New Zealand Part 13: Otago Peninsula

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While in Dunedin my daughter, Halley, and I allowed a day for a series of excursions on the Otago Peninsula. This is a large strip of land, about 12 miles long, that reaches out from Dunedin into the Pacific. Our guide picked us up at our hotel after breakfast and it was non-stop after that!.

The first destination on the agenda was Larnach Castle.

Larnach Castle

Larnach Castle

The original family no longer owns this Victorian house,  and our guide told a great story about the saga of the Larnachs.  I won’t relate it here. It’s full of wealth, love, tragedy, and all that sort of thing. The house is huge and cost a fortune. It’s also far from Dunedin so there wasn’t much social life for the women folk of the Larnach clan.  Still, Papa Larnach stuck it out for many years.

Larnach Castle

Larnach Castle

Our tour wound through the rooms and even up to the roof. What a great view!

The Barker family purchased the house in the 1960s and Margaret Barker has been instrumental in restoring the garden.

Gardens at Larnach Castle on Otago Peninsula

Gardens at Larnach Castle on Otago Peninsula

We didn’t have time to see much of it. I’m sure it would have been a wonderful experience in the spring.  Mrs. Barker is known for her Alice in Wonderland references.  Be on the lookout for them.

We soon were on our way again. While our original bus-mates went off to some other event, Halley and I transferred to a new bus. We were heading all the way out to Taiaroa Head and the Royal Albatross Centre, known for its Royal Albatross nests. A couple things to note about this place. It’s at the end of the peninsula, so a bit of a drive from Dunedin. It’s also breezy and could be chilly. The bunkers are uphill, and while this is a paved walk, it is a bit steep.

Path up to viewing bunker at Royal Albatross Centre

Path up to viewing bunker at Royal Albatross Centre

There is also no guarantee that you will see nesting birds. You have to be very quiet. Not a peep! (Was that a pun?) Alas, we didn’t see a single albatross nest from our bunker.

There is a cafe on site so we had lunch and watched the gulls. We also had time to visit the cliff-edge.  It’s a beautiful spot.

Taiaroa Head near the Royal Albatross Center

Taiaroa Head near the Royal Albatross Centre

Our guide returned and we scrambled onto the bus. Not only were we going to see the Yellow-eyed penguin but we succeeded!  (I thought I would mention that up front.) Once again, we kept out of sight in trenches and bunkers so that we could observe the nesting penguins. We heard all the latest gossip about a pair called Maggie and Jim.

Yellow-eyed penguin nests

Yellow-eyed penguin nests. I think that’s Maggie!

However, the best thing was watching the ocean for a penguin swimming into shore, not as easy as it sounds.  The yellow-eyed penguin is about 2-feet tall (long?) and the ocean is big!  The penguin zig-zagged in to avoid predators and finally waded out onto the beach.

A tiny penguin on a big landscape

A tiny penguin on a big landscape

The above image gives you some idea of size and our distance from the water.  It also tells you something about the determination of the penguin!  We watched as he kept walking until he was waddling along a trail not far from us. Halley managed to get a good shot.

Yellow-eyed penguin just back from the ocean.

Yellow-eyed penguin just back from the ocean. Photo by Halley Sanchez

Our day wasn’t over. Our last adventure was by boat as we boarded the Monarch and headed out to sea. We had no trouble seeing birds out there. Countless albatross—Northern Royal, Southern Royal, Buller’s and others swooped and dived in front of us.   In the photo below, it’s hard to tell just how large these birds are.  They aren’t like seagulls.   Their wingspan is about ten feet across!  A Canadian Goose has a span of about five feet, if that helps any.

Northern Royal Albatross...I think

Northern Royal Albatross…I think

We also saw petrels. I couldn’t keep the birds straight. Thank goodness for the crew! My takeaway? Come prepared with the right gear if you want to get some good photos. Next time I’ll consider a second lens!

We managed to see about every possible type of albatross and petrel.  At the end of the day, we relaxed with hot chocolate as our boat cruised back along the inlet all the way to Dunedin where the bus was waiting to take us back to the hotel.  It was a perfect day.  And I highly recommend Otago Peninsula.


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