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March 4th 2011 - Lake Tekapo

March 2nd 2011 – We left the campsite in Dunedin after breakfast and drove to the Orokonui Ecosanctuary.  This place is along similar lines to Tawharanui up in North Island where Lindsey took us at the beginning of our travels.  It is an area of land which has been cordoned off with a predator proof fence and all the predators eradicated eg possum, rats, mice, stoats etc etc thus providing a safe and natural habitat for New Zealand’s threatened forest species. When we arrived it was incredibly windy! Orokonui is quite high up and the wind made it very difficult to stand upright!  I was actually worried that the van might blow over, it was rocking and shaking so much!  Anyway, we made our way into the Orokonui centre and got our tickets then headed off into the sanctuary through a double“air lock” gate with a code to open it. I had brought my new hiking poles with me as I could see there would be steep paths to negotiate and I wanted to try them out. 


We spent an hour or so on the bush walk.  Within the forest itself we were sheltered from the wind and the whole place was all of a twitter with birdsong, it was lovely.  We arrived at one of the feeding stations and sat down to watch and wait.  Our patience was rewarded after a few minutes when a Kaka arrived to feed.  The Kaka is another of New Zealand’s parrots, it is quite a big bird.  The feeding station is designed especially for the Kaka’s, the food bin has a foot pedal to open the lid so that the bird can get at the food, only the Kaka is heavy enough to operate the pedal.


Kaka on feeding station, operating the foot pedal to open the food box!


We sat for ages watching this bird feed and drink.  First he would press the pedal with his foot, take out a piece of food then wander over to the other side to eat his prize.  As soon as he had finished eating he would go to the water bottle for a drink then back for another piece of food.  Every now and again other birds would turn up for a drink and we were very pleased indeed when a Bellbird, who had been singing his heart out in the trees above us, popped in to make use of the water bottle.  A Tui turned up as well later. 

Thirsty Bellbird


I have to add at this point that my hiking poles were absolutely fantastic, they made a huge difference when walking up steep paths and an even bigger difference when coming down as they took a lot of pressure off my knees.   Eventually we found ourselves back at the centre and went in for a browse around the shop and a coffee.  Clive bought himself a bar of soap (he has a thing about nice soaps!) and we also bought ourselves a DVD.  Then we went out into the howling wind again and fought our way back to the van, which fortunately hadn’t blown over!  It was quite scary driving back down the hill, the van was being blown around something shocking! 


The rest of our journey was pretty uneventful and we finally arrived at Moeraki and found a great campsite with a lovely view of the sea.  Again once we were checked in we went straight out again, this time to a lighthouse on a headland overlooking a beach with some very special visitors – Yellow Eyed Penguins!  These are very rare penguins indeed.  We’ve all seen documentaries and films about other penguins like the Emperor or the Jackass when you see them on beaches in their hundreds or even thousands, well with Yellow Eyed Penguins we were told we might see four or five!  They are found in various places up this coastline but only in pitifully small numbers. 


We parked at the lighthouse and followed the signs down a pathway, half way down we could see a beach over on the left with several sealions on it, however we carried on down to a viewing hide overlooking another beach and there was nobody there, we were on our own!  We got ourselves settled in, me with my camera at the ready and Clive using the binoculars, which were actually provided in the hide and chained to the wall to ensure they stayed there!  The surf was pounding up the beach and all we could see were a few seals and an odd cormorant but no penguins.  However Clive suddenly spotted one walking up the beach so I started snapping away! 


Yellow Eyed Penguin


We waited for quite a considerable time and several people had arrived to join us but no more penguins! We finally decided to head back up to the van, at least I had some photos of one penguin!  We had noticed a lot of noise coming from behind the hide and on the way back up the path we peeped under some bushes to see where the noise was coming from and spotted several penguin chicks behind a fence! Clive managed to creep under the bushes up to the fence and get some more photos.


Yellow Eyed Penguin chick


We returned to the campsite feeling very privelidged indeed to have seen these lovely rare penguins.


March 3rd 2011 – We left the campsite after breakfast and headed off to see something rather unusual!  The Moeraki Boulders.  The beach here is covered with giant round boulders up to 3m in diameter, which were formed about 65 million years ago in a similar way to pearls in an oyster shell, where layers of material cover a central nucleus or core.  Some of them have even been found to contain fossils of ancient sea creatures and some just bits of wood.  Normal boulders get shaped by the sea rolling them around but these were quite different and perfectly spherical.  They are the most bizarre things I have ever seen but I loved them.  I likened them to dragon eggs myself – it would be great if they were! 


Clive on one of the Moeraki Boulders


We spent a while on the beach amongst the hoards of other tourists who had come to see the boulders, then made our way back to the van and continued our journey, next stop Oamaru. 


Oamaru is famous for its white marble and there are a lot of late nineteenth century buildings in the town, which are really magnificent.  We found a campsite easily enough not far from the town centre then we went shopping.  We also needed a new cable for the laptop as we had been having a lot of problems with the old one.  We managed to find just what we needed in a computer shop in the town centre.  Oamaru is not just famous for its white marble, it also boasts a Little Blue Penguin colony and also has sightings of Yellow Eyes as well. So we went off on another penguin spotting expedition.  This time there were loads of people lining the pathway overlooking the beach!  We managed to fight our way through the crowds to the hide and got a good view of the beach, again nothing to see except a few sea lions!  One of them spent ages grooming itself then just sat there, like a statue!


Sea lion


We were there for absolutely ages and not a single penguin put in an appearance.  However we overheard one guy whispering to another guy that he had spotted one already in the shrubbery, having come ashore earlier! So, Clive and I reversed our course along the pathway to where we had seen him pointing and sure enough, about a yard away from all the crowds was a Yellow Eyed Penguin lying on a nest and hardly anybody had noticed him!


Yellow Eyed Penguin resting


Not far away from this one there was another one just standing there, motionless but looking very tatty indeed, it was in moult!  The funny thing was that hardly anybody had spotted them, they were all avidly watching the beach waiting to see penguins coming in from the sea!  We reckoned they had all come ashore earlier and were now resting in the shrubbery!


March 4th 2011 – After breakfast we headed into town to have a look at some of the lovely white buildings built with the Oamaru marble.  They really are very grand, especially the Opera House and two banks with Corinthean columns looking for  all the world like The Bank of England!


The Opera House, Oamaru


We then drove down one of the little side streets and parked the van, there was one place Clive really wanted to see, The Motor Museum!  We paid our $8 to get in then made our way into the exhibition, we were the only people in there.  There were all sorts of vehicles on display; cars, tractors, motor bikes etc ranging from a really old Rolls Royce to a GT40!  Clive was in his element and spent quite some time peering in at old leather interiors with a little happy smile on his face!


Austin 7 - three careful owners from new!


Personally I was more taken by a tractor towing an old caravan with stickers all over it and a map of the world on one side.  It’s claim to fame being that it is the only tractor and caravan to have toured the world! The couple who did the trip took a whole year to do it, leaving New Zealand on 14th March 1993 and arriving back on 22nd March 1994.  They covered 26,855Km  What a fantastic journey! Not sure I fancy doing it on a tractor though!!


Round the world tractor and caravan!


I finally managed to prize Clive away from all this motor memorabilia and dragged him off for a coffee and a bun before setting off on our travels once more.  We had decided to go back inland towards the mountains again before heading further up the coast, we were aiming for Mount Cook National Park. On the way we passed through the town of Duntroon and stopped off to visit the Vanished World Visitor Centre. There is lots of information here about the geology of New Zealand, which I have to say absolutely fascinates me! They also have casts of some of the many fossils which have been found over the years, including one of a prehistoric dolphin.  We had a great chat with a very knowledgeable lady and then set off in search of The Elephant Rocks, which were only a shor tdistance up the road from Duntroon.  It didn’t take us long to find them.  We parked the van and went for a walk. These rocks are basically the result of erosion which has sculpted the limestone into amazing shapes.  They are really quite spectacular.


Clive with some of the Elephant Rocks



If you look carefully at the photo above you will spot Clive, that will give you an idea of just how huge these rocks are!


We returned to the main road again and continued our journey to the mountains.  On the way we passed three huge dams which produce hydro-electricity for the South Island.  What makes these so amazing is the colour of the water in the lakes.  The strange milky colour of the water is caused by  “glacier flour”, which is the result of rocks being ground up by the force of the moving ice in the glaciers. 


Turquoise water!


Not long after we left the dams behind we got our first glimpse of the mountains and a short while later we spotted the snow clad peak of Mount Cook!  We gradually got nearer and nearer and eventually arrived at Lake Pukeka where we got a really fantastic view of the peak.  I got out of the van and walked down to the shore where there was a big boulder that I could rest the camera on, the reason being that it was incredibly windy again and I couldn’t hold the camera still!  Unfortunately there was quite a bit of haze over the lake but I still managed to get some decent photos.  We set off again and a short while later there was an even better view of the peak so I made Clive stop again so I could get some more shots – he’s very patient with me really!!


Mount Cook


Our destination was another lake, Lake Tekapo.  We had been instructed by our daughter Vicki that we must go there, it was her most favourite place!  She was there back in 1999 and has a beautiful panoramic photograph of the lake which has been enlarged and framed.  A short time later we arrived and could see straight away why she loved it so much, it really is beautiful.  Once again because of the “glacier flour” suspended in the water which reflects the sunlight, it is the most beautiful turquoise blue and it is surrounded by mountains, which currently have no snow on top unfortunately.


Beautiful Lake Tekapo


We found a campsite right on the shores of the lake and had a lovely view of the lake from the window.  There is an observatory on the hill just above the campsite and the night skies here at Tekapo are reputed to be the best in New Zealand as there is no light pollution.  Well that wasn’t the case at the campsite, I had to wear my mask to sleep because there was a wopping great halogen lamp on a pole on top of the toilet block shining all over the camp and right through the van windows!!  Night night!!


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