Venturing Away From Quarantine

Posted: April 18, 2018 in 2018, Adventures, New Zealand

Kia ora readers! Once again I’m about to have a week without internet, but I wanted to at least get one more blog entry posted before going MIA. I will catch up with this blog eventually!

”Otago Peninsula and Taiaroa Head is a unique and very special place. It is a place that every visitor to Dunedin should see” – Sir David Attenborough

”In my opinion the Otago Peninsula is the finest example of eco-tourism in the world” Professor David Bellamy

After Easter weekend, I got to join the Quarantine family for an off-island adventure. We began by boating to the mainland, then driving to the end of the Otago Peninsula (known as the Wildlife Capital of New Zealand) to visit the Northern Royal Albatross colony and the Royal Albatross Centre where Dries used to work as a tour guide (and thus I got to learn many fascinating facts about albatross without taking an official tour!). On the way we passed Weller’s Rock, the site of the Wellers Brothers whaling station (not a great history, but good for the town for acknowledging it).

When we got to the colony, almost as soon as we walked to the first observation point we spotted an albatross flying overhead – a good sign! We also saw some seals sunning themselves on the beach and some gulls and cormorants. Next, we went inside to the albatross exhibit, which was quite interesting (again, having the former tour guide perspective was awesome). I learned that the Northern Royal Albatross is the third-largest albatross in the world and is only located in two places; 99% live in a colony on the Chatham Islands, and 1% live in the colony we were visiting, the only mainland breeding colony of Royal Albatross in the world. Did you know: After 7-8 years away from their colony, young albatrosses know exactly where to fly and always return to their original colony. Albatrosses live for an average of 20 years, with the oldest at this particular colony having lived to be over 60! They are the only bird with three joints in each wing, and their wingspan can be up to 3.2 meters (106-120 inches)! At the exhibit I also learned that this part of Dunedin – Taiaroa Head/Pukekora and Fort Taiaroa – has some hidden cannons and tunnels that were used to protect the area against Russian invaders in the late 1880s. The fort has now been transformed into the museum we were visiting and holds the Armstrong Disappearing Gun, the only breechgun of its kind in working condition today.


After eating lunch at the albatross centre we walked back outside to check out Pilot’s Beach, where we saw at least six seals as well as proof of Little Blue Penguins (we could see their feathers from molting at each penguin tracking box). I learned that in this part of New Zealand they need to set cat traps, because wild cats are a threat to the local albatross and penguins. Even invasive animals we think of as cute and friendly can be a threat to native New Zealand birds!

Next, we drove to Allans Beach where a huge sea lion was lounging in the sand. Noah was excited to show me how he could build a sand slide, and I spent some happy hours getting completely sandy sliding down, climbing back up, digging a giant hole (because why not), etc. I also learned some facts about this beach: When the tide is low you can catch mussels there, and the waves are HUGE; definitely not a safe place to get caught in a current (Mike: If you’re keeping count, the waves in New Zealand are far superior to those we saw in Australia). Noah also performed some of the Maori hakas he learned in school. Super cool! Then we drove back to the marine center and took the boat back over to the island. Definitely a fun day exploring the local area!



The next morning, Noah was my helper as I packed up and cleaned the lodge because, sadly, I’d be leaving the island that day. Noah discovered the little Digimon figurine I was traveling with and, after learning that I’d wanted to take photos of him throughout my travels (which I’ve completely failed to do), decided to start the process. Here is a collection of some of his very seriously, thoughtfully planned shots:


Later we all took the boat back across the harbour; Noah would be getting new shoes in town and I’d tag along so I could take a bus from town to Kristen and Chris’ house, where I’d be staying that night. I had an early bus to Queenstown the next morning, so they were kind enough to offer me accommodation. When we drove into town, although I’d told him I wouldn’t be coming on the shopping trip, Noah was surprised to learn we’d be parting ways. “Will you meet us for lunch?” He asked with shocked eyes. No, I explained, but this was not goodbye; Quarantine Island and these amazing people were an important part of my trip, and I’d already spoken to Dries about returning at the end of my travels to volunteer again. So, rather than goodbye I said “Tot ziens,” which means something like “See you later” in Flemish.

After parting ways I headed to the center of town to explore more of Dunedin. First stop: I-Site to get a city map and decide what to do with my afternoon. After a quick stop to pick up a Sim card I continued to the railroad station to sit outside and eat lunch. One of the highlights of Dunedin is the Scottish-inspired architecture, which you can see throughout the city. After the railroad I continued toward the Otago Settlers Museum, but along the way I ran into a woman from Tasmania who was interested in the story of Quarantine Island. Thus began what has been a theme of my trip: Singing the praises of Quarantine Island to anyone who wants to listen. She was inspired by my cheery demeanor and volunteering spirit and gave me her business card, offering a room in her house in Tasmania if I ever make it over there. Maybe I’ll contact her if I ever go there!


Scottish-inspired architecture of the railway station

Next, on the way to the museum another attraction caught my eye: The Dunedin prison. The man inside said that a tour would be beginning shortly so I decided to join. While waiting with the guide for the other tour attendees, I once again got to share the story of Quarantine. I will say: The tour itself was not overly interesting, but I know a bit more about Dunedin prison history now. The most interesting part of the tour were the stories of the four escapees, one of whom escaped through a tiny vent in the kitchen. How he fit through it is a mystery…

Finally, I made it to the Settlers Museum. I enjoyed this museum more than the Otago Museum I’d visited before Quarantine, partially because I now knew more about the settlers who had gone into quarantine before heading to mainland, but also because the layout was generally more logical and thought-out (in my opinion). The museum is chronological, beginning with Maori history and legends and advancing through European settlement, war, industrial innovation, technology, and something called “The Dunedin Sound,” a style of music developed in Dunedin in the 1990s. I was surprised that there was nothing about Quarantine Island at the museum, but nonetheless it was a worthwhile way to spend the afternoon.


Scenes from Dunedin (clockwise from top left): One of many funky Dunedin street art murals, a teabag stuck to the ceiling at the prison (yes, it was part of the tour), a quirky aspect of the Settlers Museum – video screens with a guide moving around on it (similar to how you’d imagine a Harry Potter photo to move), a war memorial room, photos of early European settlers in Dunedin. 

After the museum I caught the bus north to Kristen and Chris’ house where, with all my bags, I walked up the fifth-steepest street in the world; I was practically ready to collapse when I got to their door! After dropping off my bags, enjoying the amazing view that comes from being at the top of such a steep street, and making dinner, I headed back out – without my bags this time – to walk over to THE steepest street in the whole world, Baldwin Street. After walking up the fifth-steepest with all my heavy bags, walking up the steepest without anything to carry seemed much easier. I made it to the top, took some obligatory photos, then went right back down, knowing I’d have to climb the fifth-steepest AGAIN to get back. Later, Kristen and Chris’ son told me that back when he was a paperboy he had a route that went up both streets; needless to say it was then that he was in the best shape of his life. Intense! As I walked down Baldwin I also saw a skateboarder attempting to ride down the street, wiping out every couple of feet. “This was such a stupid idea!” I heard him exclaim.


Walking up/the view from Kristen’s street (the photos do no justice to how steep this road is) 


Adventures on Baldwin Street

The next morning Kristen was nice enough to drive me to the bus station, where I boarded a bus and rode off to Queenstown to begin my adventure with Flying Kiwi, a biking/hiking/camping bus company. Thank you again Kristen and Chris for letting me stay; I very much appreciate it!

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