Day 4: Boulders, Birds and Beer

We woke up in a slightly better mood and enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere of the hostel, the Old Bones Lodge, during breakfast. This place was quite unlike the other hostels we stayed at: while most (cool) hostels cater for the European backpackers/hippies crowd, the Old Bones Lodge felt very much more like a family retreat. The rooms all surrounded a large open area, with a modern, spacious kitchen, nice couches and understated artwork. We felt a bit out of place!

It was time to hit the road again, with only an hour and a half to our Christmas destination of Dunedin. We carefully checked the car (no fluid leaking) and set off south. Before long, we reached our first stop at the Moeraki Boulders. These large rocks are unusual in that they are nearly spherical. Most remain half buried in the sand on the beach and some have split open, revealing geometrical insides. They have become quite the tourist attraction, with a cafe built onto the cliff above them, but we bypassed the cafe and its controlled access to the beach and parked about 300 meters down the beach at a free lot.

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Well, approximately spherical.

The weather was sunny but not too hot and the tide was low, and so we spent some time admiring the boulders, taking pictures on and around them, taking pictures for other people, and enjoying the view. The beach got busier as the morning went on and we still had a little ways to go, so we slowly walked back down the beach and set off again.

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Everyone loves the boulders!

The next stop wasn’t too far along: attracted by signs promoting seal and penguin viewing, we drove down some residential streets to reach Shag Point. What the signs had not advertised was the fact that the rocks around the point were home to a loud, smelly colony of red-billed gulls and a few white-fronted terns. They seemed extremely unconcerned with humans as several of their nests were only inches away from the short fence dividing them from the parking lot. At this point in the season, all the babies were half-grown, squawking adolescents.

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Babies waiting surprisingly patiently for food.

Beyond the gulls lounged the much quieter (though not totally silent) seals. We spotted a few pups as well as some adults swimming in the surf. True to the name, the outlying rocks held a few Stewart Island shags and groups of spotted shags flew past, making two new bird species we’d seen that day! Sadly, the penguins were out to sea and thus nowhere to be found.

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Gulls in the center, seals on the right.

By now it was the early afternoon and we were eager to get to Dunedin, most critically because tomorrow was Christmas Day when everything (including restaurants, grocery stores, etc.) would be shut, and we needed to stock up on supplies. After a concerning reappearance of the check engine light, but no other problems, we reached our home for the next two days: Hogwartz. Our room was a cozy little unit with a TV, ensuite, and small kitchen, everything we would need for a Christmas away from home!

M wasn’t too interested in shopping for the holiday, though. The hostel was only about 100 meters (up a steep hill) from the Speight’s brewery and he was keen to go. We walked down the hill and got tickets to the next tour in an hour, then went out to find some lunch. It turned out that most places, including the attached Speight’s alehouse, were already closed as it was Christmas eve. After some asking around, we ended up at an organic food store that had a little serve-yourself style cafe. The kitchen looked like they were in the midst of cleaning it up, but they made us a quick salad. The salad had everything, from spinach to plums to pumpkin seeds to broccoli, and was amazing! Fortified, we wandered back to the brewery to start the tour.

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Old-timey copper brewing tanks and tile floors.

Speight’s is a fairly unavoidable brand in the South Island: they have tons of alehouses in both tiny towns and larger cities, and the beer on tap at any given bar was likely to be Speight’s Gold Medal Ale. As we learned on the tour, this presence is because Speight’s has been around since 1876, brewing beer at this Dunedin location. This particular spot was chosen because of the large well of fresh water beneath it, which is still used in brewing their beers today. In addition, they have put a tap on the outside of their building, giving free access of this water to the public, which is quite popular.

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The free tap. The water is quite nice, if a bit minerally.

The tour guide took us through the history of beer-making and the brewery, including showing off the gold medals won by their signature ale a hundred years ago. He then took us onto the top floor and started explaining the process of brewing the beer, which in this facility used a gravity-fed system. We were having a nice time but all the excitement was too much for a poor German guy on the tour, who suddenly slumped to the ground, supported by his girlfriend. The guide immediately rushed off to phone the ambulance, but the guy woke up fairly immediately, a little groggy but seemingly OK. The paramedics arrived and started checking him out while the rest of us continued the tour.

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No need to choose, you can try them all!

The rest of the tour consisted of large rooms containing the mill, the old copper brewing tanks and the new state-of-the-art facility. This new facility had far more capacity than the old setup, which was necessary since their other brewery in Christchurch was destroyed in the earthquake. The highlight of course was the tasting at the end, where five Speight’s beers and one cider were available to try. We rejoined the fainting German in the bar: he was OK but told not to drink for 48 hours, poor guy! We enjoyed our beers though and even got to pour our own from the tap (one guy somehow managed to get nothing but foam). In fact, we were so inspired that later, while doing our Christmas food and booze shopping, we got an entire 24-bottle box of Speight’s Gold Medal Ale to enjoy over the rest of our trip. Our vacation had finally started to be fun!

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