February 05, 2006

Otago Peninsula

Took a bus out to Portobello where Rob and I rented a couple bikes with a refreshing start to the morning with some cool rain. Thankfully it didn't last too long and even though the cool wind made it hard riding up the many hills, it was perfect conditions for the albatross. At the head of the peninsula, huge, white birds with a wing span of about 3 metres soared high above our heads. Using the push of the wind, they didn't even have to move their wings, but just tilted sideways or vertically, gliding in huge circles above our heads. They moved around as elegant as kites. And so high up, the size of them still evident.

Further down the road, made a visit to the Penguin Reserve. My main purpose to visit Dunedin was to find a quiet spot on the beach, letting the penguins wobble up towards me, getting a close up personal view of their actions and drawing them all day. But like other occasions, my imaginings are not allowed to come true. The few places the penguins do wander up to are protected by reserves and the only way to see them is to pay a guide. And on the tour, there is limited time at each nest, as the group is pushed along to the next site. However, with only a minute to sketch here and there along the trail, we did get as close as 5 metres to the world's most endangered Yellow Eyed Penguin. Only about 4500 exist along the south-east coast of NZ, Stuart, Auckland and Campbell Islands. Mostly the chicks were around as the adults were out fishing. But there was one hiding in the grass with the distinct yellow head poking out of the grass. They are even cuter in real life! Their wings point out in odd directions as they bend over to clean their feathers, or poke their head up to see who is coming, or turn their head sideways to seemingly talk to the penguin next door. This species is a little odd, as they are much more independent and do not hang around in huge colonies as the others do. One day I have to go to Antartica to see that!

The rest of the ride was a little rushed as we lost time pushing the bike up the steep gravel roads. Saw views of a couple harbours, but would need another day to see NZ's only castle, do the hikes and see the volcanic formations. Again, for next time! P

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