.

It is also generally best to avoid school holidays, as this is when most locals will be travelling, adding to the strain on the system. The busiest season is between mid-December and the end of January when most of the schools are out for the summer.

Room Service?

Room with a view
Room with a view

If you stay at one of the big chains, you can expect the same service that you would find in most places. However, the Hilton, Best Western, Ramada, etc. brands are generally not found outside of the major cities such as Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.

For most travellers, this will mean staying at a smaller, locally run accommodation at some point in their travels. From a budget cabin at a holiday park to a large chalet, it is important to realize that there may be some differences to what you are accustomed to.

  • Kleenex/tissues are usually not provided
  • There usually isn’t a restaurant on-site, so bring your own food or be prepared to drive or walk to the nearest restaurant
  • Rooms are generally not serviced…so if you want fresh towels every day or your rubbish taken out, you will frequently need to ask. You will usually get odd looks if you ask for your bed to be made every day as this is just generally not done.

Linen NOT Included

Wow! What a deal! Only $59 per night for my room!!

Need Sheets?
Need Sheets?

Hold on and think for a moment. If it sounds to good to be true, it usually is. Make sure you read carefully when you are booking your rooms.

Many hotels offer super-cheap rooms (particularly at holiday parks and hostels), but there is no linen included. No sheets, no blankets, no towels. You can frequently rent the linens, but the prices are usually set high enough to discourage many from doing this (i.e. $10-$15 per person extra).

Eating

One of the highlights of visiting a new country is trying new foods and different tastes.

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Eating Out

Sticker shock much? Remember how I mentioned no tipping above? Well, New Zealand also includes GST in all of their prices, including into the prices of meals.

Delicious Pizza
Delicious Pizza

So, you might look at your meal and think “$15 for a burger? $25 for a curry?” Keep in mind that, while you might only pay $10 or $15 at home for the same meal, you aren’t adding a 20% gratuity and 7% taxes onto your meal.

Alcohol

Just don’t do it. A standard 750mL beer will run you around $9 at a restaurant. Best to swing by the grocery store and pick up a case for $30!

They are also extremely strict about drink driving here (not drunk driving).

Groceries

Grocery Store with a Sense of Humour
Grocery Store with a Sense of Humour

I’ll just cook my own food! This is a great way to save on costs, particularly for easy meals like breakfast and lunches.

However, if it is winter, expect prices for fresh produce to be high. Ridiculously high. Like $5 for a single capsicum (aka bell pepper). The cheapest is Pak n’ Save, followed by Countdown, New World, and Four Square.

A Good Grocery Store Lunch
A Good Grocery Store Lunch

Things will also have different names and stores will be organised differently from the ones at home. Expect your first shopping trip to take around double the time you expect.

Driving

To the left, to the left

Keep left! For a majority of visitors, this one takes some getting used to. Always keep left. On freeways where you have multiple lanes, keep left unless passing.

City Roads
City Roads

No turning

No turns on red lights!

This can get particularly confusing when the main light turns green, but the arrow stays red. Make sure you are watching the right light for the direction that you want to go.

All Around we go

New Zealand tends to favour roundabouts (aka traffic circles) to traffic lights about half the time.  If you are unfamiliar with traffic circles, it is best to take some time to read up on them. Never be afraid to ask for clarification when you pick up your rental vehicle.

Driving in New Zealand
Driving in New Zealand

It Takes HOW LONG?

New Zealand is a smaller country. It shouldn’t take me that long to drive from here to there…it’s only 50km! Slow down and rethink that idea.

NZ Traffic Jam
NZ Traffic Jam

New Zealand roads are narrow, twisty, and different from what you are accustomed to. The average speed on highways is 100kph and in cities 50kph, however it isn’t uncommon for every corner on a road to be marked at 60-75 kph. Especially if you are driving anything larger than a tiny car, they mean it! Although it doesn’t happen as often, Andrew and I have encountered signs on corners on the main highway (SH1) that advised slowing to 15 kph for the corner.

Double your time estimates when planning your trip!

Night Noodle Market Dunedin

One of the advantages of living in one of the four largest cities in New Zealand is that Dunedin is just large enough to still attract the major events that visit the larger cities like Christchurch and Auckland, while still being small enough to have that small town feel.

Andrew and I at the market
Andrew and I at the market

This past week, Dunedin played host to the ‘Night Noodle Market’, which hosted both performances and foods with an Asian influence. According to their advertising, it would allow locals to experience the “sights, sounds, and tastes of an authentic Asian street market”.

Noodle Market full of people
Noodle Market full of people

Authentic? Not so much…far too orderly with neat little queues marked out in the grassy fields of the Kensington Oval. Far too neat and orderly if anyone’s been to any actual Asian markets, but still, the food was quite tasty.

Rice and beef
Rice and beef

Andrew and I arrived just at the dinner rush, which wasn’t the best timing on our parts. We were hungry and most of the lines were ridiculously long (think around 20-30 minutes in line).

Andrew's noodle dish
Andrew’s noodle dish

The portion sizes were also quite small given the prices.  The only thing we were tempted by that we didn’t go for was the pineapple smoothies; they wanted $12 just for a small smoothie in a pineapple!

Hoy Pinoy Stall
Hoy Pinoy Stall

That being said, the food was still absolutely fantastic. Andrew and I shared our dishes and got to sample four different dishes while we were there. It did mean standing in line for each dish, but once we had our first one and weren’t so hungry anymore, it was a lot more enjoyable.

Massive BBQ for cooking the skewers
Massive BBQ for cooking the skewers

The atmosphere was nice and the people were quite friendly. Each of the stalls was quite efficient in their food delivery as well, getting through the long lines quickly.

Delicious Pork Belly skewers
Delicious Pork Belly skewers

The skewers were definitely the most popular stall in the place, and I can see why! They were absolutely delicious. It was $12 for 2 sticks and some people were walking around with entire bouquets of the things. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people spent upwards of $100-$200 on dinner, although Andrew and I kept our evening reasonable.

Ginger beef was delicious!
Ginger beef was delicious!

There was also some fire dancing performances, which were fun to watch. The fair could have really benefited from a small craft market as well, in my opinion.

Beautiful lanterns
Beautiful lanterns

Overall, Andrew and I really enjoyed our evening and the opportunity it  gave us to sample food from a bunch of the different local restaurants.

Dunedin Cadbury Chocolate Festival

Chocolate!! Every woman’s (and men’s) best friend. One of the best parts of living in Dunedin is sharing a city with the Cadbury chocolate factory, which means every city sponsored event has chocolate!

Of course, what would the city of chocolate be without a full on chocolate festival? From opening ceremonies and the chocolate games, to cooking demonstrations, to a scavenger hunt, and the epic annual Jaffa race.

Opening day fireworks
Opening day fireworks

There were a number of activities that Andrew and I didn’t have a chance to take part in during the last festival, so hopefully we can hit up some different events in the following year. What we did get a chance to participate in was excellently executed.

Free samples at the cooking class.
Free samples at the cooking class.

We started with the opening ceremonies, which included a variety of sports and games. It was aimed mostly at families and children, but they had no problems with a couple of big kids taking part as well. There were small chocolate rewards for successful completion of each skill and then a chocolate medal and chocolate bar for completion of a majority of the activities prior to the fireworks. Overall a very fun evening!

Chocolate medal and chocolate bar from the opening games
Chocolate medal and chocolate bar from the opening games

We then took part in a chocolate scavenger hunt which sent us all over the downtown core of Dunedin trying to find answers to all the different clues. Things like “When was the Settler’s Museum opened” and such. Upon completion of the scavenger hunt we were rewarded with another bar of chocolate as well as entered into a draw to win a $300 chocolate basket. Lots of chocolate this week!

Jaffa Wall at the Museum
Jaffa Wall at the Museum

We also went to a cooking class and watched the demonstrations of how to make two absolutely delicious desserts. The classes were exceptionally entertaining and informative, although I haven’t had the equipment (i.e. a mixer) to actually attempt the recipes. Send me an email at elizabeth@adventureisthere.com if you want the recipes!

Cooking Class with Mr. Gilbert
Cooking Class with Mr. Gilbert

The final part of the Cadbury Festival was the Jaffa race. A Jaffa is a ball of chocolate coated in an orange flavoured hard candy coating. usually they are fairly small, but the ones for the Jaffa race were larger.

Finish line of the Jaffa Race
Finish line of the Jaffa Race

The Jaffa race also takes place at Baldwin Street, marketed as the steepest residential street in the world. Oh, and did I mention that they release around 25,000 of these balls at a time?

Wall of Giant Jaffa Balls down Baldwin Street
Wall of Giant Jaffa Balls down Baldwin Street

It is done for charity, with each ball bearing a number that matches a raffle ticket. It was quite fun to watch! It was also like a giant street party with a DJ, dancers, and the race itself.

Giant Jaffa Balls
Giant Jaffa Balls

I’m excited to see what this year’s festival will hold!

Happy Valentine’s Day from Dunedin!

Happy Valentine’s Day from Dunedin, New Zealand!

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I am just getting over a ridiculous cold, but Andrew and I had a fantastic Valentine’s day together. Really in a good relationship every day should be Valentine’s day, but we enjoy taking a special day to thoroughly spoil each other nonetheless.

Unfortunately we both worked for Valentine’s day itself; I worked 9:30am-7pm and Andrew worked 12pm-11pm. Not much time together! We opted to celebrate ourselves the day after.

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I surprised Andrew with a hunt for chocolate kisses and a chocolate flower bouquet before breakfast. He surprised me with cough syrup, cough drops, and new slippers beside the bed.  He then kindly drove me to work and went to run errands so that we could enjoy the rest of our day together.

When I got off work at 2pm, he picked me up and we went to visit our new kittens! They are still too little to bring home, but we try to visit them as often as we can so that they are well socialized.

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After some kitten cuddles, Andrew took me to St. Clair beach, where he pulled out a fantastic picnic. We had a lovely picnic by the beach with fresh cooked chicken, spinach and strawberry salad, and watermelon. I wasn’t feeling up to going surfing, but he put the surfboards and our swimsuits in the van just in case.

We stopped by the pet store to pick up kitten name-tags (you were right, Jenn…they kept their names). Then we went home where Andrew had left me a surprise! He had scattered cadbury roses everywhere so that I had a chocolate hunt. He had also left a heart of chocolate roses on the bed for me along with some fuzzy socks.

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I had drawn him a turtle picture and gotten him an actual chef’s shirt, which should make his job more pleasant. He had also asked for a Mars bar and a Dr. Pepper. Unfortunately I couldn’t find him a Dr. Pepper, but he got 9 Mars bars!

We then spent the evening cuddling and watching Mrs. Peregrine’s home for Peculiar Children. An odd, may I say peculiar, movie, but quite enjoyable!

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It was a fantastic day. Hopefully we will get back to doing more touristy things once I rid myself of this dratted cold!

Gear Review: Scrubba Washing Bag

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a gear review, but Andrew and I have continued to travel and test out different gear to make our lives easier. We recently tried out the Scrubba wash bag, which is a great addition to any traveller’s bag.

Check out my previous gear reviews here!

Icebreaker

Exofficio

What is Scrubba?

Scrubba is essentially a glorified dry bag that has small plastic knobs inside that function as a small washboard. You can use it to store dirty laundry and, when you have enough laundry, you can use it to wash your laundry.

Scrubba Wash Bag
Scrubba Wash Bag

Andrew and I were fortunate enough to get these as a gift a while back to help us keep up with the laundry in our campervan. There is nothing worse than running out of clean clothing while travelling!

We have used it a few times to test it out and it will definitely be coming on our future travels! Particularly if we are backpacking.

How well does it work?

While their website obviously makes grandiose claims about washing jeans, t-shirts, etc. the Scrubba doesn’t seem like it would work exceptionally well for larger loads or heavy items. The lining seems quite delicate so I would be cautious about washing things with buckles, zippers, or items with any sharp-ish edges.

The Scrubba does seem like it would be excellent for keeping a small load of socks, undergarments, or light t-shirts clean while hiking or backpacking for a long period of time. It takes a very small amount of water (i.e. from a nearby creek) and an exceptionally small amount of soap to wash a load.

It was certainly a lot handier than waiting until we could find a clean hotel sink or hoping that we could get the camper’s kitchen sink clean enough to wash the laundry.

Here is a video that Scrubba has on their website describing the bags.

Getting Things Clean and Dry

The standard Scrubba will hold about a week’s worth of undergarments and socks, 3 t-shirts or 1 pair of pants. It takes about 500mL of water for most loads, and about a teaspoon of soap to get the items fairly clean.

Put everything in the bag and squeeze the air out. Scrub the stuff around for a few minutes, maybe as much as 5-10 minutes for particularly soiled items. Empty the water out somewhere safe for grey water (i.e. away from water sources), then refill with fresh water to rinse the clothes. Repeat the scrubbing, empty the water, and squeeze out the clothing items.

If you want the clothes to be dry quicker, try rolling them in a clean and dry towel to remove most of the water. This method will get many clothes to dry overnight.

Overall, the Scrubba seems to be a great product, although slightly over-hyped for the amount of washing it will do. It certainly won’t replace your washing machine, but it is quite sufficient for keeping things fresh while travelling! Especially with the ever-increasing restrictions on airline luggage, it could help make room for a few extra souvenirs!

The Otago Peninsula 3: Blue Penguins!

Following a fantastic dinner, the final part of our tour on the Otago Peninsula was to wait until dusk to see the little blue penguins.

Our dinner consisted of a somewhat traditional Maori Hangi – traditional meal, but cooked using a steam cooker instead of buried in the ground. The lamb and chicken were really tender and delicious and the assorted root vegetables were quite flavourful.

Sunset over the Harbour while waiting for penguins
Sunset over the Harbour while waiting for penguins

We had a little while to wait until the penguin’s arrived, so we wandered around the gift shop, chatted with our fellow tour guests, grabbed a hot chocolate, and relaxed.

Around 9pm the guides gathered us and the larger group of tourists who had arrived just for the penguin tour for a brief talk about history and safety. They had issued each guest a glow in the dark armband, which they checked before allowing us through the gate that led down to the beach.

The pathway was lit just well enough to see, but was dim enough not to disturb night vision or wandering penguins.

Watching the Fur Seals
Watching the Fur Seals

The Penguins

The blue penguins are the smallest penguins in the world.  They stand just over 25 centimeters tall and weigh around about 1 kilogram.

They leave shore at dawn and spend their days at sea fishing. Most of their diet consists of small fish, crustaceans, and squid. They will travel up to 25 kilometers offshore and 70 kilometers from the colony in their quest for food.

Penguins Incoming!!
Penguins Incoming!!

They then come back to shore at dusk in what is called a ‘penguin raft’. It is basically a large group of penguins who all approach the shore at once to help protect themselves from predators.

The Tour

Watching the penguins come ashore.
Watching the penguins come ashore.

It was kinda funny waiting for the penguins to arrive. 150 people or so just staring into the ocean, watching for a quickly approaching black smudge. We did eventually spot them just off the coast. There was suddenly a black smudge, then a wave broke on the shore, and then there were suddenly 50 little tiny penguins standing on the rocks, shaking themselves off! It was quite cute actually.

Unlike in Oamaru, you are permitted to take pictures of the penguin, provided that you don’t use flash and there are no lights on the front of the camera. The guides are quite adamant on this and will actually ask people to leave if they don’t comply.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The viewing platform is actually built directly on top of the penguin hide, so the penguins come right up to the platform before disappearing underneath it. It gets quite noisy when the penguins come home!

They were really cute to watch, although the platform was quite busy and getting a good spot to watch them was occasionally difficult. It was still a great end to an enjoyable evening though!

The Otago Peninsula 2: The Albatross Centre

Following the Monarch boat trip, which I talked about last week, we took the guided tour the rest of the way up the Otago Peninsula to the Albatross Centre.

The Otago Peninsula is home to the only mainland albatross colony in the world, which is quite impressive! The 1 hour drive from town and the relative isolation of the point are somewhat conducive to the colony. The albatross usually only nest on small, isolated islands.

The albatross centre features a small gift shop, a cafe, a small museum and interpretive area, and guided tours up to the hide, a place to watch the albatross fly.

The Albatross

Nesting Albatross
Nesting Albatross

Albatross are the world’s largest seabird. Now, usually I’m not a big bird person (pun intended), but the chance to see these birds wasn’t to be missed! With a wingspan of up to 3 meters and double jointed wings, these were certainly interesting animals to watch.

They aren’t the most graceful of animals, especially considering that we were watching some of the younger albatross. The guide told us that they have been known to misjudge their take-offs and landings on occasion, sometimes faceplanting into the cliff-face.

While we were observing them, we did see a few aborted take-offs. Their wingspan is so massive that they actually need a good headwind to be able to take off. The Taiaroa head makes a perfect breeding location for the albatross since it’s location makes it a short walk to have a headwind regardless of the prevailing wind direction of the day.

Albatross lifecycle

Albatross come to land mainly to mate. They generally breed on remote islands and spend a majority of their life at sea. They spend their first 6 months of life on land, being fed by their parents. The chicks hatch in early February, with both parents taking turn guarding and feeding the chick.

View from Taiaroa Head
View from Taiaroa Head

The chick is fed until it is too heavy to fly so that it will survive its first few months of life without its parents.  Starting in August, the parents will return less and less often to feed the chick, encouraging it through hunger to test its wings and take flight on its own. At some point in early September the chick will take off in a strong wind and then not touch solid land for the next 3-5 years.

An albatross will travel up to 190 000 kilometers in a year, circumnavigating the earth and living solely at sea.  Eventually they will return to their breeding site to find their own mates. It is apparently quite funny watching the newly returned Albatross land as the chicks have never landed on solid ground before. Their legs are too weak to carry them and they spend the first week or so getting their land legs after their years at sea.

Albatross with its egg
Albatross with its egg

Albatross mate for life, with the adult pairs returning every 2 years to mate. The rest of their time is spent at sea, cruising on their 3.3 meter wingspan, resting in the water, and eating up to 2kg of squid and octopus per day.

Our Tour

Our tour started with about 30 minutes to explore the interpretive centre and gift shop, as well as time to grab a nice cup of tea from the cafe to warm up. It was a slightly chilly and windy day when we went and we were both feeling a bit of a chill from being out on the Monarch.

Following our free time, we were invited into a private viewing area where we were instructed on the Albatross life cycle and learn other information about these great sea birds. They also showed us an interesting video about the albatross.

Albatross in flight
Albatross in flight

We were then taken up to the Albatross hide, which involved a short walk past the Taiaroa prison and up a short hill. It might have been a slight challenge for those with limited mobility, but scooters or wheelchairs ought to be able to manage it.

The hide was quite interesting. It featured large glass windows on most sides so that it was easy to see the albatross. They also had a webcam with a live feed of an albatross nest, which was quite interesting. We had a great view of the albatross flying past and I would have loved to stay up there longer.

On the way back down, we had the chance to see baby seagulls as well. Apparently there are several different breeds of seagull, one of which is actually endangered and lives in New Zealand.  They were actually kinda cute in an ugly sort of way.

My 'wingspan' compared to an albatross
My ‘wingspan’ compared to an albatross

It was definitely quite a treat to see such amazing animals up close.