Sunday, January 29th, 2023

Distance travelled 307 kilometres

We had quite a long way to go, so we packed and left quite early. As soon as we left the shelter of the motel parking area, I immediately became aware, once again, of the strength of the gusting wind. We traversed Dunedin without ever actually coming to a halt. The almost non-existent traffic, that early on a Sunday morning, allowed me to catch the “wave” of the green traffic lights and whilst not that rapid, our progress was smooth and easy. We left the city for the coastal highway, which was our old friend the SH1 *. As we climbed to the hills above (Baldwin Street may be steep, but so is the main road out of town), the odometer on the Harley clicked over the 5,000 kilometres mark. Our time in Auckland seemed a very long way away, in all respects.

* For the sake of political correctness, I should perhaps point out that other highways are available.

We headed north, still hugging the coast. The wind was even stronger at elevation, but not to the extent of needing anything else but a bit of care. The countryside through which we passed was very reminiscent of parts of Scotland, green and hilly with a hint, here and there, of rocky toughness. No wonder so many people from Scotland came to this part of New Zealand and stayed there. It was a reminiscent of the highlands, but with the odd bit of tropical vegetation.

After one short stop for coffees and to fill up the Softail, we arrived at our first planned stop of the day, the Moeraki Boulders. These are clearly signposted on the highway between Moeraki and Hampden. We parked in one of the two parking lots, which, as it turned out, was the one where the café was not.

We walked along the beach and looked at the huge and very round boulders. Their arrangement made it look almost as if someone had deliberately and carefully planted them where they were. 

The reality is almost stranger. The boulders were exposed, by coastal erosion, from Paleocene era mud. They are mostly spherical, but some are slightly oval and the larger ones have a diameter of two metres. They grew via a complicated chemical process that not even Dr Perry quite understood and, if you are really interested (and have a degree in chemistry or geology) you can look up exactly how this occurred on good, old Wikipedia. Suffice it to say it took them between 4 to 5.5 million years to form and, while they were on the seabed, between ten and fifty metres of sea mud accumulated above them.

The café was conveniently situated above the boulders, so we had breakfast there (bacon and egg panini and carrot-cake).

Then we walked back along the beach, where we collected some mussel and clam shells for our “memory” jar at home. I sometimes think that rising sea levels are mainly down to the huge amount of stuff that Lucie has transferred from the various beaches of the world to a glass jar in our bathroom.

The next stop we made was quite curious because it was not planned at all. As we passed through the town of Oamaru, that was just one of many towns along the way, we noticed a sign for a colony of penguins. A quick discussion, and we quickly agreed that we had enough time. so why not ….

At the first corner we saw a few things at once – a steampunk building (“Steampunk HQ“), a steam locomotive running back and forth, and a level-crossing, but, of course, no signs about penguins. I stopped beside the road while Lucie got off to photograph the Steampunk exhibits (if that was the word for them).

When she returned, she asked a “local” who she luckily located at the first try (it was Sunday noon, various steampunk festivities were going on and there were a lot of milling people and attractions everywhere). He advised us where to look and, we easily located the pier, right in the harbour, where hundreds of birds were nesting. The stench was simply dreadful. If the wind had been in the right direction, we would not have needed to ask where it was, that much is for certain. As ever, we were not allowed too close and, as we took pictures, I suggested to Lucie that the birds actually looked more like cormorants than penguins.

As we debated this, a lady stopped and we saw she was a Nature Warden. She was probably a volunteer at the “real” penguin centre which was just down the road and which we would have missed had she not spoken to us. The birds on the pier, she informed us, were, in fact, a colony of the very rare Otago Shag. She was a mine of information and happy to share it. Just along the bay WAS a Blue Penguin colony, but an “artificial” one. The birds nested in pre-prepared burrows behind a safety fence. She assured us there were chicks, but we would not see them because they hide in the burrows from predatory gulls. The parents go out to sea to fish, returning only at night. She advised us to go along and have a look, on the off chance a parent might appear early and, if one did not, we would, in any case probably see some Fur Seals that usually gathered in the bay. It is possible that she sensed our disappointment, or maybe we looked trustworthy. Almost conspiratorially, she mentioned that just along the coast, there was a colony of Yellow-Eyed Penguins on a secluded beach. She added that the chicks were at the stage of moulting their down for their adult feathers and could not go into the water. Then she smiled, wished us a good day and walked on to impart her knowledge (although maybe not all of it), elsewhere.

So first, we went to look at the Fur Seals and the little, man-made burrows where the Blue Penguin chicks lay in safety, but out of sight. Of course we saw no adults. There were seals though, basking in the sun behind the safety fence. Our Fur Seal “count” certainly rose a lot.

Then it was back onto the Softail for a short ride around the coast to the second bay. We parked and followed the signs to the Hide for monitoring penguins, but we easily saw the colony before we got there. In addition, about eight Fur Seals were spread along the length of the beach, raising our “count” still further.

There was a sign, above the path down to the beach, that said it was closed from the early evening until the morning. This was to allow the very shy adult Yellow-Eyes to come and go with food for the chicks. But it was around two in the afternoon, so we quietly made our way down to the beach. Before we got there, a few seals disappeared, more precisely, those closest to the stairs. Maybe we were not as quiet as we had thought. One seal was laying undisturbed between us and the colony as we carefully advanced towards the penguins. It knew we were there, but did not seem to care. I probably came within about three metres, of it and all it did was to show off a little, as if for a photo shoot. It scratched its fins and, at one point, it looked straight into the camera, whilst sitting practically at my feet. Perhaps, this was not the first time that seal had encountered humans.

The penguin chicks were also calm, but they were watching us closely. We inspected them, as promised, from a respectful distance. In truth, given the terrible stench of the colony despite the wind, that was probably the best place to be anyway ! We took some photos and mentally thanked the lady warden from the bottoms of our hearts for trusting us enough to send us there. It was one of the top “moments” of the whole trip.

After that wonderful but unexpected interlude, we went on up the coast and stopped where we had originally planned to, at a bridge over the delta of the Waitaki River. I found a few blackberries, which were very nice.

Then, after a slight SatNav “hesitation” at St. Andrews, we turned away from the coast onto the rural road towards a town called Gorge.

This way led across the plain, with the small road leading to the mountains running along the Pareora River valley before climbing, through yet more beautiful scenery, until we finally connected with the SH 8 Highway.

At one point, we encountered yet another stretch of gravel where resealing work was in progress (or, rather, not in progress, it was a Sunday). Luckily, it already had quite a firm base and, although we had to slow down, we scarcely noticed it.

Again, I just have to remark upon the grandeur of the scenery as we climbed into the foothills of the Southern Alps. The beauty of the distant rocky mountains, snow-capped in places and with the characteristic “long white cloud” (which gives New Zealand its name Aotearoa (the land of the long white cloud) in the Maori language) stretching along the peaks for the whole breadth of my eye-line.

The green of the grass, the more parched stretches in places ….

….. and, when we finally came to it, the almost implausible blue of the waters of Lake Tekapo itself.

As we finally approached our destination, in Lake Tekapo, we stopped to put in the address of the accommodation. No joy ! When we finally reached it, it was on a development so new that the SatNav did not know about it. We were staying at Sky Rim Lodge 11 (11 Jimmys Lane, Tekapo). I have not missed an apostrophe there – they hardly seem to bother with them in New Zealand !) Note they are still constructing another Sky Rim Lodge next door.

The only instruction we had received was that we MUST check in between 15:00 and 18:00, so we thought that someone would be waiting to admit us. But no one was. In the end, we understood from some not terribly clear instructions on the door that it must be a self-check-in, requiring a code number. This, quite naturally, had been sent to Lucie’s email after we had left Dunedin. Even when we found the code, gaining admittance was not easy because first we had to activate the lock by inserting a random two-digit code. This could be activated on the screen, but was almost impossible to see in the glaring sun. Novelties like that were NOT something that we needed

Overall, the accommodation was very “designer” but, somehow not thought through properly ! There was coffee and tea, but for the first time on this trip, no milk in the fridge – and the town is a couple of kilometres away. The bathroom was modern, but insufficiently lit unless its infra-red heating lights were on, which was not very eco friendly and, to cap it all, I banged my head on a weirdly placed cabinet above the sink in the first minutes of the stay. The views would be great, but other properties are crammed in everywhere and there is little in the way of privacy. There ! That has got all of that out !!!

We went into the village to buy milk and to eat. We also bought some cheeses, because we both remembered that we had not had any good cheese for three weeks. The ATM, which we needed to visit in order to get some cash, was out of service. We feared we would soon be reduced to paying, rather expensively, with our cards !

Up close and on foot, Lake Tekapo and its surrounding hills looked almost unreal. The stunning, perfection of the view seemed more like a heavily stylised painting or cinematic backdrop than anything I have ever seen. I am sure that people will think these photos from there have been photo-shopped – but I assure you, there was no need. It was just breathtaking (THERE ! I said it yet again !), which is not unusual here at all.

In the gift shop we bought a Christmas decoration for our tree, rather appropriately a penguin. We also stopped at Dark Sky Project (1 Motuariki Lane, Lake Tekapo) to confirm our reservation for the next day and to ask how we would find out if our excursion would not be taking place because of the weather. For the last few days, Lucie had been watching predictions which, fortunately, were gradually changing away from the near certainty of terrible rain for the better scenario which was the possibility of terrible rain. The staff at the Project were “carefully optimistic”. It seemed that the actions of the weather rarely disturbed the tours. We would still have changed to that evening, because the sky was totally clear, but the only spaces were on a tour with a Mandarin commentary …. We would have to wait and see.

For dinner we went to MacKenzie’s (State Highway 8, Tekapo), one of the only four (!!!!) open restaurants that was neither Indian, Chinese or a Fish & Chip shop. For a meat free change, we both had falafel, which was very tasty

and then sticky date puddings that were so good we knew they must be BAD for us !

As I was not driving, I had a cider, from the Monteith Brewery to drink. Strangely, this was a clear white and not a golden colour, it looked like sparkling water. When I remarked upon this, I was treated to an in-depth, scientific explanation of why this was (in a word, the golden colour comes from “oxidation” of minute apple particles in suspension). But it was definitely a cider and quite a good one too.

Tired from all our exertions, we went home relatively early. We worked for a while on our journals and ate some of our cheese supplies. Then we both went to bed, also quite early and slept until morning. The bed, by the way, for all my other reservations about the apartment, was VERY comfortable !