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In Dunedin, we have our second private tour. It’s remarkable for Sarah, because it’s a rare instance where she hasn’t done that much research on the port. Six folks were looking to fill seats seven and eight for a tour, we knew basically where we were going, we signed up, and that was that. The company running the tour was Arthur’s Tours and our tour guide was none other than Arthur himself, decked out in yellow tartan hat and vest. He was an older gentleman, probably just the other side of sixty, but he was very spry and he drove like a bat out of hell.

After what I’d written about New Zealand not being what I thought it would be, Dunedin was the embodiment of that ideal: luscious greenery, rolling hills, pastoral homes, and sheep everywhere. It’s like Scotland, but with slightly different accents. (Kiwis sneak a lot of Rs and extra vowels in their words. “Oan your roight, your should be aible toer see sheep.”) There were two quick stops off the top—one on a hillside overlooking the harbour and the Otago peninsula (Kodak moment), and another at a train station and an adjoining farmers’ market. The first place we spent a significant amount of time was Lanarch castle. By British standards, the structure was considered a camp, but by New Zealand standards, it’s a castle (not bashing the Kiwis here—these were Arthur’s words.) The castle was built in the late 1800s by a businessman/politician, and no expense was spared. Craftsman were employed by the boatload; wood and marble imported and affixed. The original owner committed suicide (financial or romantic troubles, it’s uncertain which of the two was the motivator), and it’s only fairly recently that efforts have been made to restore the castle to its former glory. My thoughts, throughout our tour of the property, were elsewhere. When we first arrived, a very friendly cat walked right up to our guide. Arthur hoisted the cat onto his shoulder, brought him inside, and someone on staff took it and walked away. And I didn’t even get to pet it! So while we learned about the castle’s various innovations, details on the restoration, and the Alice in Wonderland theme in the garden, I just kept thinking, Where’s kitty? Is kitty coming back? What’s kitty doing right now? Are there more kitties?

After Lanarch castle, we drove on to the Penguin Place penguin sanctuary. The Dunedin area is home to a small colony of yellow eyed penguins. We were told by the guide that the penguins are generally solitary except when mating and raising their young. They always lay two eggs, though both don’t always hatch. The young penguins hang at home, while the parents go off and fish all day, bringing back delicious food to regurgitate for the kids. After 15 weeks or so, the kids leave home, eventually to start families of their own. The sanctuary is also a working sheep farm, so as the guide took us through the grounds, we had to dodge a goodly amount of sheep poo (glad and surprised to say we were entirely successful in this regard). All the adults were still out fishing, so we saw only the adolescents. They’re very cute—about knee high and chubby. The first pair were about twenty feet away, the next were within spitting distance, and the one after that was within arm’s reach. The last one’s nest was so close to the visitor walkway that we were not allowed to take photos or even stop in front of him. He was totally crashed out on his belly, although he had one eye on us as we passed. Before leaving, we also got a chance to visit the penguin hospital, where a few of the injured or malnourished guys hang out. Got some good photos here. They’re funny; although they’re wild animals the penguins are totally used to people, and they just stand there looking at you as if to say, “What? Am I supposed to entertain you? This is all I do—I just stand here.”

Not far away from Penguin Place is the Royal Northern Albatross Colony, the only place you can see these guys on land. I wasn’t overly jazzed about this in advance. I figured they’d be indistinguishable from seagulls. But the albatross has a nine foot wing span. They’re frigging huge, and having one around your neck actually is a bigger deal than I imagined. There’s a glassed-in observatory up on a hill, and fortunately for us the winds picked up while we where there and the albatross were gliding around like mad. We also got to see fun albatross behavior on the ground, like a male presenting to a female, and a couple trading off on chick-sitting duties.

Last stop on the tour was Baldwin Street, which just so happens to be the steepest street in the world. While most guides would just stop at the base and let you take pictures, Arthur floored our van to the top—where there’s really nowhere to go afterward. There’s just enough room to turn around, and then you plummet back to the bottom. Again, pictures will help give the sense of the incline, but for now take my word for it that it’s hella steep.

Back on the ship, we lay prone and made zees for a while. As we were about to embark on three ship-locked days crossing over to Australia, we made the effort to actually stay up for more than fifteen minutes after dinner. We went to one of the clubs with a few Cruise Critic friends, and what started out as a British Invasion theme eventually devolved to the DJ playing a lot of Snoop. Good time, though.


Anonymous said…
I can't wait for the pics of the penguins! On a tangentially related note, "penguin" is one of the few words I know is Spanish. Pingüino. And pingüino estúpido... stupid penguin.

Also, I need to know how do the clubs on the cruise ship rate, on a scale of 1 to Au Bar?
Kelly said…
heh, you were entranced by kitty. Aren't you too cute!

And, what's with castles not being uilt because of love?! Isn't that the same, or similar, to the story of the castle in 1000 islands?

As for penguins layin' about as adolescents, and then malnourished in the hospital, I was picturing them with their own personalities and bad adolescent attitudes. Heh!

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