Dunedin – Day 2

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Our second day in Dunedin saw us venture out onto the Otago peninsular. We took the scenic route along the harbour foreshore, stopping at Portobello for lunch overlooking one of the harbour’s many bays.

Prior to lunch we visited Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s only Castle, built 1871 by William Larnach, merchant baron and politician, for his beloved first wife Eliza. It took more than 200 workmen three years to build the Castle shell and master European craftsmen spent a further 12 years embellishing the interior. Larnach spared no expense on his dream home, which features the finest materials from around the world.

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Unfortunately she died, as did his next two wives and finally he committed suicide in the NZ parliament!

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The castle went onto decline until the Barker family purchased it, in a very run down state, as their home in 1967. Decades have been spent on the Castle’s restoration, with the family having restored empty buildings from ruin and assembled a large collection of original New Zealand period furniture and antiques. This living collection showcases the craftsmanship and spirt of New Zealand.

The grounds and gardens of the castle are beautiful, with views over the harbour from many vantage points, including the turret.

The restoration of this building is testament to the dedication of the barker’s who were extremely young when they first embarked on this historic restoration project.

The gardens are extensive, with views back towards Dunedin and out to sea.

Then it was off to visit The Royal Albatross Centre, at Pukekura nestled at the foot of Taiaroa Head. This was a fascinating visit as we learnt a great deal about these magnificent birds and were able to view parents and their chicks in nests on the headland.

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Albatross are the world’s largest seabirds. They normally breed on remote islands and spend at least 85 percent of their lives at sea, well away from land and human view. Dunedin’s Taiaroa Head is the only mainland Royal Albatross breeding colony in the world. This site was selected by a bird in 1920 and one man (Richdale) guarded the egg from animals and people to see the chick grow.  Consequently further birds have landed on the site and today it can have up to 50 nesting pairs in residence.

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Renowned ocean wanderers, they travel vast distances from their breeding grounds to feed. The royal albatross, with its massive three metre wingspan, flies an estimated 190,000 kilometres a year.

The breeding birds arrive at Taiaroa Head in September. They nest during early November and within the following three weeks an egg is laid – one only per pair, each two years.

The parents share incubation duty as it lasts for a period of 80 days! The chicks hatch from late January to early February. The parents then take turns at guarding the chick for the first 35 days to protect it from predators while the other goes to sea in search of food to regurgitate to the chick. After that the chick is by itself, with parents only returning with food every few days. It takes eight months for the little balls of fluff to become not so little juveniles, and they will finally take their first ever flight in September! Extraordinarily, there are no ‘training’ flights. Once these young birds take to the air they are airborne or resting on water for most of the rest of their lives. Only when searching for a mate, and they mate for life, or breeding do they return to land. Twelve months after their arrival at Taiaroa Head, the chicks’ parents finally leave the colony to spend a year at sea before returning to breed again.

The young Royal Albatross will spend the next three to five years at sea, never touching land during that time. Many then return to this unique headland to find a mate and start another generation of Royals of Dunedin’s Taiaroa Head.

Following the visit to the albatross colony we visited the old wartime gun emplacements and facilities of Fort Taiaroa. These were first erected in the 1880s when Britain abandoned protection of the colonies and the Russian threat arose. Subsequently for WW1 and WW11 there have been further gun emplacements erected to protect NZ from the sea.

Sited atop Taiaroa Head in an underground circular gun pit, the ‘disappearing gun’ was aimed while below ground, then raised, fired and returned back into the pit by the recoil for reloading. The gun was manufactured by W G Armstrong & Co at Elswick, near Newcastle on Tyne, England, and was tested in its present gun site in June 1889. The gun has fired over 200 times, but never in anger. We also visited the observation post here as well as the small but interesting underground museum, housed in the original wartime tunnels.

On our way back to Dunedin we dropped in at the Glenfallon Gardens and had a twenty minute explore of what are rather wild gardens wandering up a hillside. Definitely did not compare with the gardens at Larnach Castle but were nevertheless an enjoyable break in the middle of the return drive to the city.


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