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Thursday, November 3, 2005

The Otago area covers a large part of New Zealand's south island. It has a beautifully restless landscape with coastal wildlife havens in the east, vineyards, plains and former gold-mining sites in the centre and lake-moated peaks, rainforest trails and places where outdoor activities reach new heights in the west.

Dunedin is New Zealand's oldest city, wedged at the south-western end of Otago Harbour, a tidal harbour with a southern shoreline defined by the fauna-rich and ragged mass of Otago Peninsula. It is a university city (the country's first university) of Scottish heritage with an intriguing combination of cultural riches, fine architecture and world famous wildlife reserves. The old clock tower at the university is a reminder of the educational past, present and future.

In 1861 the discovery of gold saw the small settlement of Dunedin become the centre for the nation's wealth. Soaring cathedral spires, a wonderful Flemish-style railway station, fine banks and office blocks, a 19th-century castle, old university buildings and a neo-gothic convent remain testament to that period. Its art gallery and museums contain some of New Zealand's best collections.

The long, main thoroughfare, George Street, has a range of world-class local designers and stores. The city centre, Octagon, has bars and cafes and a large statue of the Scottish bard, Robbie Burns.

The Otago Peninsula, which lies within the city boundaries, has superb wildlife reserves, including a rare albatross breeding ground and yellow-eyed penguin colonies. It has various species of penguins, seals and pelagic birds. It's an absolute haven for birdwatchers, who can see up to five species of cormorants there.

The royal albatross is a giant of a bird with a wingspan of up to three metres. It flies an estimated 190,000km each year, lays just one egg at Taiaroa Head colony in November and chicks hatch 11 weeks later. Young birds stay until late September, when they skim the oceans and return three to six years later to breed.

The yellow-eyed penguin is the world's rarest, known to the Maori as hoiho. The third largest of the world's 14 penguin species, it is the subject of intensive conservation projects at Otago Peninsula. Native bush has been replanted to encourage breeding and attempts are being made to eliminate cats, ferrets and other predators.

The fur seal population on the peninsula has grown dramatically and thousands are found baking on the rocks. There are also elephant and leopard seals and Hookers sealion, the world's rarest.

Monarch Wildlife Cruise goes around Taiaroa Head. On an hour's cruise you will see more of these beautiful creatures than you could possibly have dreamed of.

The Royal Albatross Centre is the gateway to many features of Taiaroa Head and the Otago Peninsula. Visitors see interpretive wildlife displays, hear narratives by Sir David Attenborough and see a large, carved pole depicting the ancestors of local Maori tribes. There is a presentation of the life of the albatross, a visit to the nature reserve viewing area and entrance to the historic Fort Taiaroa with its historic 1886 disappearing gun.

Natures Wonders Naturally is a recent addition to Dunedin's Eco Tours. They take guided tours in an amphibious 8x8 wheel Argo. Rides are thrilling but comfortable and visit places previously inaccessible. They say they offer 720¢ª views because everyone looks around twice!


New Zealand's south island


Monarch Cruises are from $28 for adults and $10 for children.

Royal Albatross Centre entry is $24 for adults and $12 for children.

Natural Wonders Naturally costs $33 for adults and $28 for children. They run every day from 10am to dark, other times by appointment.

Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

More information

Monarch Wildlife Cruises
Wharf & Fryatt Streets
Dunedin New Zealand
Ph: (64) 3 477 4276

The Royal Albatross Centre
Taiaroa Head
Dunedin New Zealand
Ph: (64) 3 478 0499
Fax: (64) 3 478 0575

Natures Wonders Naturally
Taiaroa Head
Dunedin New Zealand
Ph: (64) 3 478 150

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