Day 21 - Dunedin & Penguins

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December 9th 2013
Published: December 14th 2013
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Monday 9th December, 2013. Dunedin and Penguins

Dunedin is Gaelic for "Edinburgh of the South" and was originally setlled by the Scots in 1848. It is the furthest city away from London in the world - 19,100 km (11,870 miles). It has a population of about 120,00 people. Apologies for this longer than normal blog - we did a hell of a lot today.

After breakfast we set off an a self-guided city tour of the city. Our first stop was St Paul's Anglican Cathedral. The cathedral is built in a West to East direction instead of the traditional East to West due to the lie of the hill. The building has many beautiful stained glass windows but the largest is The War Memorial Window which is located above the Great Door. This window honours all those from Otago and Southland who lost their lives in The Great War. The main part of the building was dedicated in 1919 but the chancel was not completed due to lack of funds. A "temporary" chancel was built at the West End - and it was to remain temporary for another 50 years!. It was then realised that the original design with a tall tower would never be achieved (too expensive) and the modern chancel and sanctuary that exist today were added. It was quite odd walking through a very traditional cathedral to find an extremely modern chancel at one end - made it all the more interesting though. The cathedral was broadcasting live the memorial service for Nelson Mandela and the volume was extremely high. There were interviews with people who knew him relating fond memories with much laughter. A lot of the foreign tourists visiting the cathedral had very confused looks on their faces - we don't think they knew what the hell was going on.

We exited the Cathedral and went across to the Municipal Chambers built 1878-1880. Making use of the Octagon to frame its impressive tower, the building was designed in the Italian Renaissance Style by Scottish Architect Robert Lawson. It is made of Oamaru (we are going there tomorrow) Limestone. It was finally linked to the Town Hall in 1930 and the latest restoration was carried out in 1990. We crossed the road and took a photo of the statue of Robert Burns which was covered in bird sh1t. All of the sites mentioned so far are located in the Octagon which marks the city centre. At the moment it is decorated with a huge Christmas tree so we took a photo on the way to the Regents Theatre which is built in the Art Deco Style. We took a quick look at the first church that was built in the city and walked past the Social Security Building and the Otago Daily Times Building (both Art Deco) on our way to the railway station.

The railway station is a truly fantastic building standing on the edge of ANZAC Square. Tourist trains still run from here and there is a JA 1724 Steam Engine outside covered by glass. It is one of NZ's most famous historic buildings, opened in 1906 designed by NZ Railway Architect George Troop. It is built in Oamaru Limestone and Central Otago Blue Stone with polished Aberdeen Granite Columns. The Clock Tower is decorated with carved lions and the roof is covered in Marseille Clay tiles from France. The interior of the building is staggeringly beautiful with decorated tiles and wrought iron balustrades. The floor is made of 750 thousand Royal Doulton porcelain mosaic tiles depicting images of steam trains and rolling stock. It also has two beautiful stained glass windows on the mezzanine balcony. We went onto the platform and took some pictures. We both agreed it was a remarkable building and well worth the visit.

After leaving the station we passed the Chinese Garden and strolled down to the Otago Settlers Museum. This museum is located in an ultra-modern building in contrast to the station. This is reputed to be NZ's most modern and innovative museum of social history. We loved it! The museum had many different rooms taking you through the history of Otago from the Maoris to the present day. There were exhibits on European settlement and logging. The museum walked you through the exhibits chronologically. The exhibit on the journey in steerage from the UK was facinating with a mock up of the ship's passenger quarters. As we walked through the different rooms we moved forward in time with stage coaches, then trams, then cars. Household items were also represented including early microwave ovens, TV's, fridges, VCR's and washing machines. It was fab. M even had a go on a space invaders arcade game and rode a penny farthing.

We had a lunch of Mc Donalds (got some more free salt, pepper and ketchup) as we may not eat later due to the penguin trips. We went back to the YH and M had a rest while D went to visit Olveston House and to stroll around the city some more. He took some photos of the Knights of St John building which was in the process of being earthquake proofed. Our first penguin appointment was at 6.45 so we left the YH about 5pm in order to finish the rest of the Otago Peninsula Heritage trail which we had started yesterday. Our first stop was the historic Polish Church at Broad Bay. It was moved here from Waihola due to falling church membership in 1859, athough the original church was opened 50 years earlier. During the move the church bellwas lost but it was recoved in 2003, restored and donated to the church.

The last item on the Otago Heritage Trail was Otakou Marae. Prior to the arrival of European settlers, the place was a prominent Maori settlement, and it is still the site of Otago's most important marae (communal and religious place). By the early 19th century, the three Maori otago tribes had blended into a single tribal entity. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed nearby in 1840 on the H.M.S Herald by two important chiefs, who were descended from all three tribes. Otakou remains an important centre of Ngai Tahu life. The carved gate posts here are the only authentic ones outside of museums.

Heritage Trail completed, it was time to continue our quest to see the rare Yellow-Eyed Penguins (YEPs). We had chosen to book a tour at the Penguin Place on the Otago Peninsula. This is a working conservation program that would allow us access to see the wild pengins at close range through a unique system of trenches and hides. These trenches had all been built by hand while the birds were at sea feeding. There were 5 of us on this, the last tour of the day. We were taken by bus across the headland by bus to the Penguin Beach. This is not a private beach (no beaches in NZ are) but is is only accessible by the farm that owns the land (and runs the Penguin Place) and by sea. This means the birds are rarely disturbed and can go about their daily business. We were given a short talk by Julia, our guide, who explained that all but one of this year's chicks had died of starvation. Nobody knows why this has happened as many of the penguin pairs are experienced parents. Julia said it was the same story all the way down the coast.

First we saw a couple of juvenilles - apparently you can tell this as they do not get the yellow eyeliner around their yellow eyes until after the first molt. They have to molt every year as their feathers do not stay waterproof indefinitely and they need to replace them with new ones. Then we found some adult birds and Julia asked M if she could read the tag on one of them with her binoculars. She could, and we established his name was Todd - a ten year old hatched here in 2002/3. Once we had his information it was amazing what we could find out about him. He was 'married' to Tash from 2005 to 2010. The first year they were together they had one egg and managed to raise one healthy chick, year 2 - two eggs (1 chick raised, one dead),
85. M within Spitting Distance of a YEP85. M within Spitting Distance of a YEP85. M within Spitting Distance of a YEP

M is the cat that has got the cream. This YEP spent 3 months in the Penguin Hospital so is not very people shy and you can get quite close.
year 3 - two eggs (both chicks died age 7 days), year 4 - two eggs (both chicks died age 13 days), year 5 - 2 eggs (both chicks died age 14 days). After this unsuccessful breeding with Tash, Todd divorced her and got together with Geri. In 2011/2012 Geri laid two eggs (both chicks were raised successfully). So Todd is a 4 x dad (still got two to go to beat D!!). Last year he was loafing around as Geri has disappeared. He is still doing the same this year! We had, at last, managed to get close to the YEP's - so close in fact that we "could see the yellows of their eyes"!!!

We saw a couple of seals and one nesting blue penguin. We then went through the tunnel system to see the pair with the only living chick (called Lyn and Clive - they all have names). This pair have been together for a number of years but are not the most experienced parents in the colony. Still, they are the only ones with a living chick. There were 22 nests in the colony at the start of the season. On average the females lay 2 eggs. All hatched but now there is only one chick left alive. A bad year for this endangered species of penguin where mainland colonies can only be found in certain parts of the South Island of NZ. This species of penguin is endangered, with an estimated population of 4000. It is considered one of the world's rarest penguin species. The main threats include habitat degradation and introduced predators. It may be the most ancient of all living penguins. We feel really privileged to have seen them at such close quarters in their native habitat. After the bus ride back Julia took us to the Penguin Hospital located at the Penguin Place. They had 3 patients. One underweight, one with a bad foot and one with an eye infection. Julia explained that you could not see these YEPs in captivity as they cannot be tamed. In the hospital here they have to force feed them until they are well enough to return to the wild. It is the same for the starved chicks. The parents produce a kind of mash which they regurgitate to feed the chicks when they are young. Humans have not been able to reproduce this "mash".

A joyous M (and a relieved D) left the Penguin Place to return to the Royal Albatross Centre. We were booked on the only tour of the day to see the blue penguins return to shore to join their mates and feed their chicks. We were given a short talk on what we could and couldn't do and taken down to a deck that had been built above the beach. We had to look out for "rafts" of these (the smallest of all the penguins) as they came ashore. The water was perfectly still and we could clearly see the little creatures leaping out of the water as they headed for land. They came ashore right in front of the platform, spread their wings to dry off, and then started towards their mates who were already calling for them. They walked right in front of us and under the deck we were standing on. They only come ashore at dusk for protection against predators so the lights provided by the deck were fantastic. We weren't allowed to use flash photography but it was wonderful to watch. It was fantastic to hear the penguins call jubilantly to their mates as they came ashore.

We drove back to the YH and had toasted sandwiches for tea before slumping into bed exhausted. A fantastic day!

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