It was a beautiful autumnal afternoon when we set off; the leaves on the trees looked like a golden fleece draped across the landscape set against a powder blue sky. We were greeted at the Dunedin Information Centre by the tour bus, convenient given most of the major hotels are within five to 10 minute’s walk. Our guides John and Donna were friendly and helpful. In fact, the first impression was of a tour that was truly homemade like grandma’s jam recipe; what you see is what you get and certainly no pretentious window dressing. A great start.
Once all were on board we were given an information sheet, available in several different languages. It was approximately a 40 minute ride out to our first stop Taiaroa head on the Otago Peninsula, the Peninsula our guide John explained was the side of an ancient, long dead shield volcano that once spanned 40 kilometres in diameter.
We arrived at the Royal Albatross Centre at the edge of the Peninsula it was a rugged and beautifully isolated landscape.
Approaching the viewing platform, the group was told the Royal Albatross were not as active today, a disappointment to be sure. Then suddenly, like an angel descending from the heavens, a number of Albatross glided majestically past the platform.
Masters of their domain, these creatures glided above us surveying their territory and practising their flight as they prepare for an epic six-year odyssey at sea. Their journey will be long and one of discovery, a journey that would rival even Captain Cooks.
Our next destination, now this is the part of the journey that only Elm Wildlife Tours can offer you.
Headed off down a narrow gravel road, we were greeted by a couple of wannabe hitchhikers as two cheeky Pukeko stared at us as we drove past.
The view from our next stop, at the top of an emerald green hill, was worth the wait. A beautiful, never ending sea greeted us but the best was yet to come.
After a short descent down a small paddocked hill, avoiding the resident sheep who paid us know mind as they grazed happily in the sun, we came to the nursery of the fur seals.
It was quite a sight, seeing the young pups playing happily and lazing about, while they waited for their parents to return with dinner.
To witness this was to see that even nature parallels the human condition of teenagers lounging about while they wait for dinner.
The nursery surroundings were breath-taking and the only sounds were the noise of the pups playing and the sea crashing against the rocks, stirring and churning as it went.
Time to move on to the grand finale of the Elm Wildlife Tours experience.
After a steep descent down a track that ran along a cliff, though as a nice touch those whom walking was a difficult undertaking were offered a ride with Brian the owner. We arrived at the beach the kingdom of the Yellow Eyed Penguins.
As we arrived at the edge of the beach we turned to our left to discover a penguin staring back at us, guarding his realm and making sure we were safe to be granted passage.
Once on the beach we entered a land that time had forgotten. Very little human presence was noticeable, other than us and the penguins.
Sea lions did their dangerous dance as the penguins did their best to avoid capture. This was a dance that seemed to have been going on since the dawn of time and was quite a sight to be witnessed.
Looking up we noticed a penguin atop a cliff-face making a pose as if to say he was the king of the world, this was a natural behaviour we were told, though I am convinced he was displaying his own selfimportance.
The beach we stood on was of special significance. It is a reserve that is being looked after and replanted with native flora and forna by Elm Wildlife Tours.
Brian has dedicated 20 years of his life and a portion of the company’s revenue to the up keep, protection and pest control of this paradise and it has to be said Elm sets the gold standard in New Zealand ecotourism.
So if you are a traveller who loves the outdoors and experiencing nature at its rarest and untouched, then this is not to be missed. Knowing a portion of your fee plays a part in ensuring the survival of this most rare and precious of species is certainly a comfort.
Elm Wildlife Tours is an amazing trip delivered in that uniquely personable way that only a truly Dunedin experience can offer. This tour is truly a paradise that is far from lost.