Sunday, January 14, 2007

MY RETREAT AT OTAGO PENINSULA

It has been almost one year since I set foot on this beautiful part of New Zealand to pursue my post doctoral training at the University of Otago. I was told that there was a holiday retreat just a few minutes away from the hustle bustle of Dunedin. However, commitments at the University and my spending winter vacation in Australia did not allow me to make a visit to these beautiful places in the Otago Peninsula. However, I set aside all my activities and spent a whole day in the charming beauty of the peninsula as soon I will be off New Zealand shores.

Otago peninsula stretches along the southern edge of the Otago harbour. The drive is a fascinating and scenic one along lush green pastures typical of New Zealand. Parallel to your drive on your left side is yet another similar drive on the other side of the lagoon leading to the port Chalmers. Countless numbers of small bays, rugged hills and volcanic landforms are luxuries so near to the City but yet so far removed from it. Once , Dunedin is gradually removed from your scene, the attractions which emerge before you are enormous.

The best description of Otago Peninsula has come from Sir. David Bellamy. He describes OP as the finest example of eco tourism in NZ. It has human dwellings but unlike in many places, it is still not polluted probably because of the low population density.

The biggest attraction of course is the remarkable range of wild life. Miles ahead of famous look out points for wild life, we managed to have a glimpse of a Zeal basking in the sunlight. As Dunedin weather is so unpredictable, just keep your eye on for the best forecast and a sunny day is just the sort of ideal day to experience the beauty of the OP.

If you are in Dunedin and need to spend the whole day in OP without the responsibility of leaving a vehicle behind, there is a bus in the morning which operates to the Harrington Point ( HP) which is nearly 2 KMs from the Furthest end of the OP. Walking from HP to Taiora Head (TH) is quite enjoyable. Royal Albatross centre is situated at the TH . Visitor centre has various guided tours to see Albatross and of course a souvenir shop to grab souvenirs. If you are lucky, you may be able to view huge Royal Albatrosses.

TH is the only inland natural habitat in the world. It is the only place where albatross breed in a mainland and still visible for human. These birds once paired, they pair for life unlike humans in some of whom the marriage lasts for days, months and sometimes a few years. Breeding takes place every second year and in between they take a year holiday at sea. Rearing takes 12 months and Royals breed only in NZ. Eggs are laid and changed over in November , guarded in March to June while near fledgling occurs in August. Chick are fed by slurry of regurgitated food .Food is transferred in CROSS BILL action. .A 30 minute quality time is spent with chicks. The brochure of the centre says these birds have been creatures of reverence , superstition and wonder for centuries. Earlier seafarers have believed the souls of their dead captains took the form of albatross to wander oceans forever.

You may visit Fort Taiaroa , where the underground fort houses the only completely restored Armstrong disappearing gun in the world. This has been in place since 1880s to pacify a possible onslaught from heavily armed Russians in the South Pacific. Just below the centre, sea lions can be seen in abundance. Some time these guys can be aggressive. One chased after me as a protest against the effect of flash when I attempted to take a photograph. There are other centres like NATURE’S WONDERS and Penguin colony where one can see wild life.

If one is interested in Maori Culture, a MARAE is situated in OTAKOU. It is just a few hundred meters inland from the coastal road. Marae and the church is very attractive but you may be disappointed to a certain degree if you have been to a better Marae in the North Island. There are lots of walking tracks if you want to take a stroll along pastoral lands . Many of these lands belong to individuals who have been kind enough to allow visitors to feel the beauty of the OP.

The other attraction is the Larnarch Castle which is situated closer to the Company bay. One has to climb up the hill by a vehicle or can stroll up a walking track of 3 KMs to the castle. It is supposed to be the only castle in NZ. My colleague, Stuart from UK was against using the term of Castle for this as he believes “Castle is a place built by royals and for defence purposes. However, I am not a linguistic specialist . Nor I am a historian. But, the garden of the castle is really nice to spend a day.

This castle was built in 1870 by William Larnach who was an Aussie banker who came to Dunedin lured by the wealth which followed the gold rush. He lived in the castle with 3 successive wives till 1898. His life has ended in a tragedy when he took his own life in the NZ house of parliament. His children sold his property which changed hands several times and was abandoned twice. It was purchased and restored by current owners, the Barker family in 1967.Castle and surrounding has a land area of 14 hectares. Garden has a cupola from the sailing ship “ZEALANDIA” installed in 1927.

The central raised lawn with trees planted in 19th century has a marble fountain installed from Pisa, Italy in 1930. Flowers evoke the country garden era before the 1st world war. Scottish thistle , the national emblem of Scotland can be found in the castle . Vibrantly coloured perennials are planted in the Holly Hedge garden with NZ grasses and southern hemisphere shrubs. Marble bath was sold and used as a horse trough in a neighbouring garden but current owners have relocated it in the due place. ROCK GARDEN has been rediscovered after a visitor has informed the owners how he laid out it and was upset that his work has been obliterated by self-sown trees. Temperate rainforest, patterned garden Methane plant and south seas garden are other attractions in the garden. A days visit to this spectacular and magnificent garden is a rich experience and is worth for the entrance fee.

My retreat in the OP was really enjoyable. I feel like going there more often. Hectic schedule at university does not allow such luxury though. Soon, I will be off NZ shores to my sunny country. Memories of OP will definitely linger in my mind. The only other similar account that vividly describes a similar feeling that comes to my mind is John Denver’s COUNTRY ROADS. As the saying goes in Dunedin tourist circles, I WILL TAKE NOTHING BUT PHOTOGRAPHS, LEAVE NOTHING BUT FOOT PRINTS

ROYAL ALBATROSS CENTRE WEBSITE: www.albatross.org.nz/
LRANACH CASTLE WEBSITE: www.larnachcastle.co.nz

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