The day we left Akaroa the sun finally showed its face. As we were headed for Dunedin, at least a five-hour drive away, we made an effort to be up and out at a decent hour. After leaving the steep hills and winding roads of the Banks Peninsula, the coastal Canterbury plains, south of Christchurch, were flat and the motorway straight. We made it to Timaru and pulled off into the town for some lunch at a café overlooking the waterfront. It felt odd to see Christmas decorations lining the main street. Further down the coast in Oamaru, we stopped to buy a soft sided cooler and to stock up on groceries. Our last stop was in Moeraki to see the boulders on the beach that are so often written about and pictured in guide books. They are a geologic feature that fires the imagination and we found them amusing, but not quite the big deal we anticipated from so much publicity.




A boulder broken open, showing the inner structure


Dinosaur eggs? Giant’s marbles?

As the day wore on and we got closer to Dunedin, the weather deteriorated and we encountered some rain. Nevertheless, we made it to our rented house in St. Clair, a beachside suburb of Dunedin, and were pleased to find the views from it just as spectacular as we had hoped. The house overlooked the beach at St. Clair as well as the harbor and city of Dunedin, with the Otago Peninsula in the distance.


Dunedin harbor with city center just off to the left


Dunedin harbor to the left, Otago peninsula straight ahead, St. Clair beach to the right


St. Clair Beach

It was nice to spread out and relax for a few days, cooking for ourselves, and enjoying our own space. We had some decent weather and some mixed weather in Dunedin. It was windy, but that seems to be the norm there. We never tired of staring out at the view! For a lot of tourists in New Zealand, Dunedin doesn’t quite make it into their itinerary. It’s just a little further out of the way if you are trying to visit the biggest and most popular attractions, and with so much to see in the country, it often gets left out. That’s a shame as it is a lovely, manageable city, and there are a variety of things to do and see. For one, there are excellent botanic gardens. The Dunedin Botanic Gardens are easy to access on the north side of the city, and on our first afternoon we went for a visit. Much to our delight, once again, the rose garden was in full bloom!









We also enjoyed other areas in the gardens, including the impressive Rhododendron Glen. There was even an aviary with parrots, parakeets, cockatoos, and many other interesting birds, many of which are native to New Zealand. Unfortunately, the birds were difficult to photograph due to the visual interference of the enclosures.







The Rhododendron glen


A local resident



On the way home we passed by the iconic Dunedin Railway Station. I managed to snap a photo from the car.


The beach at St. Clair is known for its surfing, which is one reason we chose to stay there. Michael was hoping to get in some surfing, even if we were about as close to the Antarctic as you can get in a surf spot! Our first day in Dunedin, we checked out the esplanade in St. Clair and he found a surf shop and browsed their boards. We also found a nice seaside saltwater swimming pool. So our second day there, Michael went off in the morning to swim in the pool for exercise and came back a couple of hours later with a surfboard! This wasn’t so surprising because his plan all along was to purchase a surfboard to use in New Zealand. Since it was a beautiful sunny day, we set off to explore the Otago Peninsula with the thought of stopping so Michael could surf on the way back.


St. Clair beach on a sunny day from the house


The Otago Peninsula creates a well-protected harbor for the city of Dunedin and is known for its wildlife. The road out to the end follows closely along the shoreline on the harbor side. As we drove out, we stopped to admire the birds on the flats. There were White-faced herons, a Royal spoonbill, Shags, seagulls, Oyster catchers, and Black swans among others.


Heron and Oystercatcher




Black swans with goslings


I loved this Royal spoonbill!







Like the Banks Peninsula, this one also had steep, grass covered hills, and lots of sheep. At the end of the peninsula is the Royal Albatross Center. The only land based breeding colony of Royal albatross in the world is located here, along with a colony of Blue penguins. The center has a museum and exhibits about the albatross as well as Fort Taiaroa, an historical military installation. They study and protect the birds, and run tours where you can observe them from a protected location. We decided to skip the tour, but we did have a look at the exhibits. It was extremely windy at the end of the peninsula. Nevertheless, we walked over to a viewpoint where we could see hundreds of birds wheeling in the wind off the cliff tops. Most were gulls, but we did catch sight of one or two albatross gliding over the water, which was exciting. The wind was so strong, however, that it was all we could do to stand upright!


I could barely hold the camera still to take this photo!

On the way back down the peninsula, we stopped to have a picnic and then took the high road the rest of the way. The views were spectacular as we wound along the tops of the ridges and looked down to the outer side of the peninsula.




As planned, we stopped at Smail’s Beach, a local surf spot, so that Michael could try out his new board. The wind was howling and the conditions weren’t ideal, be he got wet anyway. I enjoyed the flowers along the path to the beach. The extreme wind made it very difficult to catch waves. Still, at least the sun was shining.


Michael waxing his new board by the car


Setting off down the path




Smail’s beach




Waiting for the right wave


That evening we had a gorgeous view of the city lights from the house.




The day we left Dunedin we went into the city center to poke around a bit. We walked around an area of the city known as The Octagon and enjoyed the architecture. Having parked by a coffee shop which provided delicious coffee and other treats, we found that there were also some murals nearby. Dunedin has a collection of murals by various artists sprinkled around the city. Another time, I would make a point of searching them out on a walking tour. I guess I’ll just have to go back!


A Dunedin street



The café with our car and surfboard in front and murals



As we left Dunedin headed for Queenstown, we both agreed that we liked the city and would willingly go back to spend more time there. It has a down to earth vibe, is unpretentious, and the people we met were friendly. We were glad we chose to go there.

Next stop is Queenstown, so stay tuned for more!

See you down the road.






Chistchurch and Akaroa

Our journey around the South Island of New Zealand began in Christchurch. A morning flight from Auckland went smoothly and our luggage arrived without mishap, so that was a good start. Interestingly enough, no one checked our identification even once during the trip! As the car rental company I had chosen didn’t have a desk at the airport, we telephoned them and their van came to pick us up without delay. About New Zealand is the slightly lower budget version of Apex Car Rental– same ownership and facility, just slightly older cars. Our Toyota Rav 4 was a little scuffed around the edges but seemed in decent working order. I had requested a vehicle with side rails on the roof to make carrying a surfboard easier, but that wasn’t to be. Michael assured me it would be fine and he could cope, so off we went.

The last time I had been in Christchurch was in February of 2009, almost two years before the devastating earthquakes in September, 2010 and February, 2011, which shook the region and caused extensive damage in the city. Though the city has progressed mightily in its long, slow recovery, some things will never be the same. In particular, ChristChurch Cathedral, a major landmark, was severely damaged and its tower later demolished. However, the Botanic Gardens are alive and well, and as I had so enjoyed them the first time, we set off to pay them a visit.

With cloudy weather and occasional threats of rain, we found the temperature much colder than on the North Island. None of the trees, flowers, or birds seemed to mind however, and the gardens were looking lovely. The Christchurch Botanic Gardens form a spacious city park with walking paths cradled in a great u-shaped bend of the Avon River, which borders it on three sides. One thing I like about the Gardens is the trees. The park is as much arboretum as garden, with huge, mature specimens of trees from all over, including California Redwood and Giant Sequoia. We wandered the paths for a bit until we came to the rose garden, which was in full bloom. It might have felt more like spring than our hoped-for summer, but we had arrived at the perfect time to enjoy the multi-colored splendor of this large and well-tended display. The sights and smells were delightful!















After enjoying the roses, we stopped in to the gift shop and café to poke around. The café was too busy, so, feeling peckish, we wandered out the other side of the Gardens into the city center to find sustenance. We found a cheese monger who provided delicious, bespoke cheese sandwiches on fresh rolls, and also went next door to a Spanish delicatessen where we found some outstanding Salchichon salami. Armed with our picnicn and some steps to sit on, out of the wind, we munched happily. Lunch was followed by a bit of wandering, a look in a few craft shops, and a peek at the Canterbury Museum. We enjoyed more trees and birds on our stroll back through the Botanic Gardens to the car again.



Song thrush

Having navigated our way out of Christchurch’s city center, we drove out to the Banks Peninsula and the town of Akaroa, our destination for two nights. The drive is beautiful as the peninsula is made up of undulating hills which provide lovely views down to the many coves and inlets that form the coastline. Akaroa is situated on a natural harbor, well protected from the open ocean. It was settled by French colonists who claimed the area for France around the same time it was being claimed for England as well. Consequently, the area retains some French influences with place names and cultural identity. Unfortunately, since the weather was not cooperating, it was cold and damp while we were there. Instead of going out on the water on a sailing tour as I had hoped, we chose to stay closer to shore. We did venture out to Okains Bay on the other side of the peninsula and enjoyed spectacular views on the drive over.


Akaroa Harbor stretches a long way into the body of the peninsula.





Okains Bay is a small settlement with a sandy beach on a bay. We checked out the beach and thought it would have been quite inviting in warm weather. On that day it was mostly deserted, except for some Variable oystercatchers.




Mussel beds


A shopkeeper in Akaroa had recommended the small Okains Bay Museum, so we stopped to have a look. This turned out to be a real find! The museum contains artifacts and displays of both the Maori and colonial history of the area. There was quite a variety of things to see and we had the place all to ourselves. One building contained a collection of Maori waka, the traditional ocean going canoes used by the original settlers of New Zealand. There were other beautiful exhibits on Maori life as well.






Of particular interest to me was a display pertaining to some of the early colonial era settlers in the region. As in Russell, the area was frequented by whalers. I noticed mention of one Seth Howland and felt reasonably sure he was probably some distant ancestral relation of mine!


Then, when we were talking to the curator of the museum about my family’s connection to whaling history, she asked if we had seen the scrimshaw of the Charles W. Morgan, a whaling vessel built in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1841 by my ancestor, for whom it was named. This surprised me as we had missed it! She had been doing some research while working on renovating the exhibit and had learned quite a lot. Michael and I had been on board the Charles W. Morgan when it was visiting New Bedford in 2014 on its historic 38th voyage. The Morgan, which today is the only wooden whaleship left in the world, frequented New Zealand waters from 1846, calling into the Bay of Islands and Mangonui on the North Island for supplies and Maori crew. Talk about a small world moment! We went back in to see the scrimshaw and managed to capture a few photos to share with you.




After our museum adventure, we drove back over to Akaroa enjoying the views again. It might have been chilly while we were on the Banks Peninsula, but it was still beautiful, and Akaroa is a pretty little town.




More roses!



Next up will be Dunedin, so stay tuned!

See you down the road.