Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Penguins or bust

9 March 2009
After leaving the Mt Cook area, we got one more good picture of Lake Pukaki and the stormy mountains we were escaping.
We made it a few kilometers south and found a nice little hike down a random road in some geologic formations called the Clay Cliffs - very picturesque setting with a nice river where lots of fishermen were out and about.

Then we spent a few hours driving east toward the coast and Oamaru. It was Saturday and the roads were 'packed' - even though there were some motorcycles out enjoying the nice sunny weather, we hardly saw any cars. There just aren't that many people in New Zealand, and most of 'em are on the North Island.

Oamaru is a nice little coastal town and has some penguin viewing areas - Robin was really excited about seeing some penguins so we got a camp spot in the downtown holiday park for the night. The campground was actually on the town botanical garden which is very nice and even has a croquet field - perfect for white clothes and champagne; now that's what I call a sport!!!

Well, we tried to go see the yellow eyed penguins but it was molting season so most were hunkered down on the cliff face waiting for their fur to change - apparently they don't eat for a few weeks while they molt, so there was very little activity - only a handful of them were actually out on the beach - we saw one but from a long way away. We could also see a couple on the cliff face, but they were hidden the grasses so no photos.

                     The penguins are out there, somewhere!

We went back to town for food and almost missed all the restaurants - they close early here for the most part, even on a Saturday night. After our meal we went to the local pub and met a local who chatted us up for a while and answered some of our New Zealand questions. He was from Auckland, and told us that the south island was obviously more rural but also had a bit of the "you're not from around here are you?" attitude. We decided that might have some truth to it. Other intersting things we learned from our local expert was that military service is not compulsory in NZ, marijuana is illegal and not taken lightly, there might be a bit of an alcohol abuse combined with physical abuse problem here, and that they lowered the drinking age from maybe 20 to 18 and he thought it was for the worse because now kids 11 and 12 are trying the drink a bit. But then again, he was a recovering meth addict so....

When we woke up in Oamaru we were running late for the 10 am checkout time, so we drove to the beach to make breakfast as the sun was shining. As Kris Kristofferson said, the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad so I had one more for dessert...
The beach is a nice place for such things. But, despite the color of water looking like the south pacific, and the water actually being the south pacific, it was damned cold! I guess a swim in Jackson Lake in July would have been about the same, but the windy cold air wasn't that inviting! Lots of cool rocks and fun wading though!

When we went to town looking for the cheese factory, the weather changed drastically - the temperature dropped about 15 degrees and it started raining so we decided to head south towards the Moeraki boulders and camp at a DOC campground which are much more like camping in the forest - very limited facilities but also much cheaper than paying for the holiday parks. We found a great little spot but it was raining and we had to cross two streams to get to the spot. The crossings or fords weren't wet when we crossed them at first. But it kept raining and raining and raining. What to do when it's cold and rainy and you've found your campsite for the night? That's right. Dig into the chilly bin for another beer!

 A few hours and a few kilometers after the sunny beach!

Well, after dark we got a late night knock on the campervan with a flashlight - not usually a good sign! It was the neighborhood farmer who asked if we knew about the possibility of the flash floods on the fords to the campground - he told us that a for'night ago, about 5 different campers got stuck at the campground for about 3 days after the water flooded! He told us the only way they escaped was after the locals hired a flatbed trailer to haul them and their vehicles across the fords! With beer in hand we decided we better get while the gettin' was good! The neighbor generously offered his cow paddock for us to pull-up in - but our poor little toyota was stuck in the wet green grass on a mostly level field and we didn't think a wet cow paddock on a hill would be good for us. We motored a short clip down the secondary road and pulled off near a sheep paddock. Grant could barely get to sleep.

When we awoke from the night of rain, it was still cold and blustery but we toughed it out and went to see the Moeraki boulders. Lucky for us that we had to sleep in a strange pullout instead of the campground because we got up earlier than we otherwise would have. We drove to the beach and boiled some water for our coffee. With coffee in hand, we walked down the beach and had the boulders and the early morning beach to ourselves apart from one other German lady - until we started back towards the van and then bammo! Tourist invasion! People everywhere, and a full parking lot. Just as we were pulling out, we saw the giant bus full of tourists pulling in - so we just missed the rush hour of the boulders, and we were there for low tide as well. I guess sometimes things work out for the best!

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