Saturday, November 06, 2010

North to Oamaru

From Dunedin we drove north to Oamaru, headed for more penguin sightings and an overnight in a small coastal town.

Our first stop was at Evansdale Cheese; a small artisan cheese-making company located in an old psychiatric hospital. A very friendly and energetic gentleman instantly started handing us samples of cheese, and kept handing them to us, only

slowing to tell us to eat faster. He had visited Oregon several times on cheese business, and specifically mentioned both Grants Pass (where I grew up), and Crescent City (where I was born!).

He was kind an adorable eccentric old guy, who thought were nuts for our non-traditional south island itinerary: “Hokitika? You’re FLYING out of Hokitika? Does is even have an Airport?”

I only realized later that this was the same friendly old gent who'd been giving me cheese at the cheese stand in the Dunedin Farmers' Market the previous morning.

The next stop was to see the Moeraki Boulders. They look like giant marbles, and are formed over 4-5 million years, through a process called ‘septarian concretions’ (like the way an oyster makes a pearl). The exact way these boulders are created is not fully understood. Now that they're exposed, they are being slowly eroded by the ocean. But there are more stones being exposed due to erosion, and it's anybody's guess how many are still completely buried in the dunes waiting to surface.

We were really happy that we'd been able to see the Yellow-Eyed Penguins at Sandfly Beach, but we still really wanted to see the Blue Penguins come in for the evening. So the only thing that

we really, really wanted to do in Oamaru was see the Blue Penguins. We'd made reservations and didn't have to arrive for the “penguin parade” until about 8 pm. So we went to our hosts' home for introductions and a little insight into the town. Megan works with the local tourism district, and had previously worked with the penguin colony, and was able to give us some really valuable insight into the town. AND a place to stay! :)

After having dinner with Megan and her family, and playing with the dog, Roxy, we dashed over to the Blue Penguin colony.

The seating is a small set of wooden bleachers right at the top of a rocky shoreline. There's a small section that appears to be paved, and “ramp-like”, which seemed like the natural place for the penguins to come in. There was a bit of introduction – “some of these penguins have started to bulk up, so you'll notice some wee little fat ones...” … our speaker was simply adorable – and some waiting – and then we saw the first raft of penguins come in.

It looked like a seriously harsh landing for the tiny birds, and we were amazed that they weren't getting crushed into the sharp rocks by the crashing waves. Apparently they have a lot of feather and fat that protects them. Once they get feet on land they start making their way up the hill. Slowly. Occasionally taking “wee little naps” along the way. And once they get to the top

of the hill they dash across the open space on top, dart through little openings in the fence, and head for their home for the night.

A little later in the evening we were allowed to get right up to the fence that separates the bleachers from the rocks leading down to the ocean. And there were a bunch of penguins trying to make their way up the rocks! Jumping from one rock to another, sliding down, looking for another rock to jump to … it's slow going for animals that aren't well designed for climbing and walking. But they're determined little things. From our vantage point, several walked within about a foot of our feet! It was fantastic to watch.

When we first arrived in Oamaru we'd taken a crazy round-about way to get into the old town area of Oamaru, and to our hosts' home, and somehow completely bypassed all of the downtown area. Megan had advised us that there's a SteamPunk exhibit right in the middle of town.

It sounded absolutely crazy, and just the random kind of thing that we love. So the next morning we went downtown to check out the exhibit at the museum, and the sculptures located around town.

It was clearly a collective effort by all kinds of artists in this small town. They had created movie shorts, all sizes and kinds of sculptures, costumes – really remarkable! Unfortunately we couldn't take photos of the exhibits in the museum, which was where a lot of the cool stuff was located, but we did take a bunch of photos of the larger sculptures around town.

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