Monday, January 22, 2007

The One with the Road Trip and the P..p..p..penguins

We head to the airport and pick up our new mode of transport for the next week or so. Bertha (as we name her) is small and petite... a bit of a shock for 4 fully grown people, with 4 large backpack, 4 day sacks and a cool bag! It'll be no surprise that it was a bit of a squash!

Before hitting the open road, we head to the Antarctic Centre, which seems quite apt, as we will be having a penguin themed day! We follow the penguin flippers from the car park, and head in. The exhibition is quite fantastic, giving information about explorers, the conditions they faced, and letting you experience an antarctic blizzard... (wear a coat and get very cold wind blown at you in the dark!) We all manage to find the child inside us however, and play in the igloo, and on the ice slide!

We also get to see the little blue penguins kept here. They have all been injured in some way and would not survive in the wild, but seem happy enough swimming around in their pool!

We wander around the exhibits, learning about everything from global warming, to the science projects based down there, and then watched a short film of images from the south pole, stars, penguins, ice... truly beautiful.

Finally, we hit the road and head south (stopping for more cookies on the way!). With only one million people living in South Island New Zealand, you can pass through some pretty tiny towns so Ben invented the game "Guess the Population" - no rocket science degree needed to play, and kept us amused.

By this point we were probably hyper on the sugar in the cookies, and so when driving through the small village of Glennavy, I randomly burst into song:

In Glennavy,
There's nothing for you to see
In Glennavy
Population you and me
In Glennavy
Policemen hide behind a tree
In Glennavy
In Glennavy

(obviously to the tune of In the Navy). Disclaimer - there may well be things to do in Glennavy, and that whilst the policemen probably don't hide behind trees, the one police car we saw was pretty hidden away.

We headed on and finally reached Oamaru - our home for the night.

That evening we boarded the Penguin Express Bus, and headed off to see the rare Yellow Eyed Penguins come in from the sea. We paid a little extra and went on a special tour which took us on a small track on the cliff side towards some of the nesting boxes.

As we walked along, we stopped as a family of yellow eyed penguins were on the path beside us. They are fairly big, and the two youngsters were adolescents - their soft plume-y feathers already beginning to moult and revealing their swimming feathers underneath. Like most teenagers they looked a bit scruffy! Check out the mullet on the one in the background!

We stood for at least 20 minutes watching them go about family life. They can make quite a racket, and are so so beautiful to look at.

Our guide Bruce, was giving us lots of information about the Yellow Eyed penguins, but I was so overwhelmed by how close we were to these amazing birds that I only had one ear to him anyway!

We then went and joined the rest of the bus, who were on the cliff top, and had had only a very distant view of the penguins. (I tried not to feel too smug!) The sun was setting, and as you can see, the view in itself made the evening worthwhile!

Back on the bus and we now head to the other penguin landing site in Oamaru, this time home to the Little Blue penguins!

By now it was completely dark, and we sit on a wooden stand to watch raft after raft of the little blues come up out of the water, rewaterproof their feathers, and waddle up to the path. Here they seemd to look both ways before dashing across in a clump, diving under the fence, and disappearing to wherever they are nesting for the night.

One poor little soul, went for a waddle on his own and came almost all the way up to where we were. I think his sense of direction was a bit askew!

What an amazing evening. I felt truly priveledged to be able to get so close to these amazing birds in their natural habitat.

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