Around Dunedin (part 1)

Our dog/house sitting gig is now about halfway completed and Mr. Velcro (a.k.a Emmitt) has us totally wrapped around his paw at this point.

This, in general, is not a problem as we love him to death. Although, he is getting rather pushy about getting his morning walk. If it gets to be 9:30 and we haven’t gone, there is definitely hell to pay. Most every day we pile into Otis and head on down to St. Kilda where you can walk along a closed road that parallels the beach. Emmitt loves it.

Resting after a tough day of kisses

There are a million dogs and people and he is totally Mr. Social. He runs up to each and every dog and greets them with a big wagging tail. The other dogs must just know he is a good-natured being as he never really has a problem with anyone. He loves the little kids on tricycles too. He runs up to them and gives them a big ole wet slobbery kiss on the face. They, like the dogs, also seem to know that Emmitt has the kindest heart on the planet and they giggle with joy every time he gives them some loving.

The house is quite nice too and even has a lovely garden that we have been harvesting fresh veggies out of. That has made for some good salads.

Rather than go through a day-by-day set of events, I thought I would just do a run-down of some of the cool stuff we have been doing here in Dunedin.

Okia Reserve and Pyramids: This is a reserve on the northern part of the Otago Peninsula that was supposed to have some cool scenery and a secluded beach with the potential for some good sea life. We had to leave Emmitt guarding the couch because there are no dogs allowed out there.

It’s a relatively flat trail that heads out through some old pastures that have gone fallow and past some cool volcanic rock formations they call the pyramids. You can see some good examples of columnar basalt in them. Being early summer, there were tons of lupines all around. We got to the beach access, but it was a pretty big drop down to the beach, so we opted to go back around the loop trail and get to the beach from the other direction. There we only 2 other people on the beach. We headed up to one end and spotted some fur seals there. I went to the nearby rocks to take a picture of one of them and failed to notice a big male sea lion tucked along the edge. He growled at me and told me to get the F$#@ off his beach. I listened and jumped away hastily.

I had been surprised by the lack of people, but on the way back, there were a million people heading in, so I guess we just got out there early. This made more sense because it was a holiday weekend. It was a nice easy jaunt to a lovely beach.

Penguin Place Conservation Reserve: Both Susanne and I are obsessed with the penguins. After our experience in Oamaru, we just can’t get enough of them. There is a private conservation reserve out on the far end of the Otago Peninsula, so we booked some tickets and headed out there. It costs $58/person, but it does go to a good cause so it didn’t seem over the top.

It was about an hour to get out there and, as ususal, we were way early for our tour. We walked around the gardens for a bit (which were nice) and then gathered for our briefing. They split the group into two. One group started at the rehab facility and the other headed out to the beach to see the wild penguins.

I guess they rescue a lot of penguins that are in trouble and nurse them back to health. Evidently, the fish stocks have gotten so low, many of the penguins are starving to death from lack of available food. Very sad. Between that, introduced predators, loss of natural habitat, and warming ocean waters, the yellow-eyed penguins are in real trouble. There are only 1500 left of which only 500 are on New Zealand’s South Island.

It was fun to see the penguins in the rehab facility as it gave us a great opportunity for some great photos and videos. I guess they work with the vet hospital and University of Otago helping the chicks survive with an almost 80% success rate. Impressive work and I hope they make it.

Yellow-eyed penguins in rehab

After the rehab facility we piled onto an old Nissan bus and headed out to where the penguins live in the wild. The yellow-eyed penguins are really shy and seeing anyone at all can disturb their usual schedule, so they have built some really cool tunnels and blinds throughout the area so that they can observe the penguins without disturbing them too much. We saw one mamma with two chicks while we were out there. They were a long way away, but it was still cool. Both Susanne and I commented on how amazingly lucky we were to see them so close in Oamaru. We even showed the video to the guide who thought it was amazing as well.

Bus from the Triassic
Tunnel and blind system
Mamma and her two chicks

Dunedin Botanic Gardens: Susanne suggested we head over to the botanic gardens after our morning stroll with Mr. Velcro. We figured it was a great time of year to see all of the lovely flowers and plants. It turned out to be way more substantial than we thought and had about 5 to 6 km of trails you could wander around on. The flowers were lovely and they even had a nice aviary to check out some cool birds. In the rose garden, they had one rose called “Fragrant Cloud.” It smelled amazing. We will definitely have to go back again and I would recommend this as a place to visit if you are in Dunedin. They have one of those carnivorous corpse plants that smells like dead things to attract flies, but it was not blooming. I guess it bloomed in 2018 and 2021 and there were lines to go see it. The time-lapse video of it blooming is pretty cool.

Bike Riding: There are a number of very nice rides along and through the Otago Penisula and around Dunedin. The riding is great, but you should never ask “Is it going to be windy?” This is a totally ridiculous question. Yes, it will be windy. The only variables that you should ask about are “will it be a category 3, 4, or 5 gale?” and “which direction will it be blowing from?” One direction you will be slogging along barely able to move, then you will be fast enough to be in the Tour de France. That is just the way it is.

The Loop trail will go around Otago Harbor

Cycle the Loop: Like in so many places in New Zealand, they have been working hard to build a cycle trail that loops around Otago Harbor. A good chunk of it is now complete and the sections near Port Chalmers are supposed to be completed sometime in 2023. It does require a ferry ride, but when it is complete, it will be a flat, very cool ride.

I did not do the full loop, but rode the section from Dunedin to just short of the Albatross colony. It is about 36 km out and back and is pretty much flat as a pancake. Each time I rode it, there was a 30 knot headwind out. It was brutal. The good news was that it was a piece-o-cake back.

It is a really lovely path along the harbor with great views. It can get a bit busy in places, so having a bell on the bike is a good idea. The town of Portobello would be a really nice place to live, for sure. There are three sections that are not quite completed and require being on the open road, but the traffic is slow and light.

A lovely view the whole way

Hill Climb to Sand Fly Beach and Beyond:

I hadn’t been doing much climbing on the bike and, having driven the road, I was a bit nervous about this ride, but it turned out to be much ado about nothing. There were a few steep spots climbing out of Dunedin, but mostly is was an old-fat-guy-friendly gradient up to the top. The views were great and the road lovely to ride. There were a few tour buses going the other way containing people from the cruise ships touring Larnach Castle, but overall traffic was light.

I could get used to these views

After Sandfly beach (now, isn’t that name a selling point!) a road turned off left and down the mountain. It happened to pass by the Sandymount Distillery which was sadly closed. Or perhaps that was a good thing. From here the road was gravel with next to no cars. It was a lovely drop down to Hooper’s Inlet where the road paralleled the water.

It eventually came to an intersection that Susanne and I drove on our way to hike at Okai Reserve. A quick, but steep climb, up and over the ridge and I dropped into Portobello and headed back on the cycle trail along the harbor. It was a great ride and highly recommended.

Road to Hindon: Just west of Mosgiel, I scoped a road that went back to a little place called Hindon where the train stops for the tour of the Taieri Gorge. It also seemed like a possible route all the way to Middlemarch, where the Central Otago Rail Trail starts, without getting on the highway. I thought that I should check it out as maybe I could do the rail trail without a shuttle. I drove to the starting point (gps: -45.8514905764, 170.238859456) which was just off the main highway.

“Nobody told me it was a 20% grade!”
The “easy” part

It was 26 degrees, and not a cloud in the sky, and it felt pretty warm. I headed out and right out of the gate, the hill tipped upward and put me in “a spot of bother,” as Phil Liggett would say. It was way steeper than I expected, but I thought it would mellow out once I got some elevation. It climbed over 1000′ in less than a mile. Ouchy. It finally relented and just continued on at a 6% grade for a while with a few ups and downs. Then it went down. Really down. Into the canyon at 16% grade. Then it went up. Out of the canyon at 16% grade. I made it up the other side and decided that I better pull the plug just to make sure I could get back. This, after only 7.5 miles!

I made it back to the car without too much agony, but I did have to stop a bunch of times on some of those steep hills. That was one of the hardest 15 mile rides I have ever done … almost 3000′ of climbing over 5 miles.

Blackhead Surfing Beach: One morning we decided to change up our routine and headed down to a beach near Brighton. As we were walking out toward the beach, a dude stopped us and told us to be careful as there was a huge elephant seal right by the trail where it went to the beach. We put Emmitt on leash and proceeded with caution. We saw the seal napping there and carefully squeezed by him and quickly put some distance between us. It was a lovely beach and highlighted how you can see amazing sea life here almost everywhere!

St. Clair Hot Salt Water Pool: There is a pool here that has been built right next to the ocean, is a pleasant 82 degrees and is salt water. I had to go try it out for myself. Overall, it was nice but a little run down. Plus, it has been annoyingly busy every time I go and people don’t sort out the swim speeds well. Even for a slow dude like me, it is annoying when you have to dodge around somebody doing water jogging in the swim lane. Oh well. Maybe when it is not the holidays it is less annoying. But is is beautiful!

We still have a month to explore and more places to find, but overall we have enjoyed the area. I am sure it is cold as all get out in the winter and thus why it is unlikely we will live here full time.

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