By Rachel Grunwell
Seeing penguins at a zoo is great. But seeing blue penguins (korora) up-close in their natural habitat on the stunning Otago Peninsula is an awe-inspiring sight you’ll store in your memory bank forever.
I’m on a mum-and-son ‘adventure vacation’ with Zach, aged 11, and seeing the world’s smallest penguin delight in a world-famous reserve at the Royal Albatross Centre is something we agree is a pinch-yourself-kind-of-experience.
It’s dusk, the stars are overhead, we’re rugged up warm with eyes-wide-open at Pilot Beach as we gaze out over the pond-like sea with tiny waves lapping ashore.
I don’t know who is more excited. My kid, or this self-confessed big-kid.
I expect to see a couple of penguins way off in the distance. But incredibly we see 60 penguins over about 60-minutes – just merely a couple of metres away.
These penguins religiously come in nightly here to feed their chicks in nests on the hillside.
And wow, what a sight: They are dumped by the waves into shore in groups (called rafts). They waddle, drunk-like, out of the tide and onto the beach and then hot-foot it up the grassy hill.
By the way, they couldn’t give a toss about us nosey-parker humans. Actually, we must be a pretty funny sight for the penguins. We are among a tour group of about 30 people quietly huddled on a giant, lit-up wooden platform.
You don’t tire seeing these cute little birds. Every time a new bunch of blue-and-white bodies pops up out of the water, either my son or I nudge each other or whisper excitedly “there’s some more”. Zach and I now long to return to see the colony of royal albatross.
The New Zealand International Science Festival showcases a long list of events and experiences to inspire curiosity over the nine days (during the first week of the July school holidays) of the biennial festival. And with Dunedin now New Zealand’s first GigCity, technology (in all its glorious manifestations) is a big part of the offerings. You can dip in, or out, of as many of the events as you wish. Zach and I loved walking through a giant inflated brain and learning about its different parts and functions. And while Zach enjoyed witnessing the dissection of a sheep’s brain, I looked the other way! We could use computer technology to see underneath our skin and there were even real human body parts to marvel at. You name it and you can likely experience it here: Think microscopes, psychology investigations, dentistry workshops (Zach loved making a shark tooth from a mould) and even a workshop on how to ‘fight like a physicist’ (that’s learning how to win against a bigger opponent through physics ie understanding centre of mass, gravity and equilibrium etc). Another of Zach’s highlights was the music/explosions show by Dr Graham Walker and DJ Sixfootsix. Picture fireballs, explosions, marshmallow cannons, and liquid nitrogen clouds, mashed up to music.
Be star-struck by real stars at the Otago Museum’s Perpetual Guardian Planetarium. You get to sit back in a comfy chair and journey to the edge of the universe and back in a 360-degrees immersive theatre experience. You can’t beat the prices either. Children aged 4-18 pay $7, while adults are $10.
An unexpected highlight was a two-hour Street Art Tour, called ‘Small City Big Walls’, through Dunedin city by guide Victoria Gilliand. I’m pictured underneath one of the artworks, playing around doing a yoga pose and pretending to be the bird’s prey…
About 25 colossal murals by world-famous artists are hidden on buildings throughout the city. Artists from places like Belgium, LA and Europe have been paid to create unique artworks that now make Dunedin an edgy and hip place.
It’s hard to choose a favourite artwork that stretch the imagination including a giant tuatara, to a mythical creature with Kakapo-like features, and even fish swallowing boats. It’s wonderful to experience the artwork, but hearing the stories about them from the guide makes this even more than just a colourful tour.
I heard a professor lecture on the topic of superfoods at Dunedin’s Technique Training Restaurant. I loved hearing about the super powers of certain superfoods, while I ate a three-course superfoods meal here. The lecture and topic was part of a unique event – part of the Science Festival – but anyone can reserve a similar dining experience here for crazy cheap prices. This fully licensed restaurant was established by the Food Design Institute to train future chefs, hotel managers and restaurant staff by industry professionals. So it’s a training environment, but a great night out that will hardly stretch the purse–strings. Check out the below link to find out when you can book a meal.
Find more to do in Dunedin https://www.dunedinnz.com
(This article was published in seven newspapers nationwide)
Rachel Grunwell is a magazine columnist & director of Inspired Health. Follow Inspired Health for giveaways and lifestyle inspiration: