Penguins, Albatross, Gardens, and The 111 Call

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March 7th 2015
Published: March 7th 2015
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The past two days of our trip have been very different than the first 2.5 weeks. The first part was very active, hiking, kayaking, and exploring remote locations nearly every day. Now we are making our way up the more populated east coast of the South Island, spending more time with the city dwellers. It's a weird feeling!

Yesterday was a day spent focusing on penguins! It was a bit of a rainy and cool day, but the penguins' daily activities don't change on rainy days, so we were out and about with them. We went out in the afternoon to Penguin Place, a yellow eyed penguin reserve on the Otago Peninsula outside the city of Dunedin. In a nutshell, a man bought a 1000 acre sheep and cattle farm on the Otago Peninsula years ago, and was bothered by the loss of the yellow eyed penguins on his coastal frontage to predators and loss of habitat. He decided to set aside 100 of those acres to reestablish native plants and eliminate those predators (predators that are non-native to NZ that were brought in by Europeans) to attempt to grow the endangered yellow eyed penguin population. Long story short, his plan was successful, and now donations and tours of the site fully fund the conservation effort and their numbers are holding steady in the area. He even has a penguin hospital where he works with the NZ Department of Conservation to rehab penguins that have been injured by barracuda and other vicious sea creatures. It was really neat to see the Penguins going about their normal business through a system of hides he built here and there on the property. The Penguins are molting right now, so they are shore-bound. They didn't know we were watching them and it was so neat to see them doing what they do all day - which really isn't much right now. They are such interesting creatures, though!

The Little Blue Penguins, on the other hand, are quite busy now. They are the smallest penguins in the world, sizing up at a whopping 13 inches tall. So tiny and cute! They spend their days right now swimming up to 50km a day fishing in the ocean before coming home to nest just after sunset. We saw them last night, and it is so, so, so cool to see them body surfing onto the beach from the sea in "rafts" (groups). As your eyes adjust to the darkness, you learn to spot them as they are just offshore. Then, you see a wave just full of them, dumping them onto the beach, where they clamber to their feet and waddle up over the rocks and into their nests in the grass. It seriously brought tears to my eyes to see them for the first time. It was just so incredibly cool. Our world is amazing!

Adding to the coolness factor, we had a lite dinner at a cafe last night where windows overlooked a Royal Albatross colony. Since the winds on the peninsula were nearing 100kph (60ish mph) yesterday, the giant albatross were flying high. Their gracefulness, and their wingspan, amazed me.

All of this fun yesterday happened after we made a 111 (911) call from the road when we spotted an unconscious man lying next to his four wheeler half on the shoulder, half in the travel lane on the other side of the road. Aaron stopped the car and made the call while I sprinted back down to road to get to him and help. When I got to him he was completely unconscious, bleeding from several places on his head, and the machine was still on. I turned it off and tried talking to him while another guy pulled over to help. He was still unconscious at this point. He woke up shortly after the other man's arrival. Long story short, despite being injured and drunk (!), the local guy lifted him back onto the four wheeler and sent him on his way. I was protesting the decision the entire time - the guy needed medical help, and he had no business being on the road drunk. Omg. But being a tourist in this situation, I was hesitant to argue too much without police assistance. The local guy then quickly hopped in his van and sped away while a highway worker stopped and helped Aaron and I with the report we were making over the phone. Classic case of a "friend" covering for a "friend". I wish I could go back in time and take the keys out of the ignition, but we did the best we could in the moment. The whole thing was complicated by the fact that the 111 call center is in Christchurch - about 5 hours from where we were at the time. They had no idea where we were, and being tourists we had a limited ability to describe our location in detail. Thankful for the highway worker's assistance. I just hope everyone made it home okay yesterday - including the other drivers on the road. Interestingly enough, we had stopped for lunch at a coffee shop just before that happened, and the paper I was reading had a Voltaire quote as the quote of the day, "Common sense is not so common". Fitting, don't you think?

Today was a bit more low-key. We arrived in Oamaru around noon, after stopping on a beach on the way here from Dunedin to see mysterious perfectly round boulders. May not sound that interesting, but having never seen anything like it before, it was pretty neat. So many questions remain unanswered in the natural world! The campground we are at here sits right in front of a classic English garden. We walked all through this beautiful garden today and into town, where we watched a movie, ate at a delicious little cafe, and walked through the historic Victorian district. A relaxing, rainy and cloudy day.

Tomorrow we are off to Christchurch. Our last stop in this beautiful country. How can that be? It's amazing how three weeks can fly by when you are having fun.


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