The University of Otago, based in Dunedin, boasts the city has produced many of New Zealand’s greatest novelists, poets, artists, scientists, journalists, musicians, athletes, business people and leaders. Dunedin comes from the Gaelic word for Edinburgh. The city celebrates St. Andrew’s Day and its streets, lined with classic Victorian and Edwardian architecture, are named after streets in the Scottish capital. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the area had a lengthy occupation by the Ngai Tahu, the principal Māori iwi (tribe) on the South Island. The region of Otago takes its name from the Māori village of Otakou at the mouth of the harbour. Its takiwā (tribal area) is the largest in New Zealand, and extends from Blenheim, Mount Mahanga and Kahurangi Point in the north to Stewart Island in the south. The New Zealand Parliament passed the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Act in 1998 to record an apology from the Crown and to settle claims made under the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi. One of the Act’s provisions covered the use of dual (Māori and English) names for geographical locations in the Ngāi Tahu tribal area. Ngāi Tahu actively owns or invests in many businesses throughout the country; tourism, seafood and forestry, and property.
For us, the main draw to the region was the Otago Peninsula. Our guided tour by Elm Wildlife Tours (we were a group of about 10) took us out of Dunedin, past Port Chalmers (which will be visited by over 130 large cruise ships next season), to Taiaroa Head and the Royal Albatross Centre. On the way. Shaun, our guide, talked about Dunedin’s history. During the land wars, Maori prisoners from Taranaki on the North Island were brought to Dunedin as forced labour between 1869 and 1881. The Maori prisoners came in waves, with the first group of 74 – known as the Pakakohe group – sent to Dunedin in 1869 after Titokowaru’s War, an armed dispute in the mid-to-late 1860s, sparked by land confiscations in south Taranaki. The prisoners were held at Dunedin prison and transported to work sites on many city projects, including the Dunedin Botanic Garden’s stone walls. They were eventually followed by 137 of Te Whiti’s “ploughmen”, also from Taranaki, who were detained without trial after peacefully resisting European occupation of confiscated land and brought to Dunedin in 1878-79. 21 Māori prisoners died during their time in Dunedin and were buried in unmarked paupers’ graves in the Northern Cemetery. The death toll included 18 of the 74 prisoners put to work at Andersons Bay.
The day was grey, windy and cold, but we hardly noticed, so captivated were we by the scenery and intimate sightings of exotic marine wildlife. The peninsula is home to the world’s only mainland (ie, non-island) nesting site for Albatross. The Royal Albatross has a wingspan of up to 3.6 m and can live at sea for years on end. Right after fledging, the young fly direct to Chile! Non-breeding birds and juveniles 3-4 years old cross the Southern Ocean to feed in South American waters before circumnavigating the globe to return to the breeding area. They mate when they are between 6-12 years of age and live into their 40s. We were not able to see down onto the nests without paying for an additional tour, but we did catch sight of a couple of adult birds in flight, as well as the smaller Buller’s Albatross (Mollymawk) flying out at sea.
Back in the van on the way to Saunders Point, our guide pointed out more birds, notably, two Little Owls, a Sacred Kingfisher and Pukekos. At the point, we walked down a steep set of steps to the beach to watch New Zealand Fur Seals on the rocks. Young seals were playing in rock pools developing the skills to leave, younger pups were waiting for their mothers to return from foraging to nurse them. We then walked down to a private sanctuary on another beach. The area is leased from the local farmer by Elm Wildlife, who have planted indigenous trees and shrubs above the beach to encourage Yellow-eyed Penguins to seek shelter and nest. The area is separated from the fields and grazing sheep by a wire fence. At one point our guide Shaun had to rescue a newborn lamb that had wandered from its mother and had slipped under the fence, perilously close to sea lions lolling in the sea grass.
We were very near to several Hooker’s Sea Lions, one of the rarest of sea lions, in particular, three females (unusual for this colony) not yet at maturity, so were avoiding the males; and a large male corralling three young male pups, apparently practicing for future mating ventures. We were told that, despite their awkward movements on land, the sea lions could outrun us, if necessary. We kept a respectful distance from the large male!
We had noticed a couple of Yellow-eyed penguins swimming back to shore and making their way up the dunes. From two hides, we were able to watch several waddling up the grassy slopes and also observed a couple preparing for the breeding season. The male was sitting in the nest area and the female was standing guard outside!
Shaun later dropped us off at Etrusco for our 7:00 dinner reservation (no time to change or wipe off our muddy shoes!), where we enjoyed good pizza and Pinot noir in the Savoy Hotel’s lovely Edwardian dining room.
The next morning, we packed up our bikes to take a 6-hour bus to Christchurch. We were lucky to be able to get a taxi of any kind to the bus station as Pink was performing that evening and all vans were booked up. The local newspaper’s banner was printed in pink and some shop windows featured pink displays. The covered rugby stadium where the concert was being held has a capacity of 36,000 people.