Tuesday, March 07, 2017

docking in the highlands

Welcome to Scotland.

If I did not know better, I could have been convinced that I woke up in Edinburgh this morning. I was surrounded by streets of Victorian and Edwardian buildings on streets named Stuart and Moray. And, of course, the inevitable George Street, reminding us that the Stuarts were eventually ousted by the Hanovers (and their Windsor progeny).

But I was not in Edinburgh. I was still in New Zealand. Dunedin to be exact. And, I was not that far off in my fantasy. Dunedin is Gaelic for Edinburgh.

When a group of Scottish Presbyterian settlers arrived here in the 1840s, they wanted to establish a town that reminded them of their homeland. And so they did. A railway station. Law courts. City hall. Churches. All looking as if they could have just stepped off of Princes Street.

The result is a rather pleasant place. And it was even more pleasant on a warm sunny day. Even though this is New Zealand's summer, its weather is cooler and wetter than Australia's. Residents told me how lucky I was to see this architectural gem in clear weather. It usually looks far more like its namesake in drizzle and fog.

But I was not in Dunedin to admire its architecture -- even though I spent a few hours doing just that while eating fish and chips on the main square, which is confusingly an octagon.

I was there to join up with a group of fellow cruisers to hike and bike the Otago peninsula in pursuit of wildlife -- and a bit of exercise. Even though the ship has workout equipment and a track, I have been looking forward to a day on land putting my legs to work.

The Otaga peninsula is home to a wide range of wildlife. Sea lions. Sea leopards. Southern fur seals. Blue penguins. Yellow-eyed penguins. And lots of birds. Not to mention the opossum, stoats, rats, and feral cats that are eating their way through the rest of New Zealand's wildlife and are subject to an intensive trapping and poisoning campaign.

I have been on enough of these tours to know that seeing major fauna is very rare. After all, they have their own lives to lead and are not dependent on our schedules.

Seeing penguins was always a long shot. They leave at dawn to fish and return only at dusk. We were in their nesting area in the late morning.

This was our only penguin sighting. I was happy.

Even the more reliable sea lions were all out to sea.

We did get to see quite a few of New Zealand's birds, though. As our guide said, if a bird has bright colors, it is not from New Zealand. "New Zealand's birds are fifty shades of green." (That was almost the title of this essay.)

We saw bellbirds, Paradise shelducks, Canada geese (they are everywhere causing trouble), cormorants, grey herons, and pukekos -- a rail the size of a chicken. 

And lots of sheep. I told you already that the place reminded me a lot of Scotland with its rolling green hills.

Most of the lambs are destined to be shipped around the world to enhance the reputation of lamb on the dinner table. I need no convincing. It is one of my favorite meats.

If I had come solely for the wildlife, I would have been a bit disappointed with the trip. But I didn't. I was there to hike and bike. And both felt wonderful in New Zealand's clear air. It was another 50 degree short-sleeve day.

This evening we are going to sail past an area that is the only nesting area of the royal albatross on inhabited land. There should be plenty of targets to shoot with my Sony.

And tomorrow? We will be in Akaroa, New Zealand. Still on the southern island. I have nothing planned. We will have to find out together what I decide.

See you then.

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