No hot water the following morning for our showers. We were cranky, cold, and covered in blue fuzz from our new towels. Our first priority was getting cash since we had to pay for our hostel room that night. We went to the grocery and realized it only took cards from NZ banks. The guy at the Four Square told us the closest cash machine would be in Balclutha or Invercargill, depending on which way we were going. We must have looked disappointed at the prospect of a drive to a “big city,” since he then told us it was only a 20 min drive to Balclutha. We bought “savory scones” from the day old bakery rack that my inner-Scrooge couldn’t resist at 0.50 each, some OJ and 2 yogurts ($6) and more sandwiches ($13). We decided to go to Balclutha, since we only had $6 cash and didn’t have enough for the entrance fee at Cathedral. On the way to Balclutha, I mentioned how I hoped we’d come across another herd of sheep being moved, and a minute later we caught the “tail” end of a transfer!
We made it to Balclutha in 30 min. We got cash and I saw a thrift store and found some thermal tops and bottoms for $4 each. I had not packed enough warm clothes for the cooler Catlins weather, and had some short sleeved tops and an extra bathing suit that I hadn’t even worn yet… This was my biggest packing mistake of the trip. It was 10:00 am and we were in the car wondering what to do next when Marc said, “Want to go to Dunedin?” Heck yeah I did. I hadn’t suggested it earlier since it didn’t fit in with “taking it easy” and “spending less time in the car,” but I really wanted to get a look at their castle. I asked him if he was sure about ten times, and how long did he think it would take to get there? He estimated only an hour and that “fate seemed to be sending us north.” I happily concurred.
The road to Dunedin was straight and even with 2 stops for construction, we made it there in 1 hour. The road to the castle took another 1/2 hour, and we were inside Larnach Castle by noon. The gardens were almost better than the castle itself, and we spent a good 2.5 hours touring the grounds and the castle. There were some amazing views from the “South Seas” walk and the trees were filled with birdsong. There was also an awesome cafe, set in the ballroom, with huge, roaring fireplaces and gleaming hardwoods and ambiance galore. We had our sandwiches though so made-do with those.
Next we headed to the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Sanctuary. I had called from Balclutha and they said none of their tours were filled. We got there at 3:00 and the next tour was at 3:15. Our guide was a Chinese guy named Kevin and the 4 other couples were Dutch. The tour was $45 each and well worth it. We got briefed on the Yellow-eyed penguin and then took a bus to the viewing dens. We ended up seeing 4 penguins, and the closest one to us was only 20 feet away. It was awesome. Then we went to look at fur seals and got as close as 10 feet to some fat, lazy, slumbering seals. The tour was 2.5 hours and really great and all of the fees go to funding the work that they do to protect the penguins. And Kevin was a hoot.
Watch a video of this adorable little penguin preening!
By then it was 4:00 and we didn’t know if we should try for Nugget Point or go to Dunedin, which had Speight’s Brewery tours, Cadbury chocolate tours, and some great architecture. We debated the merits of a lighthouse vs. beer + chocolate + old cool buildings on the 1/2 hour drive from back to the city center. Nugget Point barely won, as we have an especially soft spot in our hearts for lighthouses, considering we were married at one. We made it there by 6:30 and it was as amazing as it looks in the pictures. We contemplated stopping by Roaring Bay, where they have closed-in areas for penguin viewing, but figured that nothing could top the tour. By then it was 7:30 and we were hungry.
We made it to the Catlins Cafe by 8:00. I ordered the special of the day, blue cod pie and veggies ($16) and Marc ordered the seafood platter ($23). Unfortunately, this was our worst meal of the trip. I had asked if the pies were made there and was told they were had them made by someone in town, and I’m sure at one time it was a beautiful thing of flaky goodness… But mine tasted like it had been reheated in a microwave, which turned the crust into a plasticine, mushy mess of ickiness. I ate the inside and the mediocre vege and 3 boiled red potatoes, thinking wistfully of the flaky pie we’d got for $4.5 at the bus in Riwaka…. Also, Marc’s seafood platter turned out to be a plate of heavily breaded, deep-fried seafood that was not what he had been expecting. This was also his 4th meal of fish and chips and he had declared himself sick of fish and chips after the 3rd meal… It also took FOREVER to get our food (at least 45 min) and when it arrived it was so hot we had to wait 5 min to eat. I really wish I could recommend the place, but I wouldn’t recommend it for dinner–only for breakfast, despite its small-town charm. We got back to the hostel at 9:00, too late to do laundry. I took advantage of the hot water and got my shower in. The owners came by to collect the “rent.”