Saturday, January 18, 2020
Dunedin, New Zealand
Having made our individual journeys to the lovely, southern city of Dunedin, the second largest city in the South Island, we found ourselves comfortably accommodated at the Distinction Dunedin Hotel, located in the center of the ‘old’ city. Though, older settlements were once located here. There are several 14th-century Moa-hunter sites along the Otago Harbor with a permanent site situated under the modern city. Maori called this village Otepoti.
Today, the population of New Zealand is around 4.794 million. Europeans make up roughly 69% of the population with Maori comprising 15%. Asians are the next largest group with 9% of the population, while other Pacific Islanders comprise around 7% of the population.
After settling into our rooms, an optional visit to the Otago Museum, a short 25-minute walk from the hotel, was suggested as a means of shaking off travel stiffness, getting fresh air and sun to minimize jet lag, and an excellent way of delving into a little bit of settler history.
In the evening we met with staff and fellow travelers for welcome drinks and dinner.
Sunday, January 19
Dunedin / Embark Caledonian Sky
After a hearty breakfast, the first tour set off for Orokonui Gorge and Ecocentre. We had excellent commentary from our guide while the lush green countryside and rolling hills gave way to great views of Otago Harbor. Arriving at the Ecocentre, we split into groups and set out to explore the sanctuary. Four miles of fencing encloses the 760-acre park. As we strolled along, we heard about the various uses for native grasses before seeing our first target species, the tuatara, an ancient lizard from the dinosaur era. A few steps further we met the flightless, critically endangered takahe and Otago skink with its snazzy black and white patterning. We saw huge ancient trees that had survived being chopped down in the early settler days because of their isolation. Multitudes of tui, bellbird, and kaka were easily spotted, especially around the feeding stations. Walking tours finished at the visitor center for lunch before we left for the albatross colony at Tairora Head. There were thrilling views of Otago and spotted shags nesting on the cliffs. A little more challenging was the noise and smell from the red-billed gull colony. A short, introductory film provided background information before the long walk to the viewing room. Through windows, we could see four northern royal albatross on nests and had good views of royal spoonbills flying past.
The second tour drove along the top road of the Otago Peninsula to visit Larnach Castle, providing spectacular views of Otago Harbour. Preferring to call his estate ‘The Camp,’ William Larnach began construction of his estate in 1871. He was a prominent entrepreneur and politician with the wherewithal to acquire precious building and furnishing materials from all around the world. We had a guided tour of the building’s interior before wandering the gardens on our own. A lovely lunch awaited us in the dining room. While having a rather decadent version of pavlova for dessert, a bagpiper and Scottish dancers entertained the diners. Returning to Dunedin via the coastal route, we were dropped off at the historic train station to begin a walking tour of the city.
Originally named ‘New Edinburgh,’ the city was established to remind the founding settlers of their homes in Scotland. Today, the people of Dunedin take pride in their heritage architecture, endeavoring to reclaim and restore several of the historic buildings. The railway station, displaying its Flemish Renaissance architectural splendor, with Royal Dalton mosaic tiles lining the interior, is no longer servicing train schedules but remains a reminder of the once prosperous city, built on the gold rush of the mid-1800s. Our tour finished at the Octagon, the city’s town hall and St Paul’s Cathedral looming high on the upper terraces.
All on board, a mandatory safety drill complete, we enjoyed a glass of ‘champagne’ as we headed through Taiaroa Heads and out into the Pacific Ocean, the bow of the Caledonian Sky pointed south.
Monday, January 20
After an unexpectedly calm night at sea, we enjoyed a leisurely morning before our lecture series was kicked off by Shirley Campbell and her presentation, Maori Colonization of New Zealand: A Cultural Conquest of New Lands. Brent Stephenson followed with his presentation, Seabirds of the Southern Ocean. Those out on deck were treated to their first sightings of southern royal and Campbell albatross, along with pintado, or cape petrels. A delicious lunch outdoors on the Lido Deck provided fresh sea air to invigorate our souls.
As the islands we plan to visit are now free of introduced, invasive species, both animal and plant, we had to undergo a strict biosecurity inspection of all gear going ashore to ensure that we didn’t inadvertently introduce anything foreign to these pristine islands. The expedition crew thoroughly scrutinized, vacuumed, and combed through our clothing and backpacks, scrubbed and disinfected our boots and walking shoes before we went through a final inspection to clear us to go ashore. Taking several hours, we could be sure that no one would unknowingly introduce an invasive to the delicate ecosystem on Campbell Island.
Yvonne Cook delivered our final lecture of the day with, The Shaky Isles: Geology of New Zealand. In the evening we dressed for the Captain’s welcome cocktails and dinner and met Captain Ulf-Peter Lindstrom and his senior crew.
Tuesday, January 21
This morning we sailed into the glassy, calm waters of Perseverance Harbour, the largest of several fiord-like bays on the eastern side of the island. Lying 410 miles south of Bluff, Campbell Island is New Zealand’s southern-most sub-Antarctic island. Zodiacs ferried us to the landing, the odd New Zealand sea lion popping up to investigate before slipping back into the tea-colored water. Hiking up the narrow boardwalk, we snaked our way into the scrub hugging the slopes of Beeman Hill. Lichen encrusted, stunted trees provided a vast array of greens and yellows. A sea lion pup, perhaps only a month old, barely hid amongst the shrubby undergrowth. Great delights were the magnificent collection of flowering megaherbs, delicate gentians flowers, orchids, and Campbell Island daisies. Fearless New Zealand pipits foraged underfoot and into the dense shrubs. Most spectacular of all was the opportunity to observe southern royal albatross nesting amongst the tussock grass. Adults and chicks sat quietly as we passed. From the windless cliffs at the top of the two-mile climb, we had spectacular views overlooking Northwest Bay to the west of the island.
Returning to the ship for lunch, the Caledonian Sky picked up anchor to sail north along the coastline. Erosion has cut into the towering cliffs, providing a continuous cross-section of the 6- to 11-million-year-old basaltic volcano forming the island. Numerous lava flows, ash beds, conglomerates, and dykes were visible. Rounding the northern cape, we could see spectacular giant columns of basalt rising from the ocean.
The ship drifted while we set out in Zodiacs to explore the high cliffs. There were several colonies of eastern rockhopper penguins crowding the steep slopes of the western aspect. However, the star was the erect-crested penguin, not expected in these waters. They are more commonly seen on the Antipodes and Bounty Islands, a long ways northeast of Campbell Island. But here they were, three individuals looking somewhat lost in a colony of smaller rockhoppers. We continued to cruise some seven nautical miles further south along the coastline observing rafts of Campbell cormorants, while a number of different species of albatross, petrels, and elegant Antarctic terns soared above. We explored caves carved into the now exposed 450-million-year-old mica schist, now colored with more recent sandstone rock showcasing stunning pink, green, and gray colorations. Below a very large rockhopper colony, great petrels were fighting over the remains of what was presumed to be a hapless penguin. Bull kelp, said to be the heaviest in the world by weight, clung to the rocks now exposed by the low tide, while penguins clambered up from the water to find a secure landing. Time recap and dinner, we turned our Zodiacs around and headed back to the ship.
Wednesday, January 22
We spent the day sailing west of Campbell Island, passing over a deep, oceanic trench which separates it from Macquarie Island, some 430 miles southwest. The first activity of the day was an early yoga session with Shirley followed by a presentation by Lloyd Esler, Human History of the Sub Antarctic. Tom Hiney followed with his presentation, Importance of Islands. It was a relatively calm sea, but the weather was rather overcast with some drizzle, so lunch was served in the dining room. Brent invited us to Deck 4 to see a diving petrel that had landed on the ship before being thrown back into the winds. Those out on deck also had good sightings of southern royal and Campbell albatross, as well as several cape petrels. Later in the afternoon we had a second biosecurity check in preparation for our landings on Macquarie Island. Brent delivered the last lecture of the day, Penguins of the Southern Oceans.
Thursday, January 23
Macquarie Island, Australia
Australia’s sub-Antarctic island, Macquarie, lies 54 degrees south of the equator. Twenty-one miles long and three miles wide, this is the only other landmass at the same latitude as South America. This makes the island extremely exposed. The Caledonian Sky sheltered on the eastern side of the island where the weather was relatively calm, despite a 30-knot wind that kept the island’s rangers on shore. We disembarked for a tour of the low-lying isthmus separating the east and west coasts. The Australian Antarctic research station has nestled here since 1948. Elephant seals of all ages groaned and belched as we carefully walked in single file past them, trying hard not to attract too much attention. Small groups of king penguins went about their business well away from the seals. There were spectacular views from atop a small knoll looking back to the station and along both the east and west coasts. Giant petrels and light-mantel sooty albatross flew in the thermal columns. Along the western beach were gentoo penguins, a splash of white above their eyes contrasting with their black backs. We witnessed the flying of a weather balloon set off at exactly the same time as several others around the world twice a day to collect valuable weather information. We also enjoyed the renowned Macquarie Island scones with jam and cream together with a hot cuppa (Aussie for a ‘cup of tea’).
Back on board with our rangers, we lifted anchor and sailed south to anchor off Sandy Bay. Antarctic prions performed incredible aerial acrobatics all around the ship as we enjoyed lunch. Landing in what could only be described as ‘penguin heaven,’ we had the opportunity to explore this penguin wonderland. To one side, quirky royal penguins preened as they socialized, while on the other, elegant king penguins waddled masterfully along the beach. The latter prefer to keep their breeding colonies close to water, thus avoiding expending extra energy while moving from feeding areas to their chicks and partners. A huge breeding colony congregated at the far side of the beach, several parents patiently standing still with an egg tucked into their brood pouch, nestled atop their feet. Many other non-breeding penguins stood in groups chatting to each other and occasionally extending to their full size, displaying. These large penguins, the second only to emperor penguins, were very curious. Several came close to investigate what must have seemed to them like overgrown, inelegant alien species! Towards the other end of Sandy Bay, the royal penguin ‘highway’ accommodated the comings and goings of these little creatures. Displaying goofy, above-the-eye crests, these little penguins prefer to breed well away from the beach, clambering long distances up the island’s slopes to breed and rear their chicks. We climbed a boardwalk to one of these colonies to observe these boisterous birds while ‘at home.’ There were thousands of them, all protecting tiny territories not more than a few inches away from their neighbors. Young chicks huddled together to keep warm and to find some protection from swooping skuas looking for lunch. One poor fellow had been plucked from the colony and was being dismantled by giant petrels, and then skuas while we watched. We had a good three hours at Sandy Bay amongst the few elephant seals and many penguins, returning to the ship at 7:00 in the evening.
Friday, January 24
This morning was calm, the ship hardly moving at all. However, there was a 20-knot wind outside and fog had descended, enveloping the island within its misty embrace. Nevertheless, most of us donned wet-weather gear and brazenly braced for a Zodiac cruise off Lusitania Bay. Surrounded by hundreds of thousands of king penguins stood an infamous Digester, used in the early 20th century to ‘boil up’ first king penguins, and then royal penguins. The island’s penguin population was decimated before it was stopped by outraged naturalists. At the peak of the industry in 1905, the Digester could process 2000 penguins at one time, with each penguin producing up to 17 ounces of oil. We were glad to see that the penguin colony had recovered sufficiently for us to witness these amazing animals breeding, preening, molting, and swimming alongside us in six-foot swells. Returning to the ship, we had our final biosecurity check and lunch. Just as we pulled up anchor, six orcas were spotted off portside. They entertained us as we slowly sailed away.
Enjoying an after-lunch snooze, the ship rocked more than we had yet experienced. At 3:00 in the afternoon, we ventured into the Lounge to view a short documentary on the fight to eradicate all invasive species from the island, followed by a presentation by Brad Climpson, The Southern Ocean: Unique and Plentiful.
Saturday, January 25
Sleep throughout the night was challenging. The movement of the ship made it difficult to retain a comfortable position for long enough to stay asleep. Nevertheless, a new day dawned, promising a full educational experience from the Expedition Staff. The morning started with Yvonne and her lecture, Islands of Fire. Lloyd’s presentation, Whaling and Sealing in the Southern Ocean completed our ‘University at Sea’ morning. Following lunch, Shirley led a Yin Yoga class, moving and stretching stiff bodies. Immediately following yoga, popcorn enticed more into the lounge to watch a program tracing the fateful shipwreck of the Invercauld off Auckland Island. Our final presentation of the day was Sam Riley’s, New Zealand Birds: A Story of Fascinating Species, Catastrophic Declines and Hopeful Recoveries. Throughout the day, sightings of wandering, shy, and Buller’s albatross delighted the birders amongst us.
We made good time sailing from Macquarie to Auckland Island and so managed to sneak into Carnley Harbour in the afternoon. These waters cut through the southern part of the island, separating it from the smaller, southern Adam’s Island. There is a narrow, and treacherous passage at the southwest extremity separating the two. It was wonderful to have quiet waters around the ship. We took full advantage, gathering on Lido Deck for drinks and to admire the beautiful landscape. Later, we anchored between Auckland, the main island, and Enderby overnight to enjoy a restful sleep.
Sunday, January 26
Enderby Island, New Zealand
It was a glorious morning, overcast and slightly warmer than what we had experienced at Macquarie, lying only 50.5 degrees south. After breakfast, disembarkation began with the long, six- to eight-mile walk designed for the hearty, trekking through the center of the island and along the eastern edge. Medium walkers followed by leisurely walkers disembarked shortly after. We all had to wait at the landing for yellow-eyed penguins to make their way down to the beach along the ‘penguin highway.’ We were careful not to disrupt their daily routines. We also had to make our peace with the renowned New Zealand sea lions, determined to let us know that it was their territory we were in. Once past the beach full of pups, females, and juvenile males, we had relatively free passage up the slope to a boardwalk at the entrance to a ‘hobbit-like’ forest. The rata forest is like walking into Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden; the twisted trunks creating a graceful, but eerie sense of otherworldliness. Some of the rata was in flower, casting a reddened blush over the forest and upper reaches of the island. We walked along the boardwalk through the forest before emerging into colorful shrubland followed by tufted, tundra-like grasslands.
The boardwalk led towards the northern cliffs of Enderby, beautiful little Enderby Island gentian flowers peeking from patches of mossy puffs clinging to the more exposed soils. We saw tomtits, pitpits, and bellbirds through the forest and into the shrubland.
Reaching the northern cliffs, we sat and looked out to sea while Enderby shags and royal albatross showed off their balletic abilities. The Long Walkers turned right, off the path to begin their long trek along the coast towards the landing. Back on the beach, free time enabled us to quietly observe the sea lions, watching the males try to sustain control of already pregnant females. These bulls were probably unlucky breeders practicing their skills as harem keepers, their successful counterparts, having ensured their genetic longevity, already back at sea feasting. Moms with their pups tried to stay away from overzealous males while younger males practiced keeping harems by rounding up stray pups whose mothers were out to sea feeding. It was all very entertaining!
After lunch we spent the afternoon cruising along the shoreline. Large bull kelp looked like undulating tresses, massaging the coast in motion with the swell. Yellow-eyed penguins were still on the march, to and from their breeding and feeding grounds, while New Zealand shags dried their wings on rocky ledges. We saw Auckland Island teal, red-crowned parakeet, and many gulls. The crowning glory was hands down the pair of light-mantled sooty albatross on their nest, and a large chick sitting alone on a nearby nest probably waiting for its parents to return.
Monday, January 27
The seas were relentless during the night, those sleeping port-side could hear the pelting of rain on the windows in the early hours of the morning. Although we had hoped to reach the island by 6:00 a.m. to see sooty shearwaters fly from their nests before dawn, our forward progress was curtailed by the strong winds and swell. As the morning continued to mature, it remained a dull, gray day, although the ship felt more stable in the lee of the island. Swells continued to be 12 to 13 feet high while winds swept the sea’s surface into a frenzy, making it too dangerous to put Zodiacs in the water. We did manage, however, to see the endemic Snares crested penguins from portside decks or from the dry comfort of the ship’s windows. We could just make out the penguin ‘slides,’ used by these little penguins to clamber up to the more forested areas of this desolate island to breed. Penguins were also in the water as we slowly made our way along the east coast. Lots of diving petrels darted over the boiling surface together with the graceful gliding of Buller’s albatross. Reaching the north end of the island we continued our journey north.
Shirley presented her lecture, Ta Moko: The Art of Maori Tattoo and after lunch led another, more energetic yoga session. Lloyd followed with his introduction to Fiordland, in Fiordland History. He entertained us with a quiz on maritime literature, offering up 29 questions. Tom completed the day with, The Intelligence of Wildlife.
Arriving at Bluff for immigration and clearance into New Zealand, we had to say goodbye to Jo Hiscock, our Department of Conservation official, as she departed the ship, but we welcomed the Jensens back on board to share with us the remainder of the trip.
Tuesday, January 28
Ulva Island / Stewart Island
Waking to a beautifully quiet morning with the Caledonian Sky anchored in Paterson’s Inlet, we prepared to go ashore on Ulva Island, the southernmost bird sanctuary in the world. Dividing into groups, we set off with guides to explore the many paths that lead through the understory. The island is a beautiful example of temperate rainforest, managed by the Department of Conservation, and is a predator-free sanctuary for many species of endangered wildlife. Not only did the guides point out the magnificent 500-year-old rimu trees, and totara (the wood used by Maori for canoes and carvings), but we also noted the smaller ferns and mosses lying amongst the undergrowth. There were good sightings of the South Island saddleback, red- and yellow-crowned parakeets, riflemen (New Zealand’s smallest bird), bellbirds, and an unexpected surprise, the morepork, a small brown owl confined to Tasmania and New Zealand. Perhaps the most endearing encounter on the forest floor was the South Island robin. This little bird, although plain to look at, was quite unafraid while exploring the leaf litter under our feet. We walked the tracks of the island all morning before returning to the ship for a quick lunch while the ship repositioned to Halfmoon Bay, anchoring in the deeper waters of Foveaux Straight.
Transferring from the ship to the charming little township of Oban, we began to explore Stewart Island, or Rakiura, ‘land of the glowing skies,’ as the Maori call it. Maori used these southern islands as seasonal camps to exploit the rich food resources that could be found here. Titi, or sooty shearwaters, stopping to regain strength and nest after their long return migrations from north of the equator and back, were a favorite food. After nesting, fat chicks provided Maori families with a bountiful harvest. They likewise harvested seals and sea lions. European sealers, missionaries, miners, and settlers married local Maori women, building the strongly-knit community that we experienced today. Our local guides showed us some of the special sights of the island while recounting the history and on-going community spirit that binds the island’s population of 500 or so. We learned of their slow-paced life, but also the difficulties that face a small, remote community. Some of our group chose to walk the two- to three-mile trek to Ackers Point lighthouse, passing several shearwater nesting burrows. The weather was stunning, the water unruffled, and the sun warming. We had time to shop in the small craft shops in the township of Oban and to wander through the Historical Museum and the Rakiura National Park Visitor Centre.
Wednesday, January 29
This morning was calm and relatively mild. Although there were low clouds and mist, the rain left us in peace. Not so the little black flies that greeted us at the landing, Pickersgill Cove! We had to cover as much flesh as possible to avoid these little blood-suckers from feasting on us. Undeterred, we walked the short boardwalk to the summit to view the lookout that greeted Captain Cook and his crew in March 1773.
Captain Cook rested his men and made repairs to the Resolution at Astronomer’s Point, after enduring 122 days in the stormy, Southern Ocean. He had circumnavigated these southern waters twice, looking for the fabled ‘Terra Australis Incognita.’ Cook was finally able to put that quest to rest, convincingly demonstrating that there was no such land mass, but predicting that there was, instead, an icy continent deeper into the icy sea. He just missed discovering Antarctica by an estimated 150 miles. Exploring the surrounding area by Zodiac, we found New Zealand fur seals, variable oystercatchers feeding young on juicy oysters, and bottlenose dolphins playing in the quiet waters. Through the misty views, to cloud-shrouded peaks, the allure of Dusky Sound was contagious. During lunch the ship repositioned to Facile Harbour and Pigeon Island where we explored this part of Fiordland. The Zodiac cruise began in a blanketing mist that soon turned into a driving rain, cutting short our excursion. Nevertheless, one couldn’t help being in awe of the beautiful, luxuriant forests.
Back on board, the ship lifted anchor and sailed slowly through the magnificent scenery. The mists and low-lying clouds gave the land and seascape a special, atmospheric charm, more accurately reflecting the true character of Dusky Sound than had it been a sunny day. The ship slid through the narrow Acheron Passage into Breaksea Sound. From here we re-entered the Tasman Sea, sailing north towards Doubtful Sound before cruising through these quiet waters and entering into Bradshaw Sound where we anchored overnight.
Thursday, January 30
Bradshaw Sound / Milford Sound
A monochrome morning greeted us with just a light mist; not enough to deter an exploratory Zodiac cruise! Richly clad forests of greens, with tinges of red, held back hanging clouds as we cruised along the rocky shoreline admiring the coastal scenery. Waterfalls adorned the steep slopes where keas, bellbirds, and long-tailed cuckoos hung out. Back on board with Zodiacs secured, we slowly made our way through the Sound admiring the scenery. Re-entering the Tasman Sea, the ship headed north to Milford Sound. Shirley gave the last presentation, Discovering Captain Cook, finishing just as the ship turned into the narrow entrance to Milford Sound. A pod of bottlenose dolphins greeted us, playfully leaping in the ship’s bow-wake with their joyful display.
Milford Sound is a 10-mile-long glacial fiord with extremely steep bedrock walls extending up to 6500 feet above sea level and dropping to nearly 1000 feet below into the dark depths. The sheer cliffs on either side of the entrance may be the reason Cook did not enter the passage on his first voyage; it was another 42 years before Europeans first entered. Captain John Grono named the Sound ‘Milford Haven’ after his homeland in Wales. The Maori knew it well, of course, naming it Piopiotahi.
Today, clouds draped the taller peaks of the Sound, momentarily revealing their magnificent peaks as the gentle breeze pushed the clouds aside. Adorned with numerous waterfalls, the sheer sides seemed to rise straight from the water. This picturesque part of the South Island has been captured in countless photographs for good reason! Stirling Falls, one of two permanent waterfalls in the Sound, loomed in the distance; the classic U-shaped valley a clear sign of recent glaciation. It features a 495-foot waterfall spilling from its rim. The Captain took the bow of the ship close to the falls for our group photo. Continuing further, towards Freshwater Basin and the end of the fiord, we turned the ship and returned to the Sound’s entrance where the Captain positioned the ship in the protected waters of Poison Bay for the night. We enjoyed the Captain’s farewell cocktails and dinner before retiring on our last night on board.
Friday, January 31
Milford Sound / Queenstown
Bags out early, we relaxed over breakfast waiting for our transfer to the boat terminal at Freshwater Basin. We could see Lady Bowen Falls, the second permanent waterfall in the Sound. The views were spectacular in all directions with snowclad peaks looming inland, while, looking back towards the Sound, Mitre Peak rose audaciously from its dark waters. We received word that trees had been blown onto the road overnight by strong winds, delaying our buses while operations were underway to clear them. Finally, hearing that the buses had arrived, we said our goodbyes to the crew and disembarked the Caledonian Sky.
Driving along the only road between Milford Sound and Queenstown, both sides of the bus offered jaw-dropping views of the glaciated landscape. Making a short stop at The Chasm, we walked through tranquil native forest to dramatic views over the Cleddau River. Thousands of years of powerful water running along the gorge have sculpted the rock into smooth, pillow-like shapes. From here we climbed up the steep sides of the Southern Alps. Reaching the Homer Tunnel, we waited for oncoming traffic to pass through before entering ourselves. The tunnel was begun by a few men with pickaxes in the 1930s and completed in 1953 using more sophisticated machinery.
Lunch was enjoyed at the Kingsgate Hotel on the shores of Lake Te Anau, the largest lake on the South Island, and the second largest lake in New Zealand. The drive from Te Anau provided more stunning views of the Southern Alps, passing by several deer farms and flocks of sheep. It took us another hour and a half before reaching Lake Wakatipu, the third largest lake in New Zealand. Soon we were able to see Queenstown in the distance, at the far end of the lake. Before long we reached the Heritage Hotel where we were shown our rooms. Relaxing in the late afternoon, or wandering down to the town, it felt warm and unusually civilized!
Saturday, February 1
Birders were off early this morning for a 2.5 hour drive to Mackenzie Basin to see the black stilt. One of the world’s rarest wading birds, the kaki, as it is known by Maori, is only found in New Zealand. Several sightings rewarded those who made the long drive there and back.
The Dart River, Jet Boat excursion attracted the majority of our group. Driving to Mt Aspiring National Park, Glenorchy, and finally Paradise, we had a walk through a beautiful beech forest before boarding the jet boats to continue the tour along the Dart River. Jetting comfortably through deep gorges and wide, sandy bends, the 50-minute ride provided many scenic experiences. We finished the tour back in Glenorchy where we boarded buses back to Queenstown for lunch.
The Wine Tour group set off a little later, heading to Central Otago for some fermented grape juice. The climate in Central Otago is drier than elsewhere in New Zealand, with a much shorter ripening season. The best grapes for these conditions are pinots, the region specializing in pinot noir and pinot gris. Our first stop was Kinross Winery to taste a variety of wines from different wineries in the Gibbston area. A wonderful selection of local cheeses, spreads, and dried meats provided a special lunch at Carrick Winery in Bannockburn. Our last stop was at Aurum Winery, an organic operation in Cromwell. Driving back to Queenstown, we made a small detour to the historic Arrowtown, now a major tourist attraction with its heritage-like shops.
We all had an opportunity to take a 1400-foot ride up Bob’s Peak on the Skyline Gondola. The top offers the best views over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. Before our farewell dinner, we spent time on the hotel’s rooftop overlooking the lake and city, glass in hand, reminiscing over our wonderful experiences together during the last two weeks. We had traveled 1876 nautical miles through rarely visited seas, walked quietly by elephant seals and avoided as best we could the New Zealand sea lions. We saw nine species of penguins (of the 18 species worldwide!), 54 land-based birds, 10 waterfowl, 9 albatross, 8 cormorants/shags, 8 petrels and three storm petrels, three shearwaters, and two prions. Finally, three cetacean species swam near us as we cruised the Sub-Antarctic ocean.