Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Catlins

Rocks off Nugget Point
Nugget Point lighthouse

Inside the tunnel at Tunnel Beach.

Tunnel Beach. A prosperous farmer had a tunnel drilled down through the limestone bluffs in the 19th century so that his family could enjoy the beautiful beach below his fields.

Tunnel beach from above.
Purportedly the steepest residential street in the world. I now have complete and utter faith in the Orthia's brakes.
Beautiful old train station in Dunedin.
Taieri Gorge Railway - yes, this Was the easiest way into central Otago.


Lupines (introduced to NZ) and the Clay Cliffs.
The crazy crevasse-riddled landscape of a fault zone at Earthquakes in central Otago. Sheep wandered around, unconcerned about the big holes hidden by the long grass.
Ancient whale bones in limestone.

Only in NZ. And maybe Australia.

Moeraki boulders- concretions caused by the gradual buildup of layers of calcitic algae. Some of the finest examples in the world.

Concretion boulders, Moeraki.

Otago Peninsula

Otago Peninsula -

My day trip out on the peninsula was very enjoyable. I hiked partway out to Sandfly Bay- a beautiful windy track with nice views of bright sand dunes, blue sea, and beautiful greenery and flowers. I wish I’d had time to run down the dunes all the way to the beach. I raced a big cargo ship out to the very end of the Peninsula where the only mainland-based breeding colony of Royal Albatrosses was located. The area was a reserve, carefully protected from predators. I took my time in the good museum display and had a tour.

Royal Albatross are one of the world’s biggest birds, with a wingspan of 9’6”. They are superb gliders, reaching speeds of 75 mph and staying aloft at sea for months at a time. They sleep on the wing, only for a couple minutes at a time. The museum had a wall mounting of a huge amount of indigestible trash-mostly plastic- taken out of the stomach of an albatross.
The colony contained 99 birds which had probably moved in from overcrowded offshore island rookeries.(Chatham Island has 20,000 birds) The head became a good location after the shrub was cleared for defense structures during the Great Game tensions between Great Britain and Russia. The first recorded egg was laid in 1920. But it was not until 1938 that a chick fledged successfully.

Eggs are laid in November, and incubation takes 11 weeks - one of the longest avian incubation periods. Chicks emerge in February, taking an average of 3 days to break out of the shell. For the next month they are then guarded and kept warm by one parent while the other searches for food. Thereafter the chicks are left on their own for 2-4 days while the parents leave to fish. The downy chicks are comically large. At seven months of age, they weigh 10-12 kg (adults are only 8-9 kg). The extra weight sees them through the September fledging process. After chicks fledge, they take off for the rich fishing grounds off the coast of South America. Here they spend 3-5 years continuously at sea before coming back to the colonies to socialize and select mates. At 9-12 years they breed for the first time, and continue to breed every other year. Royal albatrosses can live longer than 60 years; average lifespan is 30-40 years.

The headland also provides safe breeding grounds for several other endangered species. On its upper side, the Royal Albatross colony is abutted by a colony of Red-Beaked Gulls, a crowded acre rife with noisy chicks. Down near the water, Stewart Island Shags incubate eggs on volcano-shaped mud mounds. The world population of Stewart Island shags numbers about 400. They are solitary hunters, flying fast and diving up to 100’ deep for fish. The more common Spotted Shags are communal hunters the fish mid-level waters up to 10 miles offshore. They have lovely breeding plumage. The peninsula is also home to penguins. Blue penguins are quite common. They’re tiny- only 2 lbs. They fish over the continental shelf and come home to ground burrows at sunset in large rafts. Yellow eyed- penguins are rarer, larger (10 lbs), and very shy. They go back and forth in the afternoon, feeding chicks in ground burrows. They dive to the seafloor and mid-level waters to feed.