Dunedin Pyramids and Albatrosses

We awoke after a good night’s rest in our castle. Although I must come clean now: we were not actually staying as much in the castle, as in the transformed former stables. Which meant that we had our complimentary breakfast next to mr. Horse, who was still wearing the original owner’s saddle. Actually it al looked quite nice and certainly authentic. After a mini croissant and a bagel with salmon and eggs, we were ready to do some wildlife spotting, which was the main reason for coming here in the first place.

Wildlife number one on the itinerary were the Albatrosses. A rare opportunity, because these giant birds (they are like the Boeings of the birds) spend most of their lives on sea. In fact: they spend the first 5 years of their lives solely at sea and never once come ashore. After 5 years the birds are teenagers and start coming ashore every summer break to date. After two or three years of dating, they decide who they want to be with and (usually) pair up for life. After that they come ashore once every two years to lay one (!) egg and foster the baby. Because raising a baby Albatross is so intensive, the parents need a break to recover and both spend a year at sea – apart from each other. They tend to spend this time in the most southern parts of the world, where the water is cold and food is plentiful and actually cross the globe from New Zealand to Argentina and Chile and again to New Zealand when it is time to mate again. Although the parents spend this whole year apart from each other, they tend to arrive back home with 2-3 days or even hours of each other (in some cases they even arrive within the same hour). Now you may think that you could spot Albatrosses in Argentina or Chile, but I saw on a map at the Albatross sanctuary that they usually pick very secluded islands as their home.

So to be able to spot them here at the Royal Albatross Centre, is a great opportunity. In fact, the reason they are here is a big coincidence. The area was used by the Military during the Second World War to install cannons against the invading Japanese. In order to do that, they had to clear the forested area, which made this a perfect flat landing strip for the huge albatrosses after the military abandoned the place (landing within a dense forest with a wingspan of 3 meters is not really an option).

Before we bought the tickets I asked about what we could expect (seeing albatrosses does not come cheap), and the chap told us that there were in fact three brooding albatrosses right in front of the observation post. This of course got me excited, so we confidently bought the tickets. What I didn’t know, was that brooding albatross are actually quite boring to look at:

Thankfully, there was also a teenager around and flying about:

And then there were two:

And even three!

Seeing these birds in the wild for the first time and the really interesting presentation by our guide Katrin did make it worth going! Next stop were supposed to be penguins, but we decided to skip those. The ones living in the wild were currently ‘out’  looking for food, so the only way to see them was to do a tour at sundown to see them coming ashore. This immediatly brought back memories of our own penguin watching tour in Australia (they were even the same kind of penguins!) so we abandoned that option. The second option was to visit the rare yellow eyed penguins at a sanctuary where the sick ones are being nursed back to health. Since it was expensive, we didn’t want to bother the sick ones and the next tour would be in a couple of hours, we decided against the penguins and headed over to the pyramids of Dunedin!

Spoiler alert: there were no mummies. And no sand either. These pyramids can be found right near Victory Beach in the Okia reserve which is a mixture of wetland and dune country. The pyramids are actually made up of geometric basalt volcanic columns, then covered in grass and look like this:

We had a nice stroll towards them and then went on to Victory beach and had some lunch. After spending 2-3 hours there, we had to go back home and get ready for dinner. Because tonight we were cordially invited to dinner at Larnach castle!

When you are a guest at the castle, you can choose to make a dinner reservation and have dinner in the actual dining room inside the castle. Without any of the red tape that is there to keep the day visitor’s out of course. During dinner I sat next to a lovely elder couple from Austria and had a nice German couple in front of me. Both couples had been in New Zealand longer than we had, so I got a lot of tips and pleasant conversation. Dinner itself was great by the way, with a poached pear salad, followed by spanner crab and prawn stuffed squid tube with pearl couscous and passionfruit, lemon and almond cake as dessert!

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