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New Zealand - The Catlins and Otago Penisular

The weather having settled, we left Stewart Island and returned to the South Island. Following a brief stop in Invercargill, we headed for the Catlins and Dunedin.

The Catlins is a rugged, somewhat remote coastal area, with plenty of wildlife. We took a walk on the beach at Waipapa Point Lighthouse, watching a big male fur seal come ashore and move amongst the rock pools. A short distance away we found sea lions sleeping on the beach.

This south east area also has a high density of sheep farms. I know very little about sheep, although I've wrestled a few in the past, whilst helping a friend on a shearing day. Back to the point - we were driving along and as it was spring, the fields were full of heavily pregnant ewes and a scattering of new born lambs. Suddenly, Rachel shouted, 'Stop! We need to go back - there's a cast sheep back there'. I stopped quickly, while Rachel explained what 'cast' meant. Basically, when heavily pregnant and super woolly (of course), a ewe can roll over on to its back and not be able to right itself. Not dealt with quickly, this can kill the animal. I have no idea where she acquired this knowledge...she owns wellies, but I've never caught her reading Farmers Weekly.

We returned to the field, where we saw a ewe on her back with legs sticking straight up, not moving. I was despatched into the field and hopped over the fence. As I approached, I could see she was still alive and trying to move. In sheep thought, probably feeling vulnerable and worried I might be wearing wellies and velcro gloves. She was safe, I only lived in Wales for 5 years.... Surprisingly easy to flip upright, she headed off fairly swiftly, when I spotted another upside-down ewe by the fence, wriggling furiously. I gave her a flip and left the field sharpish... The rest of the journey we had eyes on stalks, worried there might be another ewe in distress out there, somewhere.

Further along the coast we found Slope Point. We thought we'd been to the South Island's most southerly point when we stood at Bluff, but no - it turns out this is the closest place to Antarctica on the South Island. So, time to jump out the van and take another walk.

We camped the night at Curio Bay where the endangered Yellow-eyed penguins (Hoihos) come ashore. Porpoise Bay, next door, is also a nesting site for Blue penguins and a place to spot Hector's dolphins (in summer). We were out of luck on the wildlife front, but as it was low-tide, we were able to walk through the 180 million year old petrified forest that has been preserved in the rocks at Curio Bay.

The following day, at Ahuriri Flat, we found Nugget Point Lighthouse, with spectacular views from the scenic path out to the headland. Rachel likes to take the van to all accessible lighthouses on account of the fact that, prior to our ownership, it was owned by Trinity House - the UK's General Lighthouse Authority. I guess for the van, it's a bit of a busman's holiday!

After arriving at Dunedin, we visited the Royal Albatross colony on the Otago Peninsular at Fort Taiaroa, This is the world's only mainland Royal Albatross colony. From the hides, we watched the chicks (fully grown), which were about to fledge. These birds are huge. There are no practice flights for them. Once they decide to take off, that is it. They run, flap and launch off the cliff. There are two possible results: 1. Drop straight in the sea; or 2. Fly away and not touch land or return for four years. The first would likely be fatal, but for the Royal Albatross Centre staff, who have a rescue launch on stand-by.

This was a great place to visit and the bonus was a separate little tour to see the Armstrong Disappearing Gun installed in 1889. Fort Taiaroa was built in 1885 in response to a perceived threat of Russian invasion. Our guide from Croatia was extremely informative and I'm fairly certain the gun is still in full firing order.

We later visited the nearby Blue Penguin Colony at Pukekura. Standing on a viewing platform just above the beach, we watched rafts of blue penguins returning to their nesting sites at dusk. Super entertaining viewing.

In 1994, we had visited a penguin colony whilst near Dunedin. We couldn't remember where it was, but when we went on another tour at Penguin Place, we recognised the distinctive tunnel/hide system. There we saw Yellow-eyed penguins, Blue penguins and fur seals.

On another day, we visited Sandfly Beach. Access to the beach was via a steep track, crossing soft sand dunes. On the beach we found lots of sea lions sleeping on the beach.

Aside from the tours, we wandered Dunedin, visiting the historic buildings, including the university and old train station. There was also a drive up/down the world's steepest residential street, Baldwin Street.


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