Friday, December 24, 2010

Oamaru, NZ: Of Buildings, Bread, and Birds

We saw the Pacific from the eastern shore of the South Island for the first time in the town of Oamaru.  We exited from Central Otago for a singular purpose -- to see penguins, little blue ones and ones with yellow eyes.  We came for the birds, but we discovered a few other delights, too.

The railway station on a breezy and billowing Christmas Eve, following a morning rain that caught us and everyone else by surprise.
On our way through the countryside into town, where the road gradually descends through valleys between tilted beds of sandstone and limestone, there was an active quarry chipping out blocks of light tan limestone.  Had we known that so many historic buildings of Oamaru's prosperous past were constructed of this quarry's stone, we would have slowed down.

Pillars of the National Bank building in the heart of the Historical Precinct.
Christmas Eve was spent wandering around town and looking at all these wonderful buildings.  We learned of a bakery that sells bread baked in the traditional European style, so first thing in the morning we walked in the rain to find the shop in the old warehouse district.  Upon arrival, it was all shuttered up.  But then a small window opened in the large wooden door, and the head of a cheery woman popped out -- they did not open until 10:00 am, but if we wanted bread, she would let us in.  Dripping wet, we stood in the shop and had to decide between rye sourdough and Pain au Levain, and through a large window into the kitchen the baker was putting the last touches on several dozen mini-mince pies for Christmas.

The street closest to the waterfront that was formerly the location of warehouses and manufacturing.  Now it looks like an alley from the Old Country, and houses a little shop selling the best sourdough bread around.
Later, it was off to the Whitestone Cheese Factory, where Christmas Eve was celebrated with a platter of six artisan cheeses with fruit and bread from that very bakery.  The name of the company reflects the importance of the quarried stone, and the cheeses were named for places in the region.  We left with a bag of saturated fat delights for later -- Totara Tasty Chedar and Dansey's Pass goats milk cheese.

The main attraction, however, took place late in the day.  Yellow-eyed penguins are the rarest of all penguin species, and breeds only on the southern coast of New Zealand and its outlying islands.  They nest on the shore in the shrubby vegetation, and the parents take turns guarding and feeding the chicks.  And the changing of the guard happens twice a day, in the dim light of dawn and twilight. And twilight happens at about 9pm at this southern latitude.

It required a 5 kilometer bike ride over hills to get to the viewing spot, so we set out early enough to have picnic dinner while watching for penguins.

No chance getting lost on the way!
The penguins are very sensitive to potential danger, so viewing must be done so that they are not disturbed.  The Department of Conversation has constructed structures and viewpoints high on the cliffs above the beach where the penguins nest.

We munched on very good cheese and bread while watching for penguins in the fading light.  Our mates in the shelter were from the State of Washington...small world!

Zoomed in as far as possible, we captured this image of one of the four shy penguins that made an appearance that evening.  Note the band on his right flipper.
There are also Little Blue Penguins that also do a daily dance.  We cycled to various vantage points in the fading light where they are reported to frequent, but with no success.

Nightfall forced us home before our bikes turned into pumpkins.
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Monica said...

Love the picture of the silhouetted bikes!

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