After finishing the Routeburn Track, we stayed the night in Te Anau. The following morning, we drove to Dunedin. It was about a 4 hour drive, and as with all drives in New Zealand, it was scenic. Dunedin is the gateway to the Otago Peninsula.
Upon arriving in Dunedin it was time to eat lunch. We headed to the intersection known for its inexpensive Asian eateries (George St & St Andrew St) and enjoyed some Vietnamese food. After lunch, we headed to Baldwin Street – recognized by Guinness as the world’s steepest street at a 35% grade. For every 3 feet traveled horizontally, the elevation changes by a little more than 1 foot. That’s steep!
Later that afternoon, we drove to the Otago Peninsula. The peninsula is known for its diverse wildlife, rugged countryside, coasts lined with beaches and spectacular cliff top views. We headed to Sandfly Bay in hopes of seeing a yellow-eyed penguin (a rare penguin native to New Zealand). Between the parking area and the beach was a pasture full of sheep.
The best chance to see the yellow-eyed penguin is late afternoon or early evening. We hiked down the sand dunes to the beach. At the end of the beach is a “hide”, a small shelter with a viewing window to look out over the ocean. We went into the hide with hopes of seeing a yellow-eyed penguin come to shore. The penguins spend their day looking for food at sea, and then come onto land for the night.
At time we were there, the penguins were molting (in the process of losing their feathers and getting new ones). While molting, they don’t go out to sea every day, making it harder to spot one. From the hide, we could see all sorts of sea lions resting in the rocks below. They blended in with the rocks so well that I didn’t see them at first. Then, once I knew they were there, I kept spotting new ones.
We didn’t see any penguins from the hide, but as we walked back along the beach, we saw one lying in the sand. We called over a community volunteer who was at the beach; he told us it was a young one and it was sick. It was sad to see. I wanted to see a yellow-eyed penguin, but not under these circumstances.
As we continued our walk back across beach, we walked right past this sea lion. I had never seen one this close before.
That night, we camped at the Ocean View Recreation Reserve. It was right next to the beach and we saw a spectacular sunrise on that beach the next morning.
After sunrise, we headed to Tunnel Beach, which was just a 10-minute drive from where we camped. Tunnel Beach gets its name from the passage that was hand-carved through large coastal rock to provide access to a secluded beach at the base of the cliffs. It’s an easy one-mile hike to get down to the beach and back. The views were spectacular.
After Tunnel Beach, we drove to the end of Sandymount Road to hike the Sandymount Circuit. We hiked to Lovers Leap, The Chasm, the Sandfly Bay viewpoint, and up to the Sandymount summit. So many incredible views packed into this 3-mile hike. And, after a cloudy and cold day yesterday, this day turned out to be sunny and warm.
This wrapped up our hiking in New Zealand. It was now time to drive to Christchurch, where our flight back to the states would depart tomorrow afternoon. We grabbed some snacks from the back for the drive. I looked down at my apple and noticed the sticker said “smitten”. How appropriate…after five weeks in New Zealand, we were definitely smitten with this place.