Dunedin: Botanic Garden, Peninsula Tour

Yesterday’s adventure started with a walk to and through the Dunedin Botanic Garden, followed by a more than eight-hour tour of the Otago Peninsula. (Sorry, the adventure ended too late for me to post something about it the same day. Then again, people back home on the other side of the international date line are a day behind me. So, for you, yesterday is now today. Thus, in a manner of speaking, I’m not late with this.)

I felt a little guilty placing this post under the “Dunedin” category because the peninsula seems to extend well beyond the Dunedin town limits. However, according to Wikipedia, “The Otago Peninsula is a long, hilly indented finger of land that forms the easternmost part of Dunedin, New Zealand.” If Wikipedia says it’s part of Dunedin, it must be part of Dunedin. Wikipedia is, after all, the font of all that is true. So my conscience is clear in the matter of my categorization of this post.

Dunedin Botanic Garden

Flowers, other plants, and a view from the Dunedin Botanic Garden

The Dunedin Botanic Garden is large and contains a lot of — wait for it — plants from a number of regions of the world.

A large part of the gardens is at the top of a hill. Consequently, my Fitbit credited me with climbing up the equivalent of about 40 flights of stairs just from my visit to and through the gardens. And that doesn’t begin to count the uphill climbing of my afternoon activities.

Upon climbing the hill, I got a nice view of the other hills around Dunedin. It’s a beautiful locale.

Among the different regional sections of the Dunedin Botanic Garden is a “Cedars of Lebanon Grove.” I’m happy to report there were no signs of Hezbollah there.

A bee enjoying a flower at the Dunedin Botanic Garden

I particularly enjoyed the lush flowers in the gardens. It’s not that I’m much into flowers. It’s just that it’s late January and there are blooming flowers.

Yeah, I know. This I’m in the Southern Hemisphere. Their seasons are topsy-turvy relative to ours. But still. It’s January! There are bountiful blooming flowers!

(This probably goes with out saying, but when I say “blooming,” I mean displaying blooms. I don’t mean the British exclamation of annoyance.)

In addition to the plants, the Dunedin Botanic Garden includes an aviary. Go figure. The aviary consisted of a number of cages with — wait for it — birds in them. While I was there, a (human) couple was trying to get a parrot of some sort or another to say, “cup of tea.” Yes, really.

A view from the upper portion of the Dunedin Botanic Garden

Otago Peninsula Tour

Albatross soaring just beyond the harbour

I was picked up for the Otago Peninsula Tour a little after one in the afternoon and didn’t get back to my hotel until about 9:30 in the evening. I booked the “MAX Peninsula Encounters” tour, which included all of the options the company offered. This included a one-hour boat ride, a visit to the Royal Albatross nesting area, and a visit to the tour company’s private conservation reserve. All of it was amazing.

Before getting into the elements of the tour, one comment: The peninsula is gorgeous. High, mostly-green hills meet the ocean beautifully. Even if you don’t go on the boat cruise, see the albatross nesting area, or visit the conservation reserve, it’s worth traveling along the Otago Peninsula just for the scenery. It’s also worth having someone else (a van driver and then a mini-bus driver in this case) do the driving because some of the roads are winding, hilly and narrow, and, as I said in an earlier post, drivers in New Zealand drive on the wrong side of the road.

Boat Cruise

The company I booked my MAX tour with doesn’t run the boat cruise. A few different tour groups merged and went off on two boats. The larger one looked like it held 20 or 30 people. The smaller one, the one I was assigned to, took on eight paying customers and probably couldn’t have held many more.

We then went out for a one-hour cruise in the long harbour, and a bit into the open ocean, looking for albatrosses, seals, sea lions, and penguins. We saw all four.

The guide on the boat pointed out four different albatross species. These included the northern royal albatross, the southern royal albatross, and two other albatross species I’ve forgotten.

Most of the albatrosses were soaring in the sky, but one floated contentedly on the sea. Albatrosses are gliding birds, with little flapping involved in their flights. Therefore, they don’t need, but prefer to have some wind when they’re flying. It was a mostly calm day. Hence the floating albatross.

Lolling seals. (No, we didn’t get that close. The picture was taken with a 10x zoom.)

The boat took us close to rocks where seals sat around and occasionally stirred. Lallygagging and occasionally stirring. That sounds like a great life to me! Wait. I’m retired. I could do that. Never mind.

The guide pointed out a blue penguin swimming in the sea. Being a small penguin species and blue, it was difficult to spot it swimming in the sea. Plus, because it was swimming, it was difficult to tell that it was a penguin at all. Obviously, it wasn’t doing the stereotypical penguin waddle.

Synchronized Sea Lion Jump

We saw a pair of sea lions frolicking near a few wood posts sticking out of the water. According to the guide, they were New Zealand sea lions, which is a near-endangered species of sea lions.

At one point, the pair did a synchronized jump clear out of the water. I’ve seen trained dolphins do that at marine theme parks. I had no idea wild sea lions were even capable of that.

Start of a synchronized jump by a pair of wild sea lions

Everyone on the boat, including the guide, audibly expressed awe. A few people said they wished they had been able to snap a picture. I muttered, “Um, er, I did. Kind of. Sort of.” Yay, me.

Fortunately, I had my phone’s camera pointed at them while they were frolicking. Unfortunately, not knowing they were about to leap out of the water, I snapped the picture before they were fully in the air. It took me a bit to react, so I wasn’t able to click the shutter again during their leap. Therefore, they are less than halfway out of the water in the picture, but the beginning of their leap is clearly visible. Said picture is to the left.

Royal Albatross Centre

Nesting northern royal albatross. (No. I wasn’t that close. That’s a 10x zoom.)

After the cruise, the tour company took a group of twenty people to the next stop, the Royal Albatross Centre. The guide on the boat had said this is the only albatross breeding ground on a mainland anywhere in the world. According to the guide, all of the other albatross breeding grounds are on remote islands.

Northern royal albatrosses started breeding here only about 100 years ago. What is generally believed to be the first nest was discovered in 1920. Before 1885, the headland that serves as the breeding grounds wouldn’t have been suitable for that purpose. Before then, the hills were forested. Albatrosses need open land to nest on.

Soaring albatrosses

In 1885, work started on building a fort on the headland. Before they could build the fort, they had to clear the land. This had the unintended side benefit of making it suitable for albatross nesting. At least one breeding pair did so. To lazily employ a cliché, the rest is history.

After a short film and talk at the Royal Albatross Centre, a guide took us on a walk up a hill to a viewing hut with glass windows. There, I spent a half-hour looking out on a couple of nesting northern royal albatrosses and a few other albatrosses soaring by.

Interesting Albatross Sidebar

According to the guides both on the boat and at the Royal Albatross Centre, albatrosses lay only one egg at a time. Once it’s laid, both parents share equally in the incubation of the egg and the raising of the chick until it’s ready to be independent. The hatching and rearing processes take about a year in total.

Parenting is such a major effort for albatrosses that, after they’ve finished raising their chick, the parents take a year off before the mother lays another egg. Because they lay only a single egg in this two-year cycle, and not all eggs hatch and not all chicks survive to breeding age, albatross populations don’t recover quickly if their numbers are cut significantly for any reason.

Elm Wildlife’s Private Conservation Reserve

Seal on a rock

The final stop on the peninsula tour was Elm Wildlife’s private conservation reserve. (Elm Wildlife is the tour company I booked the tour with.)

The visit included a fair bit of hilly walking, but it was well worth it. That’s not just because of the exercise and scenery, but there was that. The animal viewing was terrific.

Another seal on a rock

At one viewing stop, I saw some seals sitting on rocks and other seals playing on rocks.

(Note: I didn’t get as close as it looks in the pictures. My phone’s camera has a 10x optical zoom. For all of the pictures of animals, I used the zoom to one extent or another.)

We then moved on to a beach where I saw a sea lion sleeping. I didn’t post a picture of the sleeping sea lion because an almost sand-coloured sea lion sleeping on the sand doesn’t make for much of a picture.

Avoiding the sea lion because sea lions can be quite vicious (they don’t always sleep), we walked along the beach and then a bit up a hill to a viewing blind. From there, we watched five yellow-eyed penguins standing on the beach in the distance.

Yellow-eyed penguins on a beach

They were shortly joined by a few more. The total on the beach reached nine at its height. The guide said that was the most she’d seen together at one time this season (more on that later).

Two sea lions wrestled on the beach, away from the penguins. Fortunately, the sea lions either didn’t see the penguins or they payed them no mind. According to the guide, if a sea lion catches a penguin it will rip the penguin apart, literally. The guide said she’s seen that happen and would rather not see it again.

Sea lions on a beach, taking a break from their wrestling match

Yellow-Eyed Penguin Nesting

Eventually, some of the penguins started moving inland, employing the typical penguin waddle. Yellow-eyed penguins are weird. They are forest penguins. They nest among trees or bushes.

The penguins we saw have their nests a ways up, and in some cases over, a not inconsequential hill. I think they are insane. From my viewing, I can confirm that yellow-eyed penguins could not win any sprints, or even any power-walking races, against humans. It wouldn’t even be close. Well, maybe it would be close if the humans were toddlers or still crawlers. But that’s the only way the penguins would have any chance whatsoever. Yellow-eyed penguins are slow waddlers.

And, because penguins don’t have knees, they can’t climb up steep hills the way we do. Their climb involved considerable hopping. Surely they could have built nests somewhat closer to sea level than they did.

After we left the blind, we climbed up the hill a piece to another blind. That one looked out on one of the penguin nests, in which there was a penguin chick. The nest was too far away to make much out, but the conservation reserve set up a camera in the nest.

When we were in the blind, the guide turned on the camera. (It’s solar powered so they don’t leave it on all the time.) That gave us a close up view of the chick’s back. Just our luck, the chick was sitting right in front of the camera. It looked like a blurry grey blob.

Before we left, the chick turned around a bit. So I can confirm that it was penguin-like, not just a grey blob.

Threatened Species

The yellow-eyed penguin species is threatened. According to the guide, their numbers dropped significantly, particularly over the past couple of years. Nobody knows exactly why.

Scientists think something is happening to them out at sea. They’ve attached GPS trackers and cameras to some of them to try to figure out what’s happening. I didn’t see it, but the guide said the scientists removed the devices around the time we were there so they could download the data.


Not that this is of any interest to anyone, but I typed most of this on an intercity bus from Dunedin to Queenstown. The trip was scheduled to take a little over four hours. It took somewhat longer because, not long after leaving the stop in central Dunedin, the driver discovered that she had a flat tire.

Because we weren’t yet out of Dunedin, it didn’t take long for the tire repair guy to get to us. But it still added almost an hour to the journey. My mazel.

On the bright side, I was able to get a lot of this written sitting in the bus on the side of the road, so I was free to look at the scenery for much of the trip. That scenery is beautiful. It includes lush, green rolling hills and low mountains, many forested and some grassy and bushy. We also passed a river and a small lake. There were a number of sheep grazing in fields along the way.

The bus has wifi and I posted this about halfway to Queenstown, so there may have been additional beautiful scenery along the way. How would I know?


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