Day 2: Penguins, ancient boulders and world’s steepest street

On Day 2, we drove from Omarama to Oamaru to see blue penguins, then to the strange Moeraki Boulders on Koekohe Beach, and finally landed in Dunedin to walk up the steepest street in the world. We covered quite a number of kilometers of road on this day.

Omarama

After a full day of driving, we spent the night at Omarama. It was a quiet town and there weren’t many options for food where we stayed but we managed to find fish and chips for dinner before retiring for the night. We didn’t do much in Omarama, only bought some groceries for the road and refilled our gas the next day. Omarama is a favourite destination for glider pilots it seems. Our itinerary suggested seeing a sheep shearing demonstration at a local cafe but we didn’t have time for that.

"Incorrect GPS maps an issue."
Yikes. GPS gone wrong.

While grocery shopping, I saw this newspaper headline at the supermarket, something I think most tourist drivers in NZ would not want their GPS units doing!

We set up the GPS to Dunedin which was our final destination for the day. It was a wet day, drizzling throughout so we were careful in our driving. A lot of country road lay ahead of us and the speed limit in NZ is usually 100km/h. There are signs every now and then reminding foreign drivers that “NZ roads are different”, meaning people should be more patient and keep to the speed limit. It’s not the German autobahn we’re talking about here.

While driving in South Island, I saw a lot of farm fields with these giant irrigation sprinklers spraying water (or not) on the crops.

Pivot irrigation for farming on a field, as we left Omarama

Temperatures were in the low teens (Celsius) when we departed Omarama and it felt like the early onset of winter. It was a far contrast to the sunny warm day we had the previous day. Talk about drastic shift in weather pattern!

En route, we stopped by a power station along Waitaki River to have a look at the dam.

First of eight power stations along Waitaki River

 

Waitaki River power station
Turbine built in 1941, used as a generator. Made of cast steel and weighs 17 tonnes!

Oamaru

We drove for about 1.5 hours along State Highway 85 before reaching SH 1 and turning right to enter Oamaru.

My kakapo companion – turning right now to Oamaru
View of the seaside at Oamaru

Oamaru is a known spot for blue penguin sightings, so we decided to drop by and see some. We found a centre called Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, you have to book in an evening viewing session to see the penguins coming on to the shore at dusk after they’ve been fishing and swimming at sea the entire day, which at the time we were there (summer) meant around 8 pm.

Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony

It was still early in the day and we weren’t spending a night in Oamaru, so sadly we had to miss this spectacle and settle with going through the penguin museum and walk around the premises.

Me at the penguin crossing in Oamaru
A penguin burrow with shed feathers
Blue penguins are also called “Fairy penguins!” 🙂
How my mom measures up to the different species of penguins!

We also looked at some penguins kept in a special (musky-smelling) shed where they are all molting (i.e. losing their baby feathers to make way for adult ones), but we weren’t allowed to take photos as they were enclosed in dark boxes and could be stressed out. So we left the shed after viewing them and walked around the compound in the rain to read up more about the animals.

A female blue penguin typically lays two eggs at a time
Viewing deck of the penguin show – can you spot the sleeping seal?

After getting some penguin souvenirs, we went to grab some lunch before heading out to Dunedin.

A rainy day, Waitaki District Council building in Oamaru
Leaving Oamaru on a rainy day, Waitaki District Council building to the left

Moeraki Boulders

On the way down to Dunedin, we stopped by Koekohe Beach where some huge unique boulders are located. To enter the beach, you drop 2 dollars into a collection box at the top of the stairs and then walk down to the beach.

It was still raining so we walked carefully down the stairs and onto the gravel path that leads to the beach.

Walking down the gravel path to Moeraki Boulders
Welcome to Moeraki Boulders
My first view of Koekohe Beach

At first glance, the beach didn’t look very impressive, especially since the weather was so cold, miserable and uninviting. Teluk Cempedak beach in Pahang had bigger and more impressive boulders than this, I initially said to my mom.

But then upon coming closer to the big rocks, I could see why they were special and a bit out-of-worldly, they were unusually round and had a curious, sulphur-coloured core. With cracks on the surface (called septaria), Moeraki Boulders even resembled prehistoric dinosaur eggs! They are said to have been formed 60 million years ago.

Mom posing with the Moeraki boulders
Kids photographing some broken up boulders – notice the yellow calcite
Have you hugged a boulder today?
Here’s a boulder unassumingly jutting out from the bank

Here’s a photo of me emerging from a boulder like a hatchling, taken from my Instagram:

We had seen enough of the ancient round boulders so we left after about an hour to continue our journey to Dunedin before it got too late.

Dunedin

The coat of arms of Otago University in Dunedin

Dunedin is the second largest city in South Island and is home to Otago University where more than 20,000 students attend university. It also boasts having the world’s steepest street, named Baldwin Street, according to the Guinness book of records!

The name Dunedin came from the Scottish Gaelic name for the capital city of Edinburgh. No matter how many times our local Kiwi friends said it for me, I had a difficult time trying to remember how to correctly pronounce “Dunedin.” So while in the city, I made a short video to remind myself.

After checking into our motel, we drove to the foot Baldwin Street, where the world’s steepest street is, it has a whopping 35% grade!

Baldwin Street

At the foot of Baldwin Street:


Baldwin Street became the steepest street because when planners in London were drafting out plans to build streets, they drew grids without considering the terrain. As a result, Baldwin Street was born.

Baldwin Street is a residential street so if you’re visiting, please be respectful to the people living here and keep noise to a minimum. I saw some tourists here making such a ruckus here as they attempted to run up the hill and take photographs at the same time. It was quite cringing to watch.

Mom and Dad braving up Baldwin Street

You can opt to walk up the street or take the stairs on either side of the road. We decided to take the stairs as it was less stressful and safer to do. While walking up, I saw a female runner panting and puffing up the street with her headphones on, I honestly thought she was going to collapse at any moment but she kept going till she reached the stop. She definitely had lungs of steel and calves of a beast!

As you reach the top (if you can last that long), you’ll be rewarded with a photo spot at this mural.

A mural awaits you at the top of Baldwin St

The view from the top was calming and breathtaking. I bet property prices up here cost a pretty penny. The street is made from concrete instead of asphalt so that it doesn’t slide downhill in hot weather!

The view from Baldwin St as we head down
The view from Baldwin St as we head down

I saw some cars driving up the hill, presumably in gear one because I could hear the engine revving so hard. I could also smell burning tyres as the cars finally got to the house it was trying to get to!

House on Baldwin St

There is a small souvenir shop at the bottom of the hill where Baldwin Street starts that you could drop by and have a look at. I didn’t go in but from the sign, I read you could get ceramic souvenirs and also a certificate of completion stating that you’ve successfully walked/run/cycled/etc up Baldwin Street!

Souvenir shop at the foot of Baldwin St – you can buy a certificate here for $2, saying you’ve gone up Baldwin Street

(After my trip back from New Zealand, I found out that there is a chocolate charity race called the Jaffa Race in which Jaffa chocolate balls labeled with numbers are raced down Balwin Street! How cool is that! Check out this video of that bizarre race.)

With Baldwin Street done and dusted, we drove around the city that was now getting quiet and stopped by the Dunedin railway station for some photos. The railway station, opened in 1906, is stunning and had a beautiful flower garden in the front.

Mom and me in the garden of the Railway station at Dunedin
Distance from Dunedin to Edinburgh & other major cities
A vintage train on display at Dunedin train station

Dunedin also has a Cadbury World which is situated just across the street from the railway station but media reports that the factory part of it is to be closed by March 2018.

Dinner at The Reef in Dunedin – excellent service and food

Before ending the night, my parents and I went to have dinner at this nice seafood restaurant in town called The Reef. It was also to commemorate my belated birthday back in January. The service here was excellent and the lady who waited on us meticulously described the special of the day, which was a fish dish. We all ordered the same thing!

Fish special of the day, along with a side of kumara potato wedges

I also had a side of kumara potato wedges, which is a Maori sweet potato that has low starch content and is supposedly better than normal potatoes. I liked it with the chilli aioli sauce. Because our portions were so generous, we ran out of room for dessert!

And that concludes our day at Oamaru-Dunedin. It’s time to recharge and get rested before we tackle Day 3.

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