The accommodation we booked at Dunedin was a stylish 4-bedroom 2-bathroom house perched on a hill, a skip and a hop away from the city centre. It had fantastic views of the city and was aptly named City Views on Rattray, the street it was on. Everyone was pleased with the find on Booking.com. The property was modern and spacious, the amenities worked perfectly, and its location was brilliant.
On the morning of 13 December 2019, after a hearty breakfast at the house, we set out to explore the city centre of Dunedin on foot. Just across from the house was St Joseph's Cathedral, a cathedral constructed in the Gothic revival style dating back to 1886. From there, it was an easy walk downhill towards The Octagon, an unique 8-sided plaza which serves as the city centre of Dunedin. Being the quintessential University city in NZ, Dunedin has a large student population. That morning was perhaps Graduation Day because we saw many of them in their full convocation gowns and hats walking around town and taking pictures in front of historic buildings like the Dunedin Town Hall, St Paul's Cathedral and The First Church of Otago.
It started to drizzle and we sought shelter at Meridian Mall. We shared a box of freshly made cinnamon donuts from Donut King in the mall, and my god, those piping hot donuts were the softest and fluffiest donuts I've ever tasted. A must-try in Dunedin... only when you eat them fresh and hot!
To wait out the rain, we shopped and had lunch at the mall before returning to the house to pick up our vehicle. We had plans to spot some wildlife in the Otago Peninsula in the afternoon. Wildlife sightings seemed more frequent in the later part of the day, hence our decision to go in mid-afternoon.
Our first stop in the Peninsula was Sandfly Bay, an easy 15km from the city centre. Sheep were grazing on the private farmland which we had to cross to get to the bay, and a farmer was driving a cart around to herd his sheep. We waved to him, and he waved back! We traversed the farmland on foot, taking care not to step on sheep droppings which were in abundance. The view of the windswept bay was spectacular. Those sheep must be the envy of the sheep world, for being able to enjoy such scenery every day.
Sealions are frequently reported to be seen lazing on the beach at Sandfly Bay. We scanned the beach, magnified 30x using our phone cameras, but did not spot any. It was 1700 hrs at that time. Perhaps, they were not back from their day at sea yet. Anyway, using the magnifier saved us a tiring trek up from the beach. I had read that walking down was easy, but the climb back up in soft sand can be very tiring even for the fittest. We had 4 grandparents in their 70s in our group, so it would have been especially devastating if the walk down yielded no sealion sightings and they got stuck on the way up!
We drove towards the Royal Albatross Centre, 20km away. We had not booked for any royal albatross or blue penguin viewing tours with them, but we figured we might be able to see some of these wildlife in the area anyway. True enough, as we approached the Royal Albatross Centre, we started seeing royal albatrosses flying alongside our vehicle. They are large seabirds with black wings and are known as the monarchs of the sea. Not to be confused with the much smaller seagulls which blanketed the exterior of the Royal Albatross Centre. The horrible, fishy stench outside the Centre was nauseating. We parked as far from the Centre as we could, to avoid getting our vehicle covered in bird droppings.
Near the Centre was a passage which led to Takiharuru (Pilots Beach). Blue penguins and sealions are frequently sighted at Pilots Beach. To protect them, access is closed from one hour before sunset to 0800 hrs the following day. We arrived at Pilots Beach at close to 1800 hrs and spotted at least a dozen sealions on the beach and in the water, just a few feet away from us. It was incredible!
As we were observing the sealions, ominous storm clouds had gathered and the howling wind which followed was like none other I had experienced before. It blew a tightly wound rubber band out of my daughter's hair and, by the time I got back to our vehicle, I was partially deaf.
Not wanting to get drenched in the ensuing storm, we left the area by 1830 hrs. We had yet to visit Baldwin Street, which held the title of the world's steepest residential street in the Guinness Book of Records from 1987 to July 2019. Baldwin Street was 35km away and we decided that we had just enough time to drop by for a quick climb before retiring to the house for dinner.
When we got there, the street was crawling with tourists like us. The residents must be so annoyed by the constant stream of huffing and puffing tourists, curiously peering into their homes. At 35% gradient, it was quite a workout for unfit me.
That night, we cooked a pot of rice, chopped up our leftover breakfast ingredients of sausage, bacon and ham, added some peas and carrots, cracked a few eggs, and made a big pan of fried rice for dinner. Everyone had fun in the kitchen, and we made use of everything which we would have had trouble bringing with us on our flight to Auckland the next morning. Kudos to zero wastage.