Monday, April 4, 2011

Learning to Drive Backwards: Roadtrip to the Moeraki Boulders and the Otago Peninsula

Finally - I have the pictures!  And I will use them to take you through my trip to the Moeraki Boulders and the Otago Peninsula.

After several weekends outside of Dunedin, some of my flatmates and I definitely wanted some time around home.  Instead of the usual weekend-long trip, we rented a car and went for a day trip to some sights nearby...

[First stop - the Moeraki Boulders.  They were located about an hour-drive north along the coast.  These boulders were encased in mudstone a long, long time ago and then were re-exposed by wave erosion action.]

[I had seen pictures while Googling close sight-seeing stops, but I had no idea just how big they were until we were standing right next to them.  They were perfectly smooth and most of them weren’t as cracked as the one my friend Julia is poking at above.]

[After some struggles, we finally got onto the boulders.  We forgot to look up when high tide was... my sweater and jeans were thoroughly soaked by the time I made it to my perch. (Photo by Julia S.)]

[A friendly co-tourist offered to take a picture of the four travelers.  Left to right: Beverley (Elizabeth’s friend from home), Elizabeth, Julia, and me (Photo compliments of Julia S.)]

[On our way back to Dunedin, we made a stop at a place we had seen earlier on the map - Shag Point.  We hoped to just jump out of the car and take a picture with a signpost, but instead were welcomed by the view.  A little bit better than an immature photo with a sign...]

[Another shot at Shag Point.  There were some big, lazy sea lions lounging among the drift wood - just look for the brown blobs.]

After a quick stop at home for dry clothes, we made our way out to the Peninsula.  This is when I got to take the wheel.  I ignored my trembling nerves and hit the gas - we had so many things to see!

[First Peninsula Stop - The Larnach Castle.  One of the only mansions within the Dunedin limits, this castle was built in the 18th Century by William Larnach, a famous banker and politician.  Some claim that the castle is haunted - Larnach committed suicide after financial ruin AND finding out that his lover was having an affair with his favorite son.  But it was hard to believe it on such a beautiful, sunny day.]

[View of the Peninsula from the Larnach grounds]

[To save time (and money), we only toured the gardens surrounding the castle.  They were well-manicured plots full of pretty and Dr.-Seuss-esque flowers.]

[Even Alice was there!]

[Another garden...]

[... And more flowers.  The red and white combo definitely stuck with the Wonderland theme.]

[Inside the ballroom, a present Larnach built for his daughter’s 21st birthday.  Now it houses the castle’s tourist cafe.]

[What we believed to be part of the Lost Rock Garden.  I can’t remember the history exactly, but some famous gentleman came to the castle, built the garden, and then it promptly became overgrown with weeds and trees.  It had to be fished out of the vegetation... But we still weren’t exactly sure where it was.]

[Next, we drove alllll the way out to the end of the Peninsula to Taiaroa Head.  We watched the waves crash along the shore for a bit, goggled at the seals laying on the rocks, and paid a quick visit to the Royal Albatross Center.]

[Though we didn’t see any albatross while visiting the Head, there were lots of other seabirds around, like this White-Faced Heron.]

[Pilot Beach, also at Taiaroa Head.  Little did I know that later in the evening this is where I would see my first (and only!) NZ penguin!]

[Back in the car!  I drove all over the Peninsula until it got dark - then I let my more experienced friend Julia take over.  The Peninsula was probably not the best place to to learn how to drive ‘backwards.’  The road going out to the end of the Peninsula, Portobello Rd, is RIGHT along the coast, maybe a foot from the water, and curves close around the edges.  Rarely was I able to hold the steering wheel straight.  But it was nothing compared the next road we took - Highcliff.  This road went up the middle of the Peninsula, and the climb combined with the tight turns made us feel like we were driving straight into the sky.  And did I mention - these roads were also the narrowest I have EVER been on.  Thanks to that, I felt like I was slamming the breaks before every big curve, just in case someone was coming the other way.  Guess I had to learn somehow... Every time we got back into the car felt better than the last.]

[Since it was still too early for dinner, we went to the other side of the Peninsula to track down some 250-m high cliffs we had seen advertised on the map.  We parked our car and hiked straight through some sheep fields to find the Chasm (above and below) and then Lover’s Leap (coming up).  The pictures do not do these places justice.  Not only were they HUGE and beautiful, but you could walk right up to the edge!  Sure, there were fences to keep the sheep back, but us bi-peds were allowed to go as close as our minds/hearts could bear.]

[Another shot of the Chasm]

[A ten-minute walk away was Lover’s Leap, an equally outstanding view.]

[Another part of Lover’s Leap, or maybe just some cool scenery nearby (hard to tell where the ‘location’ ends - no signs or explanations).  Very pretty with the water gushing up the middle.  Again, the picture doesn’t help much with scale, but these views were very intimidating.]

[Finally - supper time!  We stopped by the 1908 Café in Portobello, pretty much the biggest town on the Peninsula - and town is stretching it.  They had a wonderful menu, making it very hard to chose.  Well, actually, not for that long.  I had yet to try my first lamb in New Zealand, so I went for the Lamb Shank in the Orange and Maple Syrup Sauce.  It was accompanied by salad and mashed potatoes.]

[And then... we got lost.  It wasn’t completely our fault.  A very thick fog settled over the Peninsula as went to the café and didn’t lift before we went back out.  The roads were also very small and not very well marked.  Eventually we found our way to Sandfly Bay, a place reputed for its penguin and sea lion populations.  We weren’t lucky enough to spot any feathery/furry friends, but the sight was still pretty as night rolled in.]

[Attempting to hold hands with a penguin, despite their ominous absence.  We had asked our hostess at the café for some penguin advice, and she directed us back to Pilot Beach after-dark.  We got there in time to hike down to the beach and join the other tourists wearing headlamps and hanging on the fence, staring as hard as they could into the darkness.  We eventually began to hear the Little Blue Penguins chirping/singing as they made their way onto shore, but it was too dark to see anything.  Suddenly, a man turned around and put his spotlight directly on a tiny, waddling penguin looking very lost as it scuttled off as quickly as it could.  Maybe 10 inches tall, dark blue-grey feathers... my FIRST PENGUIN!!!  I didn’t have time (or light) to get out my camera, but this sighting counted.  I definitely recommend Googling ‘little blue penguins’ asap.]

After waiting around for the other penguins to show themselves (they didn’t), we jumped back in the car one last time and drove home.  We were pretty worn out after such a full day.

[Our car the next morning before taking her back.  Dubbed Sasha, she was a good little Ford Focus that didn’t complain (too much) about the back-gravel-roads.]

The freedom of having my own car was hard to give up again, but it came at an excellent price for a day so full of adventures.  I think they day may have been a little full for some girls looking to have a relaxing weekend, but I’m glad I got to cross so many things off of my list.  I also (mostly) got over my fear of driving ‘backwards,’ very important as our Easter Break road-trip is quickly approaching.  The next few weeks will be full of research, paper-writing, and a couple more trips here and there.  This past weekend was simple and chill - I did some volunteering around Dunedin.  Check back soon for pictures of puppies and compost :)


  1. Fabulous! Absolutely fantastic! Had to look at each picture individually to soak in all of the details. And yeah! For the penguin, but am beginning to like the sea lions just as much! (maybe if the penguins don't sense your quest, they will come out in droves) This all must really seem like a dream to you, your senses surely bombarded by every new adventure. Will Penns Valley be too tame for you upon your return?? Loving you, Mom

  2. @ Cyndy: No way. I think about Penns Valley everyday and still can’t wait to come home. I don’t think any adventure is ever going to knock that out of me. I want to travel more while home, but around PA and the neighboring states - eventually the whole country. It blows my mind every time I talk to a Kiwi and find out that they’ve never gone to see the penguins or to visit the mountains or waterfalls. They’re RIGHT HERE. And then I realized I’m somewhat guilty of the same thing back home. Easy fix!

  3. P.S. Are you expecting a ballroom for your 21st birthday? Snicker, snicker, snort, snort. Sorry, but not...maybe an auditorium, but not a ballroom...

  4. The contrast in shading and clarity of this photo (View of the Peninsula from the Larnach grounds) makes it look as if it is a painting and not a photograph. Sooo cool. Perhaps you ought to go to the Larnach ballroom for your 21st birthday. I believe it is human nature to take for granted the beauty and experiences in your midst on a daily basis. Every time I go to Michigan I go to the beach, regardless of season I go and soak in the view even if I do not soak in the water or lie in the sand. I talk to friends who haven't been to the beach in years. That just does not compute, yet I have never been to Ricketts Glen here in PA. Thank you for allowing me to live vicariously through you. Enjoy and be safe. Happy Birthday Elly.