L: I have to see penguins!
A: You didn’t know penguins were here 4 hours ago and now you have to see penguins?
L: I have to see penguins!
We are in Duneden, it is beautiful, but there isn’t too much going on here as far as tourist attractions. But then they discovered that they have penguins. Penguins who only come out of the water at sunset after a long day of fishing, and only really come out at a specific beach, where you can rope off the area and charge people to enter to see these cute little critters. Enter the entrepreneurial New Zealander. “Penguins, get your penguins here, penguins, only $55 per person!”. Technically the tour included royal albatrosses and penguins, but nobody really knows what the hell an albatross is, so the penguin is really the money maker in this situation.
Have I mentioned that I am a cheapskate? There is no way in hell that I am paying $55 per person to see some damn penguins, no matter how cute they are. But, Leslie, she likes her birds. She has been able to keep her interest confined to nocturnal birds (search the website for posts about Osmond) but now she is branching out to sea birds.
A: we can stay in a campsite tomorrow where it says that penguins walk right thru the site.
L: But there was a local guy who told us to go to Murdering Beach and that there are penguins there
A: That is an hour away in the wrong direction and penguins happen at sunset, so night.
We grab some dinner, venison steaks and seafood chowder, at a really nice little old restaurant in walking distance from our campsite.
As we are a couple hours out from sunset we load up the car and head out for the long drive to the alleged beach where there are penguins and no tourists. The drive is absolutely beautiful. The road down to the beach is dirt and is extremely steep. Despite being in first gear Leslie has to ride the brakes the whole way down the hill. We walk out on to the beach and watch some surfers catching waves that make me jealous even though I am not a surfer. We sit down on the beach and unwrap a Whitakers chocolate bar and wait patiently for sunset and our free penguins. The sun sets, the beach remains beautiful, but there are no free penguins crawling up the beach as it gets dark enough that we wouldn’t be able to see anything anyway. No free penguins to be had, we just wasted a couple hours sitting on a beautiful beach for nothing. The sand squeaked beneath our feet when we walk though, so that was different.
L: We didn’t see penguins….
A: At the campsite tomorrow, and if not then we can buy the damn penguin tour.
Wake up at the crack of 9 o’clock and struggle to get out of the campsite by the 10 AM deadline. We skip breakfast because we are so slow, opting to go into downtown Dunedin take Sister Mary Francis to a car wash and get a brunch. This is a good idea in theory, but we had coffee and no food, and we both get a little hangry. Hangry combined with caffeine and downtown traffic and we are yelling at each other about parking strategy by the time we reach our destination.
Finally, we have food in us and start the drive up to Oamaru. Oamaru is home to a colony of little blue penguins and there we are hoping to find ourselves some penguins. We settle in a little campsite near the harbor and near the penguin facility. This penguin facility, which offers stadium seating to a couple hundred people to watch the penguins emerge from the water and walk up the beach for a mere $30 per person. Ugh, I hope I can find some free penguins for Leslie, but at least I am down to $60 out of pocket.
Oamaru is also the steam punk capital of the world, and there is an awesome steam punk style park with deadly attractions that would only cause fatalities and lawsuits in the US. Leslie and I take a spin the giant hamster wheel, the zip line and a giant slide that warns of steep drop-offs. Finally, a few spins on a giant steel merry-go-round before we stagger off in search of the brewery we saw on the way in.
We are quickly distracted by an establishment proffering whiskey and we settle in to a tasting tray of some fine NZ whiskey. As we are drinking, we start talking with another couple of locals they tell us that we have to go to a place 30 minutes back the way we came and there we will find some of the extremely rare (like only 4000 left in the world) yellow eyed penguins where we don’t have to pay for them. So, now we have a backup penguin peeping plan.
When the owner of the whiskey tasting establishment shuffles us out the door well after closing time, we head back to the camp site to make some dinner and settle in to await the penguins arrival. There is a stream of people heading over to the paid penguin facility and I am hoping that I will be laughing at them as the free penguins walk past me while I sit in the comfort of my chair with a warm mug of tea in hand.
An hour later as everyone is returning from seeing the penguins, I am starting to worry as my free penguins did not show up at sunset and it is now well past the window described by the all-knowing internet. But patience has its rewards. We stay up and about 10 minutes after everyone walked past and the sidewalk was clear two little penguins hopped into the circle of the streetlight. They were followed by two more and they slowly make their cute penguin waddle over to us. Penguins!
After going to bed riding our penguin high, we wake up refreshed in the morning to track down some yellow eyed penguins at the place the locals told us about. Back down the road, past the restaurant, and then down the dirt road to a light house. We walk down the trail and see birds, baby seals lounging in the sand, giant seagulls, a lot of rabbits.... and then there they are, penguins! They are adorable, if lazy. Sunning and preening themselves, lying down, standing up, just being adorable. We just sit there all by ourselves, no stadium seating, and watch them be cute and listen to the heavy surf crashing into the rocks below.
We explore the nearby area, enjoying a fresh fish lunch and climbing on strangely perfect spherical boulders.
We eventually find the Brewery we saw on the way in, enjoyed a pizza, raspberry cider, beer, and the company of some intriguing locals.
Leslie is riding a wave of penguin bliss, two different kinds of penguin and all of them jaw droppingly cute. I am happy that she got her penguins and I am not out any beer money units besides those I willingly placed in the container at the trailhead used to protect the penguins. Now, I can start to look forward to the next leg of our journey, Mt. Cook, the tallest peak in NZ.