The air is thick with dust, a la Tom Roberts, and smells heavily of lanolin courtesy of 20 or so sheep waiting patiently to be sheared. I’m reminded of a story a colleague once told about having a sabbatical from newspapers for a few months, tending sheep by himself on a farm in south-west New South Wales.
One of the sheep had the bluest eyes and the rims of her eyes were unusually dark. “It was almost like she was wearing eye liner,’’ he said. When I found myself looking forward to seeing her every day, I knew it was time to go and ask for my old job back,’’ he told me. But I digress. Back to Dunedin: “You’re next,’’ says my host, an affable bushie oozing character wearing a woollen T-shirt and sheepskin booties.
The Kiwis recently scrapped their entire air force because they were worried it might upset their neighbours, but that’s another story.
We are taken through a serious of hides where you can sneak up quite close on penguins as well as a goodly number of seals.
“The alpha male is that big bloke sunning himself on the rock with all the sheilas,’’ the guide tells me. “The beta is over there.’’
He indicates a much smaller male off by himself on a smaller rock leering at the leader’s harem like a husband in a religious cult. Just down the road from Nature’s Wonders, at Penguin Place, I’m shown the famous confirmed bachelor penguins. They look pretty much like other penguins, but apparently it’s hard to tell a her from a she (perhaps they caught them at it?)
Yellow eyed penguins tend to have one partner for life and have some interesting and endearing mating habits, says Heather Mollins from Dunedin Tourism. The only time they don’t stay with their partner for life is usually when they fail to breed. This gives them a truly shocking 7 per cent divorce rate (including the gay penguins).
The region is also home to two endangered female royal albatrosses who have shacked up together to incubate an egg. Rangers have had the albatross couple sitting on a dummy egg in case
This is also why they love Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula’s cold weather.
The relationship did not last and the nest was deserted. However, both are proving to be good parents and are happy to be incubating.
The original egg has now been returned to the nest.
Two breeding seasons ago the pair attempted to nest an egg with a male albatross. Last year the threesome returned to the breeding colony but failed to nest at all.
The Royal Albatross Centre run guided tours of Taiaroa Head.
Visitors learn about the breeding process and see albatross soar across the sea using their impressive 3m (9’6”) wing span. They can also board a Monarch Wildlife Cruise to see the birds reach speeds of 115km/h.
The chick is expected to hatch soon when its female parents will feed and nurture it. Once the chick becomes fully fledged and takes off on its first flight it will stay at sea for three to six years without touching land.
After a day of adventures in the astonishingly fresh air of the Otago Peninsula it’s time to check into the boutique eco-lodge Kaimata, nestled on a hillside overlooking the Papanui Inlet.
Kaimata is like a Hollywood director’s idea of a holiday retreat.
There are clean smooth timber decks everywhere, plenty of exposed lumber inside and a stone fireplace with a fire all ready to go.
And our hostess Rachel actually looks like a movie star playing the part of an eco-retreat manageress.
My room is handily just near the kitchen where our Belgian chef Danielle “Dany” de Vinck is whipping up some hors d’oeuvres. Nothing works up a thirst more than shearing, and it’s time for a beer and an Otago sauvignon blanc or two to wash down the smoked salmon, while looking over the tidal estuary of Papanui Inlet.
Canapes merge into dinner, which begins with locally gathered cockles in cream sauce and puff pastry, followed by venison with creamed spinach and new potatoes.
The cockles and golden pastry are washed down with a Closeburn Chardonnay, whose completely unoaked golden creamy sur lie style goodness compliments the rich starter. Sur lie, literally on the lees, is meant to give the wine a creamier character and it’s hard to argue.
The venison goes well with a 2006 Black Quail pinot which is a big way to handle the metallic strong taste of the game.
Our chef also makes the best chocolate crepe outside of Paris – and I’ve been there.
After a long dinner, it’s time to repair in front of the open fire and
talk about the amazing day, new adventures to come and, I need hardly add, wear out the carpet leading to the cellar, before retiring to crisp white cotton sheets and billowy comforters for the sound sleep of the just.
Kaimata is on five acres of coastal hillside sloping down to the water’s edge, the property has been undergoing a planting program for the past five years, reinstating native flora of this area.
A private path winds to a grassy knoll by the water’s edge and a peaceful sandy cove. Wander along the beach shore or enjoy a glass of wine whilst looking through the clear waters that swirl by. Take out the kayak or try out the dingy for a gentle row around the bay.
Your hosts Kyle and Rachel will even whip you up a picnic basket to take out for the day. Make sure they throw in a couple of bottles of wine. It’s all very reasonable. Next stop is Dunedin to see what the fleshpots of this southern
Gomorrah have to offer a seasoned travel writer.
The Octagon is the place to be on a Friday, or any other night for that matter I learn. It is named after the geometrical shape made by the buildings in the city centre (almost said the city square).
For Dunedin is a university town and an astonishing amount of the population are under 25, and a majority of these youngsters is female.
A few beers at the Octagon’s hottest bar, Alibi, (darling, honest, I was working late) and it’s off to dinner at Plato, which is down near the water and a short cab ride away.
Only go to Plato if your idea of a great meal is the freshest crayfish you have ever tasted washed down with some of the finest wines produced by the world’s best terroir, the cleanest air and the most inventive New World winemakers.
I kick off with an Emerson’s 1812 India Pale Ale.
IPAs were developed by English brewers for troops serving throughout the Empire. To survive the long sea journey, large quantities of hops were added as a preservative.
The Emerson’s is a fine example of this vital empire building fluid, with plenty of hops over a rich dark maltiness, enough to please any heart of oak after carrying the white man’s burden to the furthest corner of the Earth.
These are designed to make humans appear very small to the penguins as they can only see part of your face. If you get too close to them their heart races and they overheat – this is what kills them.I ordered off the whitebait and crayfish off the chalkboard.
I begin with the whitebait fritter. The whitebait is fresh. Very fresh, and dissolves about a millimetre above my tongue.
The perfect wine for this starter is the Peregine Pinot Gris. This multi-regional blend is made with fruit from the Cromwell basin and Gibbston.
The resulting wine is well balanced and doesn’t knock the white bait around too much.
The Dog Point 1994 Sauvignon Blanc is very smooth, with not too much acidity, just the thing for a crayfish that was swimming around in crystal cool waters that morning before being seethed in garlic, butter and herbs and put in a cast iron pot for me to enjoy a few hours later.
The next morning it’s off to the St Clair Beach resort, right on the water in this amazing beachside suburb.
Within seconds of checking in I have whacked on the Speedos grabbed a hotel towel and walked across the Esplanade to the beach.
Nice two foot waves are crashing right into the concrete wall, no doubt people who have bought into the climate change hoax will say it’s our fault for burning all the oil, but you can have my denial when you pry it out of my hot dead hands.
Further along the beach there is a strip of dry sand and I plunge my slim lithe form into the foam.
The water is cool in this southern hemisphere spring, but warmer than the water at, say, Venice Beach or Santa Monica in fall.
There is barely time to get changed before rushing off to a leisurely beer at the Starfish Café. We grab a spot outside where we rest our beers on the window ledge and watched the (amazingly pretty) girls walk past.
Not unfortified by Speight’s finest it is time to take the tour of the Speight’s brewery in Dunedin, arriving just in time for the beer tasting at the end.
I am unmercifully chiacked for the quality of my beer pulling, and decide Old Dark is my favorite, perfect for a night in front of the fire. I wonder how they are doing at Kaimata now.