31 July 2011

The Day

Today started as The Day Our GPS Died. We went old school, and used maps to get ourselves from Oamaru down to Curio Bay, a tiny town on The South Island's southern coast. The end of the Earth, or at least the last stop before Antarctica. We checked into our cottage, made a dinner reservation at the only open Cafe within an hour's drive, and drove to the trailhead to see Curio Bay's Fossil Forest. That's when today became The Day We Jumped Tide Pools At A Pristine Beach From One Million-Year-Old Fossilized Tree Stump To Another.

Whatever else today might have been, it became one of the best travel days of our lives.

After our experience at Oamaru last night, we felt like we had a good strategy to see Curio Bay's penguins: stay warm in our cottage until after 4PM. Drink tea. Bundle up and head back to the beach before dark.

We got back to the beach at low tide about an hour before dusk, hopped from fossilized stump to fossilized stump again, and tried to figure out where to go to see penguins. Oamaru has a marked viewing area, but Curio Bay, other than the staircase to cut through the hills, gives no guidance other than "stay ten meters from penguins." So we found a boulder on one end of the beach beside a deep inlet, and decided to have a seat. Moments later, we spotted the first head bobbing in the water. We had a bird's eye view in Oamaru; in Curio Bay, we were front row center. Yellow Eyed Penguin #1 came out of the water maybe twenty meters away from us.

We couldn't believe our good luck, and it only got better. We saw penguins leave the water in other spots too, but another one came out right in front of us. And then another.

And then there were... five?

There were six or seven in front of us, two more behind us, and others all over the beach. We slowly backed away, afraid our rocky sofa might be between the penguins and their nests. Then, as we backed away, they moved too: right toward us.

We're posting this from the cafe-- the only place near Curio Bay with wifi-- and we're just about out of time. Did we ever really think a glacier might be the experience of this trip? The Yellow Eyed Penguins of Curio Bay were the experience of a lifetime.

Location:Curio Bay, NZ

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