The bright lights of Dunedin, from Otago Peninsula. © Dunedin NZ

Otago Peninsula road trip: wildlife and wild history

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Family squabbles, love affairs and bitter accusations – sounds like the plot of a soap opera. But within the stone walls of Otago Peninsula’s Larnach Castle, it was a reality.   

The history and stories of the castle are fascinating. 

From original owner William Larnach and his six children losing their wife and mother, Eliza, when she died at 38, to William remarrying Eliza’s sister Mary, and then Constance, a much younger woman when Mary died, coincidently also aged 38. 

On the frosty drive south to Otago Peninsula, Larnach Castle is my first port of call. 

Fresh snow has fallen the day I arrive. Mountains and treetops shimmer under a dusting of white powder. In the stillness, tūī are chatting away at full throttle. Two resident ducks have a chilly dip in a fountain pond. The horn of a ship in the harbour blasts in the distance.

The following morning dawns clear – what the locals call Dunner Stunner – and I’ve heard the walk to Lovers Leap is the place to be on days like this. I take the scenic route through Broad Bay. 

Hoopers Inlet Road is a thin track tracing the harbour’s edge like a delicate ribbon. Pale yellow sunlight filters through the car windows and warms up the winter morning. 

The silky water is a millpond today, and black swans fishing for breakfast cast silhouettes across the mud flats. 

Winding higher towards Lovers Leap, a fork in the road confuses me. I pull over and ask a farmer for directions. I just need to keep driving straight, he tells me, but there’s a small problem: his cows are being moved to a neighbouring paddock and are on the road. 

I smile as I slowly follow the hundred-odd herd of cattle. ‘You know you’re not in the city, when…’ 

Tussock-clad hills frame dramatic ocean vistas and pools of emerald waters hug the curved coastline. The pay off for a half-hour walk is spectacular: the plunging cliffs and moody seas at Lovers Leap. If it wasn’t for a rumbling tummy and a craving for coffee, I could happily perch and look at the ocean all day.

Let's start seeking for adventures in this beautiful place😍🇳🇿

A post shared by Rita Giannelli 🦄 (@just.a.foodie) on Feb 8, 2017 at 10:43am PST

At Penguin Café in Portobello, I settle onto the sunny front porch with a homemade pie and hot drink. Afterwards, Portobello village provides visual sustenance with galleries of handcrafted jewellery and beautiful art.

The Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head, the pointy end of Otago Peninsula, is where you’ll find the world’s only mainland royal albatross breeding colony. 

I keep a look out while strolling Pilots Beach, but don’t see any today. There are hundreds of kekeno, New Zealand fur seals blobbing on rocks, though and a blue penguin huddled away from the harsh winds. 

Dusk has set in as I re-trace my route back down the peninsula. Along the water’s edge past brightly painted bus shelters and private boat sheds with rickety jetties. 

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