Dunedin, Moeraki Boulders and the overpriced penguins

We hopped into our pre-booked taxi to the airport around 7am, for an 8.45am takeoff Auckland – Dunedin. Mum and Dad had decided to bring 2 large suitcases and a huge sports bag plus their hand luggage, whereas Gem and I just had our backpacks, like sensible folk.

Despite the effort of carting these 10 ton behemoths down 4 flights of stairs and the taxi drivers inability to shut up about rugby, nothing was going to dampen my holiday spirit. Air New Zealand have cleverly added trivia questions to their in flight entertainment, which kept us going for the 1 hour and 45 minute journey south.

We signed on the dotted line for our 4×4 (needed purely to carry the parents’ luggage) and headed through Dunedin and down the scenic road towards our lodgings. After we had wound down the road along the waters edge, we arrived at Broad Bay, a small village just before you reach Portobello.

No shops, just a handful of lovely houses dotted on the hillside, looking across the bay. The owner of our lodge had had a stroke that day and as such the room was not ready. I couldn’t believe they were trying to clean our room when their father/husband was in hospital recovering from a stroke. We had a moment on the front grass, soaking in the view before we told them there was no rush in having the room ready as we decided to try and find Lanarch Castle for a nice day trip instead.

Sat on the front grass

We arrived at Lanarch after some very steep roads (only walk it if you are super fit, I got tired driving up it!) and it is a nice building set in lovely gardens. It isn’t, however, a castle. Hmmph. Turns out some bloke built it, then killed himself. It wasn’t that bad, though. He should have been happy, I couldn’t build Lanarch Castle now, and he did it 150 years ago.

Lanarch Castle

We played croquet, but made our own rules up as the rule sheet seemed to be written in Latin (either that or Toff, I can’t quite work it out). It was good fun though, and Dad, the ever competitive man, was victorious.


We waltzed around the gardens and even through a little love tunnel, following the not-to-scale map you are given as you enter. On the way round we saw wooden representations of Alice in Wonderland characters, I am not sure if they are actually supposed to mean something or if I chose the wrong type of mushrooms for breakfast.

Love Tunnel

We also saw the old toilet, which is just a hole, and the old stables, which are now accommodation. The views from one point in the grounds are amazing, it is the view of a bay on the opposite side to where we are staying, and as usual photos do it no justice.

Gem and Mum
Looks like a postcard!

We then set sail further down the coast on a quest to see penguins and sea lions/seals (outside of marine biologists, who knows the difference??). We stopped at a very well advertised penguin reserve, unoriginally named ‘Penguin Place’.

After the relatively long driveway and the waiting in a queue to get your tickets, the staff assume that you are going to pay, as 99.9% of people probably do. I will pay for nature if necessary, but begrudge it. I must get it from my Dad, who immediately rejected the $55 per head price tag. That’s over $200 for us 4 to see a penguin. No thanks. The man was insistent that all the penguins were on his land, and no other penguins could be found (don’t challenge me, sir!). He was one of these hilarious funnymen, and his sales patter included such a rib-tickling classic, ’55 dollars a head, the rest of the body free’. Dad wasn’t having any of it. It’s like they say you can’t bullsh!t a bullsh!tter, well apparently you can’t tell a bad joke to the King of them.

With the man behind the counter still picking up his flabbergasted jaw, and probably cursing us, we did an about turn and left to continue our quest. It wasn’t long before we saw Albatross (random?), seals and a shedload of bloody noisy seagulls, at the very tip of the Otago Peninsula. The seals were great, happily basking in the sun and somehow not affected by the wind that was uprooting all the humans.

Dad with a sleeping seal
Dad with a sleeping seal

We still hadn’t seen a penguin, and I had made it my mission, much like when I wanted to see wild monkeys in Costa Rica. Not quite yet the explorer I hope to be, I had to use my old pal Google to help. I found Sandfly Beach had a small family living on it (penguins, not humans) and we could go to see them tomorrow. Satisfied, we headed back to the now ready room to relax.

I gave the parents a lift to Portobello (nearest restaurant) while Gem and I ate in. On their return we played a game called ‘Ludo’, which has rules as ridiculous as it’s name, and Mum won. Surprisingly good fun for a game that sounds so silly on paper. You roll a dice and move a counter. That is literally it.

We were asleep before our heads hit the pillow after such an adrenaline filled board game, and all woke fresh the next day to start a couple of hours drive up the coast to Moeraki Boulders. The beaches we passed on the journey were huge, white sand beaches, without a single person on. It was already approaching 30 degrees Celsius and these damn beaches were empty!

Anywho, we got to Moeraki Beach, and paid our donation to get in. Despite it being a donation of 1 dollar a person, we felt slightly cheated. The beach is as lovely as the others we saw, but just filled with people. Why? I hear you ask. Why are they here? Please tell me about these gargantuan boulders that are freaks of nature. It’s basically quite well rounded rock (limestone I think) that doesn’t only occur here, but as usual, this is the most well advertised place.

Gem and I on a boulder

I was seriously underwhelmed, and Gemma felt the same. We made the most of the trip by taking a nice walk down the beach but we were not wowed. Maybe we are insatiable tourists, or maybe we just get frustrated when we see a company (the one that owns the over-priced cafe and gift shop next to the beach) using marketing ploys and cheap deals for coach trips to attract a crowd to a not all that rare or spectacular phenomenon. Who knows.

Parents on the boulders
Gemma on a boulder
Gemma on a boulder
Walking down the beach
Walking down the beach

I get hot and sticky at room temperature so this place was killing me, but I don’t think that affected my judgement as Gemma was in her element temperature wise, and she was feeling let down by their lack of grandure too. You can’t have it all your own way, and not being people wanting to wallow in first world problems we drove back to the lodge to drop the parents off before heading into Dunedin to see what was about.

After a walk in the sunshine, some sushi and a visit to ‘Granny Annie’s’ sweet shop, we sat down for a well deserved beer. We took some marshmallow filled chocolate back for Mum and Dad, I think it’s a Kiwi thing.

Dunedin Train Station

We hit Sandfly Beach next, and contrary to popular belief it is not called Sandfly Beach because there are lots of sandflies, but because it looks like there is a constant sandstorm raging around its’ large dunes. There is a steep decline down a large dune to get to the beach, and the wind is overpowering. So much so that Mum opted to get back in the car while us 3 took the plunge, and I took the opportunity to steal Mums jumper.

Sandfly Beach
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On the beach we spotted a penguin (mission complete) who looked very out of place on a large sand dune. He was making scaling the dune look very difficult, and we got a decent photo of him.

Can you see him?

We carried on until we reached the lookout post, where we spotted dozens of seals. On the way back down the beach, we saw a sleeping seal, another animal that looks out of place on sand. We must have missed him the first time. He looked happy enough, anyway.


That steep decline on the way to the beach had now become a steep incline back to the car. The wind was howling against us, and despite having the smallest legs it was Gemma that found the climb easiest, with Dad and I having to take a few stops on the way up. I imagined the penguin getting his revenge by taking a photo of us and saying ‘Not as easy as it looks, is it?’.

We passed out pretty quick back at the lodge, happy at our encounter with nature. Tomorrow we continue South to Invercargill.

To see all of the photos relating to this post, click here.

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