The next morning we packed up the tent again (“assisted” by the campsite’s resident cat which came to check us out and beg for breakfast) and headed for Dunedin.
We were booked into a campsite in Portobello, so once we got down the bay we put up the tent and then headed down to Tairoa Heads to visit the albatross colony. At the visitor centre they told us we probably wouldn’t see any adults because there was hardly any wind (albatrosses need strong winds to land and take off, so they stay out at sea on calm days), but there were chicks on the nests, so we decided to pay to go up to the viewing area (you can often see adult albatross flying overhead just by standing in the carpark, but the nests are all on the other side of the Heads, so to see the chicks you have to pay for a guide to take you up to a special viewing area).
We walked up the hill with our guide, who seemed very disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to show us any flying albatrosses. We did get a very good view of the chicks, though, and she pointed out the different types of shags nesting on the rocks below, and a seal swimming down in the harbour (I grew up in this area, and my father’s family were commercial fishermen, so none of this was particularly new to me, but just like I’d been seeing the countryside through foreigners’ eyes, I got to see shags through the eyes of someone who found them interesting, instead of just dismissing them as a boringly common bird that just sits around on telegraph poles. And when I mentioned to the guide what my family background was we had an interesting conversation about the “quota” of seals that fishermen are allowed to accidentally kill before they have to stop fishing in an area, and some of the other things that have changed in the area since the days when Granddad was fishing).
Finally the guide got a signal that the next tour group was on its way up, so we had to leave the viewing area. She apologised again that we had only seen the two albatross chicks, and commented that the wind seemed to be coming up so if we stayed down in the visitor centre for a while we might be lucky and see an adult. And we were lucky – a couple of minutes later, an albatross flew overhead, closely followed by two more! They flew around the Heads a few times before they came in to land, so we got a really good view of them. A pity they hadn’t arrived just a little bit earlier when we were still in the viewing area so we could actually watch them landing, but at least we got to see them in flight, which is pretty spectacular.
Tairoa Heads. (No albatrosses in this photo, sorry – I was too busy watching them to remember to get my camera out!)
And of course, I released a book at the visitor centre: Archie – Young Detective by Robert Bateman