Friday, December 9, 2011

Sea lions, penguins and chocolates!

Day 13 (Fri, 2 Dec 2011)

We have a full day today. First stop, Cadbury World!

This is a must-go attraction for any chocoholic. The factory in Dunedin produces all the commercial Cadbury chocolate for Australasia, and some of the retail chocolate, such as Jaffa eggs and Roses. The rest of the blocks sold in stores in NZ are actually shipped from Australia.

At the start of the tour, we're each given a small bag with a chocolate bar. But don't worry, cos the bag quickly fills up! On the tour of the factory, we were given samples of chocolate buttons and other candy bars. You also get mini bars for answering questions posed by the guide. To me, the best tasting of the day was a tub of liquid chocolate. Oh my goodness, it was so yummy. It's like eating melted Dairy Milk.

Unfortunately, photos are not allowed during the tour, so I can't show you what we saw. But it's quite fun to see how the chocolates are made and how the machines pack the boxes of chocolate bars with meticulous precision and at high speed.

What's really cool is that as you enter different rooms, you're greeted with a heavenly waft of whatever the factory is producing that day. I'm glad it wasn't Turkish Delight or something with coconut when we were there. Ours was Jaffa eggs, so we got that delightful orangey-chocolate scent.

Towards the end of the tour, we go up to the top of the huge purple silo where the guide releases a chocolate waterfall ala Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Actually, I find this part a bit gimmicky - it's a tonne of recycled liquid chocolate released from a large vat overhead. Purely for entertainment.

If you notice, the vivid purple colour that's signature Cadbury is carried through in all their packaging and equipment. I was even rewarded with extra chocolate bars for wearing purple! That's what I call branding.

After that, we headed outside to take photos with the vintage milk trucks...

...and view the historical chocolate packaging of Cadbury's over the years (see how different the Milk Tray used to look!)

Then of course we had to buy some chocolate from the shop. They sell their candy at discounted prices here and it is much cheaper here but do shop around - the local Countdown (there's one just across from the Cadbury factory) often offer massive discounts that might even beat the prices here.

With all that sugar in our system, we headed out for lunch which was at much lauded Speight's Ale House. It's a micro-brewery and restaurant, something like Paulaner Brauhaus in Singapore.

The food is very much pub fare and the portions are HUGE. We ordered a braised rump steak and a beef schnitzel - just 2 plates for the 4 of us and we were stuffed. The beef, as always, is excellent.

In the afternoon, we're off to explore the Otago Peninsula, which is just off Dunedin city. It's a wildlife haven and we're taking the opportunity to see nature in the wild.

We signed up for Peninsula Encounters by Elm Wildlife Tours. It's a full tour, from 3.30-9pm and we were picked up at our motel. At first, we were puzzled by the odd timing but later realised it's because the animals tend to come in to shore only in the evening time.

The drive to the Otago Peninsula is via winding, narrow mountain roads. We're glad transport is provided!

Along the way, the guide pointed out many native birds spotted in the fields. One of them that got us all terribly excited was the pukeko. We've been seeing many books and stuffed toys of this very funny bird which is a brilliant blue with a crimson beak. It's so cartoony we could hardly believe it actually existed. We'd not caught sight of it despite being told it's quite common in these parts, so it was fantastic to see it in the flesh at last!

We drove by an estuary and saw a family of Paradise Shelducks.

Up on peak of the cliff is the Royal Albatross Centre and breeding ground.

It's a magnificent feeling, like you're on top of the world.

Usually, this place is gusty, which is why it's ideal for albatrosses, as they're huge birds and unlike gulls, they can't flap their wings. They need strong winds to carry them up and spend a lot of time gliding on their enormous wing span of up to 3.5m.

However, that day was exceptionally calm, so much so that the guide was not hopeful of seeing any albatrosses in flight. But we were very fortunate! After about half an hour, we saw a few circling around us and the lighthouse.

I don't know how but Lesley-Anne managed to capture this fantastic shot as the albatross was soaring towards us at top speed. Perfectly framed.

As I was gaping at the fantastic scene, I suddenly got a call from a client. It felt so incongruous - modern technology in the middle of the wilderness (which got me curious stares from the other participants).

A little about albatrosses. My only impression of them before coming here was based on Disney's cartoon, The Rescuers, where the comical albatross always had a problem taking off and landing. In real life, they're very majestic and graceful, and can fly 10,000km in 10 days.

Albatrosses are very picky. They mate for life and have only 1 baby every 2 years. This is because the chick is basically a parasite needing truckloads of food. Finding food for the baby takes a lot of energy and the baby will eat until it's bigger than its parents.

Finally, the parents will just take off, exhausted, abandoning the young chick. After a couple of weeks, the chick will grow extremely hungry and realise "hey, maybe ma and pa aren't coming back". It will then venture out of its nest and attempt to fly. According to the guide, some of these amateur albatrosses end up crashing in the cliffs and the rangers would have to go down, pick them up and deposit them back in the nests so they can try again. Funny!

Then we were on our way again, to another part of the peninsula. See these trees - it's not cos the wind was blowing - they're permanently in this position! Proof of how blustery this area is.

Romantic plains with grazing sheep.

We stopped and started trekking down a steep gravelly path towards the beach.

We came across sea lion tracks on the sand. It was going out to sea.

The thing about animals in the wild is that it's beyond human control. You can only hope to catch sight of them but if they don't make an appearance, there's nothing you can do about it.

So we were delighted when a sea lion emerged, just a few minutes after we arrived.

It waddled towards us. Maybe it thought we were other sea lions!

I don't know if you have ever experienced this - having a gigantic sea lion traverse towards you at the beach. It felt surreal, like we were in the middle of a National Geographic filming. These are wild animals in their natural habitat. To come so close to them is just magical.

However, the guide did impress upon us that sea lions are not cute and cuddly. They're aggressive predators and can run on the sand at 25km per hour, faster than any human. They're often mistaken as seals but they can't be more different. Sea lions are much larger. They eat seals and can pierce seal skulls with their razor sharp teeth.

Each time it approached us beyond a safe limit, the guide would tell us to walk backwards slowly, to show that we accept he's the boss. It would walk towards us and give a roar (which looked like a yawn but is actually an aggressive gesture).

It had us backed all the way up the sand dunes and into the grass. According to the guide, it's breeding season, so the males are particularly territorial. In fact, this beautiful creature waddled across the entire beach to another sea lion resting on the sand, and drove it back into the sea.

Following that sensational sight, we trekked further inwards to a little hut, specially erected as a viewing area for penguins.

We saw the yellow-eyed penguins, seemingly standing at attention on the hill. They stand here cos it's safer for themselves and their babies further up from the beach where the sea lions roam (sea lions are meanies - they will play with and eat the penguins).

Sometimes, you can see the penguins emerging from the water but when we were there, the sea lion's presence discouraged such emergence lest they become bait.

Penguins, like albatrosses, mate for life and they have only 1 egg each time. As their habitats have been disappearing, they've been having problems building nests, so rangers built these small wooden enclosures for the penguins to house their young.

This is a blue penguin chick in its nest. It's close to the entrance because it's evening time and it knows its parents will be back soon with dinner.

Following the penguin colony, we retraced our steps back to the top of the hill and headed down the opposite direction. It's a 15-minute walk down several hilly mounds, and steep, stony path towards a lookout among the rocks.

Among the rocks was a whole colony of fur seals, basking in the wind.

There were numerous pups with their mothers on the rocks, awwww.

Lesley-Anne took many of the photos in this post. She's been harbouring an interest in photography for a while now and her eye for composition is coming through in the photos she's taken on this trip. She's gotten some really nice shots, even with her simple point-and-shoot. I might enrol her in a photography class at some point, if she keeps up the interest.

The Kiwis' threshold for adventure is high. The tour is marketed as suitable for kids but for us city folk, we found the trek rather challenging. Each trek to the beach and to see the fur seals took about 15 mins one way. The last 5 minutes up the hill from the seals was particularly strenuous, I had almost slowed to a crawl. I thought maybe I was unfit but I looked behind me and saw all the other participants in the same shape!

But it's 100% worth it. If you're ever in Dunedin, you MUST try this. It's an encounter of a lifetime and memorable cannot begin to describe it.

As we were coming up the hill at 8.45pm, the sun set, casting an amber glow on the vast landscape. This is the picture of dreams.


Anonymous said...

I have been silently following your NZ posts but now I feel compelled to comment because this latest post on the wildlife tour sounds so awesome.

You make me want to pack my bags and go to NZ right now! Thanks for blogging about your trip and keep up the good work.


monlim said...

Thanks, Wong! I hope you'll have the opportunity to visit this beautiful country some day.

phyllis said...

Hi Monica
The tickets to South island are finally booked and I have been devouring your NZ posts every single night! Just started on the research and I can imagine you must have done a fair bit of work too. Hey, just want to ask if Dunedin is worth a 2 nights stay. I am tempted to drive the Caitlins but I saw that your Dunedin posts look very happening!

monlim said...

Phyllis: Yay! I do think Dunedin is worth at least 2 nights, if you have time. It gets pretty tiring going on the road everyday anyway, so why not stay one more night?