Honestly, how did people travel before the internet? How did they make decisions on where to go and what to see without reading reviews from others? Just looking through the various brochures in the common area of the holiday park, I was convinced that we will likely see the Larnach Castle, the Otago Museum with the butterfly exhibit, and maybe even check out the Cadbury chocolate factory. Well, we ended up visiting none of those, particularly after reading the reviews and checking out the prices.
Instead, we decided to drive down the Otago Peninsula for some spectacular views and to find the "secret", or rather not so easily accessible, spots for finding wild marine life!
We started off by driving towards the Larnach Castle first because it is situated on a high hill with wonderful views. We couldn't miss the photo opportunities. Unfortunately we couldn't even get in to see the outside of the castle without paying an admission fee, so we promptly turned around and headed back by the water.
We continued on our peninsula adventures and marveled at the incredibly clean and blue water! I just couldn't process how the water was so clear, clean, and blue in such a vast area! Absolutely beautiful.
Royal Albatross Center
We drove all the way to the end of the peninsula to the Royal Albatross Center. Again we didn't feel like paying for admission, so instead we took a walk around and saw many albatross perched on the rocks, and from the platform overlooking the ocean we saw quite a few seals playing in the water. As we walked around, we saw a few rows of seats and realized that this part of the peninsula is home to the small blue penguins. You could sit and watch them return home in the evenings. We are not sure if this was free or not, from our experience it mostly like was not, and we didn't look into it as we had no intention in staying around that long. We did get to see a few seals on the rocks, but they were too far and behind a fence, so we couldn't take any good pictures of them. They seem like such lazy blubbery animals when you see them lounge around in the sun, but when you learn more about how they have to hunt for food and all the predators out there, you realize they don't have it easy at all!
It was time for us to get a bit more adventurous. We found out about a place called Allan's Beach through the Rankers website. People had said you can see penguins and sea lions there. We decided to drive there, and the dirt road didn't scare us despite the size of our Wendekreisen! We didn't see any other motorhomes there, which confirmed our slight insanity. We made it just fine though! First things first, we made some food and decided to have a picnic lunch. When we got Wendekreisen, we added a special package to make sure the kids' car seats were included as well as a a GPS, and a few good insurance perks such as windshield damage coverage. The package also included a nice picnic table and 4 chairs (that we used frequently) and an entertainment system with a little TV and satellite dish (that we actually never ended up using).
After lunch, we headed down to the beach and were told by a few people who were returning that a sea lion was basking in the sun on the beach about 1 km from the path.
The beach is breathtaking! The water is so blue again and the yellow and purple flowers add such perfect contrast to the otherwise blue scenery.
We found Mr. Sea Lion exactly where we were told we would find him. He was busy covering himself with sand and taking a nap. We got as close as we thought was safe and took a few pictures without disturbing the gentle giant!
Ralph Ham Playground
On our way back to mainland, we saw a lovely playground and pulled over to let the kids stretch their legs and play for a bit.
Driving Southwest Through the Catlins
We were definitely over ambitious while picking our next camp site. We probably could have stayed somewhere near Dunedin, but noooo we picked a site about 2 and half hours away from Otago Peninsula! To be fair, although camp sites and holiday parks are plenty in the South Island, there are regions that have barely any free camp sites and anyway we were eager to get on our way.
Because it was getting late and everyone was too hungry, we decided to pull over at a picnic area and cook and eat dinner before continuing on. Asides from the free camp sites, there are many picnic sites just off the roads. You are not allowed to stay overnight in the majority of these and there are clear signs telling you this, however they are meant for drivers to pull over and have a break without having to find a restaurant or coffee shop. They generally have a table or two and some even offer public toilets.
After dinner, we drove through the Catlins and enjoyed some more remarkable views. If we had more time in the South Island, we would have loved to explore the Catlins more. It is such a magical area, with plenty of hiking options. We drove through Papatowai, where the forest meets the sea, and it literally does! It sort of reminded us of one of the last scenes in the Life of Pi movie, where Pi is lying on the beach and Richard Parker disappears into the jungle without looking back. I would have loved to explore the waterfalls and the Cathedral Caves, but we had an itinerary to keep and it was getting too late, so we forged on.
At first we couldn't find our camp site, mainly because we no longer had data coverage or phone service. We had to do a bit of guessing and a couple of trial and error runs, but we found it in the end. Asides from 2 other camper vans, we were the only motorhome that night at Waikava Harbour. We parked where we found the best view, and since we had no connection to the outside world, all that was left to do was get ready for bed.
A very long but very beautiful day! Wouldn't you agree?
Elmer the Elf still visits us every morning. He has found NZ and I guess he doesn't mind the long commute from the North Pole! :) Yesterday, Kian drew a picture and helped Hannah draw and cut out a person. This morning we woke up to Elmer holding the two pieces of art and a special note from Santa that said, "Great job Kian and Hannah!". Elmer sure pays attention to what goes on in our tiny motorhome.