Thursday, March 29, 2007


I almost didn't stop in Oamaru. I could have made it from Christchurch to Dunedin (about a 5 hour drive) with no problem. But by the time I left Christchurch, it was already after noon and I knew I'd want to stop at a couple of spots along the coast. I'd only learned about Oamaru when I was looking for places to see penguins. There is a little blue penguin colony there, but you can pretty much only see the penguins at dusk when they come up on shore, so it meant spending the night there or waiting to see the penguins other places.

When I got to Oamaru, I stopped in the visitors' centre to ask what time I should get to the penguin colony. Which colony? they asked. Apparently there is a lesser known colony a little further outside of town, this one of hoiho (yellow-eyed penguins). The timing was perfect because the hoiho come ashore in late afternoon, so I was just in time to see them right before I went to see the blue penguins. There were about 10 hoiho along the beach when I got there. They were kind of hard to see because you had to watch them from hides up on the cliffs, but it's still magical to see an endangered species in the wild. Mostly they just waddled up out of the water and stared at the cliffs. There was one trio that played in the water for a little while. Too cute.

At dusk, I went to the blue penguin colony, which has been created to help improve breeding numbers. Which also means that they have a viewing stand set up really close to their path. Each night the penguins, which are less than a foot tall (so they are super cute), waddle out of the water from their day out swimming and up into their nesting boxes. I'm not sure if it's because the penguins are so low to the ground or what, but a lot of them kept tripping as they ran along the paths. Adorable. Here is a fact I bet you didn't know about little blue penguins: they make a noise that sounds like a cross between a duck and a dying cat. Not as adorable, but definitely forgivable.

On my way out, I made sure to check under my car to see that there weren't any penguins hiding underneath, as apaprently they are prone to do.

Oamaru is a small town (about pop. 13,000), but I found that it has more to offer than just penguins. They are also well known for their fancy handmade cheeses. So obviously I had to stop for that. One of the downsides of travelling alone is that you have nobody to share a gigantic cheese platter with. But one of the upsides is that you have nobody to think you're a huge pig when you eat an entire cheese platter by yourself, and then love the cheese so much that you get some rhubarb mascarpone cheesecake for takeaway.

So Oamaru was definitely worth the stop, and I definitely could have spent more time there (probably at the cheese shop). But Dunedin beckoned. The fact that there's so much to do here is unquestionably a blessing and a curse.

No comments: