The Otago Peninsula

THURSDAY, 10th November

So, another big jump from city to city, but before I started exploring Dunedin, first I took a chance to visit the Otago Peninsula.

I had to take two buses from Invercargill to Dunedin with the change at Gore. The weather was sunny and hot again and it was hard to believe that just a couple days before the streets and hills by the road were white from either hail or snow. I had a great bus driver from Gore to Dunedin. His name was Graham and all the way he was talking about local history of the towns we were passing by. 44 km from Gore there is a town called Clinton. Graham explained that locals had named it Presidential Highway hoping that Gore would win the elections, but as we know, the results went not according to New Zealanders’ hopes, but they are stubborn and still call it that way.

I arrived in Dunedin before 1 pm. I had booked a hostel close to the bus depot, which was not far from the Octagon, the city centre. The hostel was even closer to it and it was a great location, because I didn’t have to climb any steep streets, which Dunedin is famous for. I enjoyed staying at Central Backpackers that much that I spent there four nights instead of two as I had planned (partly because of free WiFi; mind you, free WiFi; there were no computers, so you had to have your own one).

After checking-in, the receptionist said that there was a tour to the peninsula to see albatrosses, penguins and other wild life living there. The tour was leaving at 3 pm from the backpackers. It cost $95, a bit expensive, but the weather was nice, there was no guarantee it was going to keep that up and I didn’t know at that time how long I was going to stay there, so I decided to go. There were two Austrian and one English joining me. Our driver’s name was Russell and he knew all the birds we saw during the tour.

Harbour with whitestone sculpture

View on one side of the city, the glass building is the renovated Otago Stadium

I was actually surprised how big Dunedin is! Another side of the city. If you started swimming in the Ocean on the left, you’d end up on Arctic.

Pukeko with its chicks

Hawk flying in front of our car

Black swans

Paradise Shelducks

Royal Albatross Centre was on a cliff and this is just a lighthouse

We didn’t buy any tour, just watched the birds gliding. Albatross and a gull flying next to each other. You can tell the difference in their sizes!

Shags nesting on the cliffs

Blue penguin in a man-made nest

Pest, but cute

At the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Reserve, Penguin Place

Penguin hospital

If you want to support the reserve, go and pay for your visit. But if you just want to see penguins, don’t bother and waste your money, because you can see them in the Catlins for free at the same distance. But you have to keep the distance, because they’re very timid birds.

We watched the penguins from trenches. In some houses (those triangle boxes on the left), there were penguins nesting. It all reminded me Hobbiton movie set.

Then we watched some penguins coming out of the water

Fur seals lying on the rocks or grass

More penguins

Royal Spoonbill

While we were going through the hill to the albatross centre, on the way back we went along the coast. We passed Aramoana and Russell mentioned a film I hadn’t seen one yet. It was Out of the Blue (2006) by Robert Sarkies telling a story about Aramoana massacre. When I got back to the backpackers in the evening and had an Angus Burgh, I finally watched the movie. So sad story and very moving film. It’s hard to believe that something like that happened in such a beautiful and peaceful place.

The Catlins

TUESDAY, 8th November

404. That many kilometers I drove on the left side of the road that day.

Sometimes I have this feeling that I must do something and going to the Catlins was one of those things.

At breakfast, I saw two German girls over a map getting ready to go to Dunedin. I asked them if they were going through the Catlins (yes) and if they could take me with them, sharing the cost of the trip, of course. They looked at themselves in panic and confusion and I started wondering if my offer was inappropriate. They went to their room to discuss and came back with negative answer. They said that those were their last days together and they wanted to be alone. Fine, another reason why I don’t have great sympathy to Germans. Were they on honeymoon or something?

I was determined. I started calling to different rentals and finally picked Rent-a-Dent. $59 for one day, first 150 km for free and then 20c for every another kilometer driven. I got Honda Civic, automatic, which made the driving so much easier. I think the biggest problem for me with driving on the left side is changing gears at manual cars, because keeping left doesn’t cause any problems for me. It was always me as a passenger who noticed something was wrong when a driver (the German girl in Rotorua and Chilean B. once) started driving on the right side, usually at the end of the day, when they were tired. My mind is switched and I wonder how it will be driving back on the right side. 🙂

So I got to the Catlins!

Waipapa Point

Very far on the left is Slope Point. I didn’t know at that time that it’s the furthest south part of New Zealand. I passed it on my way to Curio Bay.

I actually didn’t know why I should look for Curio Bay and what was so special about that place. I just remembered that name from one of the brochures. I forgot to add that the road through the Catlins is good, but every time you wanted to derail and see something, you ended up on gravel for a couple kilometers there and back again. So I was looking for Curio Bay, passed an information board about some petrified forest and carried on. The road was getting worse, when I passed a gate with information that it was a private road and there were bad road conditions. I don’t know why I didn’t turn back, but kept going. After a couple turns I saw a car going from the other direction. An older man stopped and asked me what I was looking for. When I told him that Curio Bay, he said I had passed it and if I turn around, he’d show me the way, which wasn’t really complicated, I just didn’t know what I was looking for. He mentioned about going to a church, but I wasn’t sure if I heard him well.

When we were back on the better road, he stopped, opened a gate to some possession and when I stopped behind his car, he said that if I wanted, he could show me some fossils they had in their church. Not the fossils caught my attention, but the church thing. Paul showed me a big piece of stone tree. When I went to take photos of the Bay, he prepared coffee, tea and some biscuits.

Curio Bay, the view from the church

The church

We started talking about church, my visit in New Zealand, spiritual life, the Bible and God’s love. What an awful generalisation of one of the most memorable afternoons of my journey! Paul apologized for wearing gumboots and said that he was to meet a woman. She came by soon and we had so special time together. Before I left them, they had prayed for me and gave contact details asking to come back some day. If you happen to wonder around Curio Bay and need some help or just a good tea, you can always find it at Christian Community Centre. I understood then why I had to go to the Catlins…

Then I went to see Petrified Forest up close.

It was still the south of the Catlins and I had a lot to drive to get to the Nugget Point on the north and it was already about 3 or 4 pm, so I rushed on stopping by at Purakanui Falls (McLean Falls were recommended too, but I’d have to walk longer)

I passed Cathedral Caves, which were closed, because they’re too dangerous.

Owaka, the largest town in the Catlins, for a coffee and a nice chat at Lumberjack Tavern

And finally the Nigget Point!

On the way back from the lighthouse, I had a short stop by at a bay nearby to see yellow-eyed penguins coming out of the Ocean. There weren’t many as they are very private birds, as I learned later and there aren’t many of them in general. New Zealand is the only place where you can see them. If you visit Curio Bay in the evening, you may see them in the wild as well.

I didn’t want to go to Balclutha and I wanted to drive a different road, but I took a wrong turn left behind Kaka Point and went the same route back to Invercargill. Even though it was the same road, it looked different in the dark. The moon was shining like a stage lamp making the Ocean magical and I had to be careful not to smash any possums, rabbits or cats on the way. I got to the city after 11 pm, pretty tired but proud of myself and did a final victorious round around the streets of the “Arctic Centre”.

On WEDNESDAY I got stuck in Invercargill. I wanted to go to Dunedin, but there was only one InterCity bus from Invercargill to Dunedin and it was 8:45 a.m. Because I had to give the car back and the office was open at 9 a.m., I had to stay to finish the payment etc. I was thinking of hitchhiking again, but it was cloudy. I didn’t want to get wet and I wasn’t sure how fast I could catch a car with my big bag. So I took a day off, stayed in the hostel, relaxed, deleted some photos, did the laundry, had a nap, watched films and all that boring stuff. In the afternoon, when the weather got better, I went for a walk and took a couple photos, which you saw in the previous post.


MONDAY, 7th November

I came back to Invercargill by plane. But I wasn’t in a hurry, so I used my internet voucher first and then took the plane at 1:30 pm (the plane flies three times a day from Stewart Island to Invercargill).

A shuttle from Oban to the airport was included in the price of the ticket. It wasn’t that far and was very enjoyable. It was only me again taking the way back to the South Island.

It was my first time when I travelled that small plane. I immediately thought of Maggie O’Connell from Northern Exposure (anyone remembers that tv show?)

When everyone got off the plane and took their luggage, the pilot asked me a weird question where I wanted to go. I replied that Invercargill! He laughed and asked again where I wanted to sit. I did a mental head slap and thought I made a fool of myself again. I blame him, though, because he was tall, young and handsome. There was only me, so I could sit wherever I liked! Almost. I couldn’t sit next to him, but right behind him.

The weather was beautiful again. The take off was a little bit bumpy, but still amazing and once we were below the clouds, the rest of the flight was like sliding on butter.


Horseshoe Bay

Mount Anglem (979 m), the highest mountain on Stewart Island

the South Island

I don’t know why, but closer to the coast, the water rapidly changed its colour

Invercargill, the main roundabout

the Museum and Queens Park

the landing

In Invercargill, I took a long walk from the airport to the hostel. I didn’t want to spend money on taxi. It took me about 45 min, but I was more tired than after walking all day in Stewart Island. It was very hot and I needed some time to take a shower and rest when I finally got to the backpackers and picked up my bag. The hostel was cool, nice and empty. I thought it would be only me in my dorm room, but there was one Japanese when I came back from a walk around the city.

First, I went to see Burt Munro’s motorbikes.

Then I looked for an open café and found Zookeepers Café. Its climate reminded me Midnight Espresso, so I felt comfortable there right from the beginning. The coffee wasn’t as good as in Wellington, but good enough to put me back straight.

The last place I visited that day was Queens Park. The Museum next to the entry to the Park was closed, but I could see tuataras through the glass wall. I don’t know if it was 114 year old Henry, because there were a couple of tuataras there.

The Park was pretty and relaxing.


More animals, there was deer, picocks, sheep and ostrich

and wallabies!

In front of the Museum

When I came back to the backpackers, guess who I saw in the kitchen? D., my Italian friend! I was lucky. He was finishing cooking dinner and was about to throw some pasta to the boiling water, so he threw some more for me. I had unexpected Italian dinner and we could catch up on what we had been doing after we split up and he went with the Chileans to Dunedin and me to Stewart Island. 🙂

I’m posting some photos I took two days later in Invercargill too, for the sake of integrity.

Dee Street

Theatre and Town Hall

The sculpture which is actually a sundial. Can you see it?

Water Tower

You thought it was a real bird and a cat, didn’t you? I did at first.

from Invercargill to Stewart Island

SATURDAY, 5th November

I didn’t expect that! In the morning I was waken up by the hail fall.

That was my way to the bus stop.

Luckily, I could leave my big bag at the backpackers’ and pick it up when I return. It was a great solution, because 1) the weather was as you can see above and imagine me dragging my bag through that layer of hailstones and water; 2) I was going to Stewart Island by ferry, but I was planning to come back by plane where there was a 15 kg limit for the luggage.

I was a bit angry with myself that I had booked the ferry in Te Anau, not waiting to check out the connection once I get to Invercargill. Maybe they won’t tell you at the Visitor Centre, but the cheapest way to get to the Island and back is by plane. One way ferry ticket cost $69, but it’s from Bluff, so you can take a shuttle from Invercargill, which cost $23 or if you go by your car, you have to leave it at the car park in Bluff and pay about $5 or $7 for the first night and then I think $2 for every other night. So all in all, return trip is $182 if you take the coach! BUT you can call Stewart Island Flights one day before you want to fly there and ask about Standby Fare, which cost $70 one way and return $120. That’s $62 in your pocket! I didn’t know about that, so I could only safe $20 coming back to Invercargill by plane.

I packed my stuff in two small rucksacks, took the coach to Bluff (I was the only one on it) and boarded the ferry. It wasn’t large and I wasn’t the only one on it this time. I had been told that the crossing might be a rough ride and it was, but as long as I kept my eyes on the horizon, I was fine. One older lady got really sick.

Oban, the only town on Stewart Island, wasn’t big, but it had all that you needed.

Visitor Centre, ferry terminal

hotel, clothes shop, grocery store

Even though I arrived after 12 pm and had a lot of time, I wasn’t in the mood for tramping. It was cold outside and rained heavily every 20 minutes. I stayed at the Bunkers Backpackers with a warm living room and great selection of DVDs.

So most of that Saturday I stayed inside catching up on the Internet, which was free and watching films starting from “Boat that Rocked”, “Billy T Live” and then “Boy”. Betweet the films I just left the hostel to do some shopping and I had awesome blue cod with chips from Kai Kart.

I realized it was 5th November, Guy Fawkes Night, when I saw the bonfire through the window. When I got myself to go to the beach, it was much smaller than before.

from Te Anau to Invercargill

FRIDAY, 4th November

That was the day when my Chilean friends’ and my roads parted. I was on my own again.

We left rain and snow behind.

The closer the centre of the Island we were, the warmer it was. Gore was very sunny and hot when we arrived. B. took a short nap and was ready to drive for another couple hours to Dunedin after that. I decided to go further south, though, because I gained on time travelling by car and got to the bottom of the Island quicker than I had planned. I had time now to go to Invercargill and even Stewart Island!

They left me at the Visitor Centre at about 2 p.m. It was in the same building as the Museum. It was interesting to see skull and crossbones at the front of the building.

My bus was before 5 p.m., so after we had said goodbyes and gave hugs, I went to the Centre, left my luggage for safe keeping (free!) and then went to look for Green Room Café. It was on Irk Street next to the cinema. The coffee was good and the café was a cozy place which protected me from rain and cold which came about an hour later. It was blowing very cold arctic wind and I didn’t want to go to the bus stop.

My bus was late and it wasn’t just me who was freezing on the cold. I bought a pie to warm my hands up.

From Gore to Invercargill is just one hour. The weather wasn’t as bad as in Gore, so when I checked in at the Southern Comfort Backpackers (a VERY good one! Like home), I went to see if I can find any familiar places which I had seen in a facebook album of “Two Little Boys”, a new film by Robert Sarkies with Hamish Blake and Bret McKenzie. And I think I found something!

In the evening, I watched “The World’s Fastest Indian” about Burt Munro and his motorbike. He was from Invercargill and you can see the motor at E. Hayes & Sons Ltd, one of the hardware shops. I didn’t go to see it, because it was too late and the shop was closed.

I really admired Burt’s determination to persue his dreams.